Time to boycott Israel?
Hosted by Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams MP, and co-sponsored by Ulster Unionist MLA Fred Cobain, the main address was from ICTU President and UNISON regional secretary Patricia McKeown. Patricia had led the eleven-strong delegation of senior trade unionists which travelled to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in November 2007, meeting a range of trade unionists, politicians and activists from across the region.
The report itself is worth a read for a factual flavour of their varied meetings and the impressions that the trade unionists took away. While the report makes sure to outright condemn attacks by Palestinian groups on Israeli targets, it is clear that the exepreince of seeing life on both sides of the 'security fence' / 'apartheid wall' left the delegates with a sense of outrage at the injustices faced by ordinary Palestinians:
"I didn't expect the denial of human rights and the discrimination to be so evident and to be an obvious part of daily life," Patricia told the Long Gallery.
I took the opportunity of the Q&A session to raise the issue of arms exports from the UK to Israel. During the recent attacks on Gaza, Amnesty revealed that engines used in Israeli unmanned drones may be of UK origin. ICTU made clear that they were developing their discussions with the TUC, the Scottish and Welsh TUCs and hoped to see more co-ordinated international action from the trade union movement in the years ahead.
While Amnesty wants to see an end of sales to Israel of arms which would likely be used in human rights abuses, ICTU has now launched an economic boycott campaign against Israel and Patricia McKeown told the Stormont crowd gathered for the launch that they will be stepping up their efforts during 2009.
So what do you think of the idea of an economic boycott of Israel?
Are consumer boycotts and economic sanctions too blunt as tools to bring pressure for change in a situation as complex as the Israel-Palestine conflict?
Would an economic boycott unfairly hit ordinary Israelis (and possibly Palestinians too)?
Or are such measures a legitimate, nonviolent expression of outrage at events like the recent attacks, possibly including war crimes, on Gaza?
Is the South African consumer boycott model applicable to Israel?
Just a few years ago, recognising the difficulties and complexities involved, Amnesty couldn't or wouldn't support or oppose economic sanctions or consumer boycotts. That policy position is now more flexible. So, is this a tactic whose time has come in respect of Israel?
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.