Ictu to seek ways to support sanctions against Israel

MARY FITZGERALD Foreign Affairs Correspondent

THE EXECUTIVE council of Ictu is to consider ways in which it can translate into action its support for Palestinian calls for a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Attendees at an Ictu conference on the Middle East held in Dublin yesterday discussed possible ways of implementing such a campaign in Ireland.

Since 2007, Ictu has passed several conference motions in support of calls from Palestinian civil society groups urging an international BDS campaign against Israel.

Addressing yesterday’s gathering at Dublin Castle, Ictu president Jack O’Connor said he would be very concerned if Ictu’s stance was interpreted as being motivated by “hostility to the people of Israel”.

Instead, he argued, it was motivated by “a sense of obligation given our history and our experience . . . an obligation to try to do something when the prospects of justice seem so remote given the imbalance of forces” in the conflict.

Mr O’Connor rejected calls from some attendees for Ictu to sever links with Histadrut, the Israeli labour federation, which is opposed to the BDS campaign. Avital Shapira-Shabirow, director of Histadrut’s international department, prompted a lively exchange of views when she explained her organisation’s position during a panel discussion.

She argued that it was easy to outline “simplistic solutions” to complex situations from afar.

Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the global BDS campaign established in 2005, told the gathering that the boycott as a “moral obligation and political imperative”.

He noted that the campaign was gaining momentum internationally and he praised Ictu’s efforts.

“By holding onto its position and spreading the BDS message, and starting now to think how to apply it practically, Ictu is now applying a lot of pressure on the [Irish] Government and we hope that in time this will bring results.”

Mr Barghouti was one of several speakers to call for Ireland to exercise its veto to block Israel from joining the OECD.

Earlier, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin told the conference that the Government does not agree with or support any form of boycott of Israel as such an approach would be counterproductive to efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We all know that ultimately it is the politics of persuasion which is best placed to win the day and which must be the path that we pursue,” Mr Martin said.

The Minister did, however, note that he has consistently argued against any move to upgrade EU-Israel relations “until such time as the level of political progress on the ground warrants it”.

In a statement, the Israeli embassy said it welcomed the Government’s position on the BDS campaign.

“As Minister Martin says, [it] is completely inimical to the frank and honest dialogue Ireland and Israel have always pursued with each other,” it said. But the embassy said it regretted Mr Martin’s remarks on the upgrading of EU relations with Israel.

During one panel discussion at the conference, John Douglas, general secretary of the Mandate trade union, recalled the involvement of Irish retail workers in the boycott against apartheid-era South Africa and said his union would support a consumer-led boycott campaign against Israel followed by a worker-led effort.

“The time for silence is gone, action is required,” he told the gathering.

Several speakers scheduled to participate in the conference, including Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa and Trócaire director Justin Kilcullen, were unable to attend due to the disruption of air travel in and out of Ireland as a result of the plume of volcanic ash which has blown from Iceland in recent days.

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