S.F. Labor Council nixes resolution critical of Israel

The San Francisco Labor Council voted Monday to rescind a resolution, passed only a month ago, that accused Israel of "suppressing the Palestinian struggle for both statehood and ancestral lands."

The labor council now plans to form a committee to write a "broader" resolution and to hold a forum in which pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli delegates can make their cases, according to Walter Johnson, the council's secretary-treasurer.

The vote to rescind the resolution came from the labor council's executive board. Following an hour of contentious debate, it passed with a two-thirds majority.

"I'm glad it happened," said Johnson. "It's going to give us an opportunity to put together a more balanced statement, and as long as it's done in a democratic manner, I'm satisfied. I think we have a responsibility to make sure we look at the big picture, from all points of view."

The "Resolution on Mid-East Conflict," first introduced by Charles Minster, a landscaper at the Presidio and labor council delegate for Local 1141, passed on March 11.

In addition to chiding Israel for "bombing Palestinian political targets against U.S. legal restrictions," the resolution named the United States "the main culprit in this struggle" for providing Israel with aid used to attack Palestinians "while oppressing and dividing the Jewish and Arab worker for the benefit of national and international capital."

Minster felt his resolution was rescinded because of outside pressure.

"When the Democratic Party and big business bosses bark, their labor lieutenants snap to. And that's what happened with this issue," said Minster.

"My opinion is that the only salvation for the Jewish and Palestinian masses is for a socialist federation in the Near East. Nationalism and religious states will never settle the problem. I'm upset, and I'm upset for the Palestinian and Israeli people who continue to go through this hell because of the support of the U.S. government and the insanity of somebody like [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon running the government over there."

Jewish community leaders, however, applauded the rescinding of the resolution.

"This is a very positive development. I think this is the best outcome," said Rabbi Doug Kahn, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. "It was our profound hope that the resolution that had passed was not a true expression of the leaders of the labor council and now that they've rescinded it, I think this clearly indicates that real leadership has been shown."

Stan Warren, the secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Building and Trades Council, described the hourlong debate as "very contentious. People were so upset they were walking out. People of the Jewish persuasion in the room — some of them refused to speak at all, they were so incensed with the whole process."

Warren described the resolution as "a real doozy" and said his union membership was "dismayed" at its acceptance. The effort of the building trades and several other large unions paved the way for the necessary two-thirds majority in a forum in which voting power is based upon the per-capita membership of the union.

"A lot of the meeting focused on the fact that more Palestinians are dying than Israelis, [with those speakers arguing that] the resolution was just," said Warren. "We didn't quite feel that way. Too many people are getting killed on both sides."

Karen Lipney, the assistant executive director of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Screen Actors Guild, described the debate as "heated and distressing."

"I thought there was a tremendous amount of misinformation regarding the history of the region and I think what clearly seemed to be an anti-Israeli feeling came forth," she said. "Importantly, I think cooler heads prevailed."

As a Jew, she added, it "was frightening to sit there and listen to so much anti-Zionist rhetoric and hatred of Israel with [the speakers showing] no understanding of what led up to this."

Minster, for one, was not surprised by the outcome of the voting.

"I knew once the executive committee came through with their manipulation, it was a foregone conclusion we'd lose the vote," he said. "They've learned from their masters, this U.S. government, on how to suppress people's rights."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.