The pro-Israel camp in the unions suffered an important defeat this week at a union conference. Community ( a recent fusion of what remains of the steelworkers and knitwear unions) has in effect been backing Israel on the basis of its General Secretary’s own preference. Without consulting members, Michael Leahy (president this year of the TUC) has been supporting Israel, which has been courting him assiduously. According to the pro-Israel TU lobby group Tulip, of which Leahy is an executive member, “Community is probably the best union in the UK on the issues of Israel and Palestine”.

This week the Palestine issue finally came up for debate at a Community conference, the executive having put a resolution which included the following:

“Conference, whilst recognising the extreme complexity of the political situation, calls for an end to violence on all sides and believes that an enduring peace can only come about through non-violent means and must be based on a viable two-state solution. For a two-state solution to be viable it cannot be imposed against the wishes of either party. A two-state solution must be accepted and endorsed by both Israelis and Palestinians as part of a negotiated settlement.

Conference rejects all attempts to blame or scapegoat either Israelis or Palestinians. Blame leads to anger, hate, and resentment: factors which contribute to making the conflict in the Middle East among the most intractable in the world. There must be a rejection of violence by both sides and there must be full engagement with both sides.

Conference believes that trade unions have an important role to play in encouraging dialogue, cooperation, and mutual understanding between workers and their representatives in Israel and Palestine and the wider international community and endorses the union’s support for organisations and campaigns that work across communities and with both the Histadrut and the Palestinian GFTU.”

In a key contribution one delegate argued: “Since 2009 Community has been part of Tulip without a mandate from members… This motion is a retrospective mandate for Tulip, which acts as an apologist for war crimes and human rights abuses committed by the Israeli government.”

The executive’s resolution was defeated, none of the executive (including Leahy) having spoken. Hugh Lanning of PSC and Eric Lee of Tulip had also addressed the conference. Lee was furious about the outcome:

“In observing this debate, my sense was the delegates had not been properly briefed and did [sic] fully understand the NEC’s position. Nor did they understand how well-informed the union leaders themselves were….

“There’s no point in trying diminish the size of this defeat. Community is probably the best union in the UK on the issues of Israel and Palestine. Its leadership was united in presenting a thoughtful and reasonable resolution. But because it had not done the work on the ground, delegates were easily swayed by strident arguments – and by the case made that these were difficult-to-understand issues and should not be a priority for the union…

“The bottom line is that we have a lot of work to do, in this union and in others.”

Interesting that Lee does not accuse Community delegates of anti-semitism, nor is the union a “sewer”, a “cesspit” etc – the usual characterisation of UCU. Perhaps he doesn’t want to offend Leahy, who’s fronted Tulip but who just can’t bring himself to back Israel in open debate. It seems that Leahy has been jetting over to Israel (“first class flights” to stay in “five star” hotels – see the Tulip report above) but this is not enough to persuade him to defend the indefensible in public.

Report of the debate in the Morning Star: