By Rudy Gonzalez | Secretary-Treasurer
My heart is heavy as I witness terrorism, war, and human suffering once again decimating Israel and Palestine.
I’d like to say a few things right up front and get them out of the way.
First, while there is space for dissent, debate, and democracy in this council, there will never be a place for antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, or hate. We must seek peace and prosperity for our workers and our children first, foremost, and always.
Further, I’ve noticed in the wake of these events that some unions have begun venturing into foreign policy in what appears to be an attempt to win a revolution by resolution, if you will. This phenomenon doesn’t surprise me, but it does concern me, especially when said resolutions don’t even acknowledge the terror of Hamas and conspicuously leave out any reference to Israel’s right to exist. I believe that while they are well-intentioned, these types of resolutions risk undermining the very statements of solidarity of the unions that issue them when they lack the aforementioned caveats.
OK, back to the matter at hand. This slice of land called Israel and Palestine has yet again become the perennial flashpoint for crisis and conflict in our modern global society. The world is looking on, as it always does when the region’s long-smoldering hostilities boil over into shocking volleys of violence — and, as usual, everyone’s suddenly an expert on the matter.
On social media, keyboard warriors stay fixated on their news feeds and provide the algorithm with a steady stream of hot takes ranging from righteously indignant to outright inflammatory in tone. In syndicated think pieces and on cable news, pundits, politicians, and pedants trot out their carefully constructed non-stances to fill the necessary column inches and airtime. On the streets of cities around the world, activists gather to scream, shout, and fight with the other side’s activists in emotionally cathartic spectacles of dissent.
The everyday individuals who are on the ground in Israel and throughout Gaza and the West Bank, meanwhile, have neither the luxury nor the interest to engage in any of the above. Their focus is on surviving the chaotic moment that has engulfed their lives and doing what they can to carry on and try to prosper despite it.
To me, it all adds up to a notion I just can’t shake. I fear that an opportunity is being missed to have a conversation about class solidarity.
First, a little background: The Israeli–Palestinian conflict is a fraught, complex issue marred by 75 years of failed efforts to achieve a peaceful and equitable society in which Jews, Arabs, and members of other ethnic and religious backgrounds that are native to the region can live side-by-side without feeling politically disenfranchised or physically threatened by one another’s presence. The trudge from one false start to the next, only to have peace negotiations stall each time, has resulted in a collective sense of exhaustion and hopelessness among the populations of this Holy Land. Harmonious coexistence seems less and less likely with each passing day.
The current state of relations between Israelis and Palestinians reflects this resigned mentality. Meaningful, resolution-focused communication between the two sides seems to have crumbled. Once people who are at odds stop talking to each other about how they can resolve their conflicts, it takes precious little time for aggression to establish itself as the default language used to navigate the rift. The next thing you know, the people who were once at odds are now at war.
It don’t think it has to be this way. There’s one thing I believe because I’ve seen it: Organized labor could, in some small way, be a vehicle for bringing Israelis and Palestinians together rather than pulling them further apart. Despite the perpetual siege mentality under which each group lives in relation to the other right now, deep roots of solidarity persist among many union construction members in Israel and Palestine — no matter whether they’re Jew, Arab, Druze, or Bedouin.
Much of this solidarity can be traced back to Histadrut, Israel’s national trade union. In fact, Histadrut is a bit more than just a trade union. Founded in Haifa in 1920, it would go on to become one of the country’s most powerful institutions for a crucial period in Israel’s history, as well as its second-largest employer for a significant chunk of time.
Histadrut was instrumental in laying the foundation of the young country’s economy, which was initially socialist and built around farm cooperatives called kibbutzim.
First open only to Jews, the Histadrut has evolved, just like unions did in the United States. Since 1969, Histadrut has accepted Arabs as full members. It’s also had a solidarity agreement in place since 1995 with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, based in the West Bank city of Nablus.
While these efforts haven’t resulted in some utopian rainbow coalition of workers set to draw up a peace plan and lead the region into a brighter future — at least, not yet — they have provided meaningful opportunities for Palestinians, so many of whom are living in poverty.
Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to participate in conversations with some labor leaders like Avital Shapira, director of international relations for Histadrut. The talks focused on the organizing and vocational training offered to Palestinian workers. These efforts were well underway and growing as of this past August. You can read more about them here.
Giving people common cause as unionized workers is empowering. It can also be the first step to cutting through the straitjackets of nationalism and extremism, of religion and ethnicity, and of poverty and resentment. When people form a union, the differences between them are deemphasized and tend to melt away into a more practical collective identity: that of workers who share skills, who get the job done, and who negotiate for better conditions together.
Former enemies become brothers, sisters, and siblings on the jobsite and in the union hall — and are more likely to act like brothers, sisters, and siblings off the jobsite and outside of the union hall. Their successes as people become intertwined. Fences are mended. Peace becomes possible.
This is the future I believe in as I hope and pray that peace comes to Israel and Palestine as soon as possible.