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March 15, 2011 1:31 pm

Histadrut Leader Seeks Cooperation, Unity with International Labor

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Malcolm Hoenlein presents a gift from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and the World Jewish Congress marking the visit of Ofer Eini to New York. Photo: Maxine Dovere

At a recent New York gathering of American Jewish leaders hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the World Jewish Congress, Histadrut Labor Federation Chairman Ofer Eini’s message was a warning: those promoting BDS, the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions international movement against Israel are “doing a good job all over the world,” he said, noting that, despite all efforts to develop the brotherhood within the international labor movement, efforts to perpetrate anti Israel propaganda were having significant success.

“There was a chance that Israeli merchandise wouldn’t be able to go on the world seas,” Eini said, as a result of potential international union opposition to dealing with Israel, “and from my perspective, that would mean the destruction of the Israeli economy.”

Eini, who is also vice president of the International Trade Unions Confederation, brought a ray of hope to his presentation as he spoke about efforts being made to combat the BDS campaign to delegitimize Israel. He did, however, express disappointment that Palestinians leaders “resort to false accusations and engage in efforts to demonize Israel (calling it) an apartheid state… a libelous and false charge,” and offered “an open an invitation” for labor leaders to meet with Palestinian workers: “There is no better way to educate than to have other union representatives come to speak to Israeli and Palestinian workers themselves.”

Expressing hope that Israel’s ties with American unions would remain strong, the Histadrut leader commented on his recent meeting with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, saying that “the American unions support us and reinforce us. I think our relationship with the union is very important for the State of Israel…Labor” he said, “can be the bridge to the peace process.”  He noted that he had invited Trumka to make an official visit to Israel.

“The basis of my visit was to start a good relationship between me, the Histadrut and with the Jewish organizations in America and overseas,” said Eini. “We all think together and we all have one interest – the strength of the State of Israel and peace in the Middle East. I don’t think there is one person here who thinks otherwise. I think it’s the beginning of a cooperation that we can sit together and we get to the conclusion, find what we need to do to cope with the problems that threaten us.”

Called a “symbol of cooperation” by Conference Past President Ronal Lauder, Eini outlined a program of cooperation including classes, legal services and pension agreements that benefit Israeli and Palestinian union members.  In addition, a hotline has been created with the IDF to help ease transportation in the territories. Saying cooperation between Israelis and Palestinian labor union members “can be the bridge” to an equal society, and part of the movement towards peace, Eini continued, “Nothing – not the BDS, and not other phenomena – will stay my hand from continuing to tighten my relationship with the Palestinians.”

Jews have historically been at the forefront of the labor movement.  Martin Schwartz, Director of the Jewish Labor Committee, called for “frank and open discussion with trade unionists” about the BSD campaign…If we are going to be successful in preventing the BSD from gaining hold in the unions, Ofer must participate.  He speaks the language of trade unions fluently.”

Although distant from the negotiating table, Eini was queried about the ongoing negotiations between Israel’s social workers and the Finance Ministry.  (As of publication, no settlement had been reached.   The social workers union did dispatch a contingent to Itamar immediately following the March 11attack on the Fogel family.  The union lifted all restrictions to deal with the extreme emergency.) A wage agreement remained elusive, as the social workers enter a second week of strike.

Eini was nothing if not diplomatic in his refusal to discuss the issue.  “I’ve learned one thing – I will never attack our prime minister when I’m in another country. That’s my rule. I can only support him,” Eini said to applause.  “The more I run away from the politics, the more the politics come to me.   I would rather stay on my stage,” said Eini

Asked by the Algemeiner if Histadrut would engage in “one to one” discussions with American union members, Eini commented that despite “all the good and the warm connections we have, what is said indoors cannot be said in the street…. Sometimes things are not being done publically. I and my people are willing to appear everywhere….It is not the same with the Palestinians.  If I say something, I can go back. I don’t know about them.”

Ronald Lauder, past President of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, welcomed Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini to a meeting sponsored by the Conference of Presidents and the World Jewish Congress. Photo: Maxine Dovere

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