GMB official Richard Ashcough spoke to Solidarity about the GMB’s amendment to the FBU motion, which aimed to target the focus of the boycott onto goods produced in the Occupied Territories. This tactic has some precedent; left-wing Israeli peace campaign Gush Shalom runs a campaign to boycott goods produced in illegal settlements (in Israel, it’s possible to distinguish which goods these are by barcode numbers). GMB officer Richard Ascough said the amendment intended to add some “balance.”
“We were concerned that the FBU motion didn’t criticise Hamas as well as Israeli violence, and we weren’t supportive of an overall boycott; we wanted to target the boycott to the Occupied Territories themselves.”
“Balance” here should not imply equidistance or neutrality between Israel and the Palestinians; clearly, Israel is the oppressing power and the Palestinians the oppressed people. But there is a danger of double-standards of exceptionalisation of Israel, which is by far from the only — or indeed the worst — state engaged in a colonial-style occupation of another people’s land.
As Ascough put it, “if you look at some of the other regimes we don’t boycott, Israel doesn’t come anywhere near. The only immediate potential for peace is a negotiated settlement, and a general boycott would have an isolating effect.”
The GMB’s amendment was withdrawn in deference to the TUC General Council’s statement, which takes precedence over the FBU motion and thus has much the same effect as if the GMB amendment had passed. It is perhaps unfortunate that this outcome was achieved without a full debate. A full and open debate in the labour movement about the complex politics behind this issue is what we need to fight for.