Breaking the ties between the Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) and the Israeli Histadrut is a trade union, political and ethical duty

The following article was initially published in Spanish at El Salto Diario.

by Liliana Córdova KaczerginskiJaldia Abubakra, and Daniel Lobato Bellido


The definition of Israel as an apartheid state is beginning to spread internationally and unstoppably. In 2009 Palestinian and South African academics published a comprehensive report that determined that Israel was committing the crime of apartheid. The Russell Tribunal on Palestine, with the participation of the emeritus magistrate of the Spanish Supreme Court, José Antonio Martín Pallín, ruled in 2010 that Israel exercises systematic apartheid. Also two former UN special reporters on human rights in Palestine came to the same conclusion: in 2007, John Dugard determined that Israel commits colonialism and apartheid. In 2017, Richard Falk and the UN ESCWA Commission concluded that Israel has established an apartheid regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole. Faced with the scandal over the report, Israel and the US pressured the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, and succeeded in removing the text from the UN website.

In early 2021, B’Tselem, a very prestigious Israeli organization in the monitoring of human rights, published a report that concludes that Israel is an apartheid state in a single political entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Furthermore, by acknowledging that ancient historical Palestine as a whole is a single geopolitical entity ruled by Tel Aviv, it has exposed the fraud of the rhetoric of the “two-state solution,” “negotiating table,” and so on that do not help the diagnosis or the solution of what is happening. It is very significant that the CCOO Trade Union Confederation has assumed the importance and seriousness of what the B’tselem report indicates, collecting the news on its CCOO website along with the translated version of the document. Recently, the NGO Human Rights Watch has joined in defining Israel as an apartheid regime.

The analogy with South Africa is immediate, although Israel has made the set of legal mechanisms more sophisticated, and intensified the media and diplomatic pressure to try to hide the segregation. From the internal institutional racism against the Palestinians who are citizens of the State of Israel (21% of its population) with more than 60 apartheid laws, to the unlimited segregationist repression against the Palestinians in the ghettos of the West Bank and Gaza. The first ghetto – West Bank – under a military dictatorship of varying intensity and the second – Gaza – under maximum security imprisonment. The latest segregationist crime of the Israeli regime, by way of macabre collective punishment, has been not only its refusal to vaccinate the 5 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank despite being mandated by the Fourth Geneva Convention, but also preventing the vaccines entering Gaza.

At a different extreme of segregation and exclusion are the more than six million Palestinian refugees that Israel prevents from returning to their land and homes after having expelled them, doubly violating international law.

In a deceptive geopolitical context, which appears to be favorable to Israeli impunity, in reality the beginning of the end of its decades of impunity begins in its violation of international legality and in its contempt for dozens of UN resolutions.

Alongside this snapshot of apartheid, which is gradually and inexorably revealed even to those who refused to look, is added the decision of the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel for the committing of war crimes against the Palestinians.

In a deceptive geopolitical context, which appears to be favorable to Israeli impunity, in reality the beginning of the end of its decades of impunity begins in its violation of international legality and in its disregard of dozens of UN resolutions, both of the Security Council and the General Assembly. With the Pretoria regime in South Africa there was a turning point in the late 1970s in world awareness. With Israel it will also come, or is coming already, despite crude efforts by the Israeli regime to stir up Western anti-Jewish ghosts by wanting to link the growing boycott of Israel with anti-Semitism. In the same way that the boycott of apartheid South Africa was not “anti-white”, but against the racist Pretoria regime, and obviously millions of Western “white” people supported the boycott, the boycott of Israel is not Judeophobic, but against the racist regime of Tel Aviv; and hundreds of Jewish survivors of Nazi concentration camps support the boycott of Israel, as well as dozens of international Jewish organizations.

Histadrut: a tool for colonization, exploitation and segregation of the Palestinian indigenous population

In 1992, the Comisiones Obreras (CC OO) Trade Union Confederation, the major trade union confederation in Spain, invited the head of international relations at Histadrut to make this Israeli organization known to the Spanish working class. His apologetic article was published by CCOO. Between half truths and praise for the supremacist mythology of Zionism – which by definition implies the dispossession of the Palestinian natives and apartheid – it also included lies and calls for the violation of international legality, which in CC OO must have gone unnoticed. Just six years after Spain’s recognition of Israel, CC OO followed the institutional inertia of normalization with Israel, without considering the background of the decisions.

In addition, the question of the Middle East became a question of State policy and CC OO accommodated itself to that framework without considering it, when the important thing in those years was that agreements between Israel and the PLO (Madrid and Oslo) were looming on the horizon. Finally, the article by the Histadrut leader in the CCOO magazine reinforced the view of how Histadrut was seen outside of Israel as a common union, equivalent to the British Trade Union Congress, or the American AFL / CIO, and inclusive, because Histadrut always had a “convenient” Israeli-Palestinian member in his delegations.

In 1992, amid the collapse of the apartheid regime in Pretoria, no one at CCOO thought that Histadrut was the equivalent of an Afrikaner union with some indigenous South African member.

In the Western imagination, and in that of the CCOO and other Spanish unions, Histadrut came to embody Israeli progressivism in capital-labor relations, and that has been enough, without going deeper. In that Olympic year, in the midst of the collapse of the apartheid regime in Pretoria, and two years after Mandela was elected president of the new South Africa, no one at CCOO thought that Histadrut was the equivalent of an Afrikaner union with some indigenous South African member.

In 2003, the International Policy Secretariat of CCOO and Paz y Solidaridad published an exhaustive monograph on Labour and Trade Unionism in Palestine / Israel, co-authored by Isaías Barreñada, one of the leading experts on Palestine in Spain.

Histadrut was analyzed in depth, and in addition to reflecting apartheid as the backbone of this organization, the report recognizes that Histadrut “played a direct role with the Israeli military occupation” and that it benefited economically from it with its construction company and its entire holding company business.

Furthermore, “Histadrut legitimized the actions of the Israeli government in violation of international law.” It also points out that following the signing of the Oslo Accords and subsequent agreements between Histadrut and the Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions, Histadrut did not fulfill its commitments to the Palestinian trade unions. Among others, the return of quotas withheld by Israeli companies to Palestinian workers for 30 years, which during all those decades enriched Histadrut. That debt was estimated in the agreements at 400 million dollars and has never been paid to the Palestinians.

CC OO and Histadrut international alliances

The CC OO report clearly pointed out Histadrut’s guilt in the war crime that involves obtaining financial gain by collaborating with and taking advantage of an illegal military occupation. In other words, the document prepared at the highest level within CC OO clearly stated that Histadrut was unequivocally involved in war crimes; But for some reason that escapes us, CC OO did not make any decision on what to do with its ally: CC OO and Histadrut shared membership in the CIOSL until its dissolution in 2006, being replaced by the CSI, the International Trade Union Confederation – the first world trade union organization – where again Histadrut and CC OO are allies. Similarly, both organizations join forces in international trade union alliances, such as Public Services International, ISP / PSI, and others.

Histadrut and the Palestinian workforce

The report did not include some other relevant elements of Histadrut’s history, organization and ideology, which are worth knowing.

As the CC OO document pointed out, Histadrut is not and has not exactly been a union. Not only because it was the founder of the Labor Party or the Haganah paramilitary militias, later converted into the Israel Army, in charge of expelling the Palestinian natives, but because it was the second largest employer in Israel, owning the main bank or more than 25% of industry, with hundreds of thousands of employees. After the privatization of part of its industrial conglomerate in the 80s and 90s, its “union” decline began, although at the same time its political weight was reinforced.

From its inception in 1920, it excluded native Palestinian labour. In 1936 Palestinian workers carried out a six-month general strike against the foreign invasion and colonization of Palestine, one of the longest strikes in the history of labour. Histadrut replaced striking Palestinian workers with exclusive Jewish labour. Together with the British occupying power, Histadrut established Tel Aviv as an alternative port to Jaffa, paralyzed by the strike.

Histadrut not only segregated native labor, but conceptually dismissed solidarity among workers in favor of ethno-religious exclusivism. It destroyed the early efforts of Palestinian and Jewish workers’ groups for a joint unionism based on true equality. And it is true that the main role of Histadrut was not the defence of working conditions but the colonization of Palestine. As Golda Meir pointed out, it was a great colonization agency, endorsing the positions of the Zionist movement: Jewish labor, Jewish production and Jewish consumption, with apartheid and Zionist supremacism as its backbone.

Eleven years after the establishment of the State of Israel by the settlers, in 1959, Histadrut began to admit Palestinian members with Israeli citizenship (as indicated above, 21% of the population of Israel), confined in a special section of the organization. Of course, this admission has never included Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza ghettos, even if they work on Israeli territory.

There was a reason behind this “openness” towards a part of the indigenous workforce: on that date Israel agreed to provide health services to the Palestinian-Israelis who until then lacked them, and this in turn forced them to pay a union dues, that is, they had to join Histadrut. However, Histadrut has never given them jobs in strategic sectors (weapons, oil, chemicals, electronics, aviation, navigation, airlines, electricity, gas, telecommunications, etc.), because to access a job in these branches requires military service, and that fifth of Israel’s population, the Palestinian-Israelis, do not perform military service in the army.

Histadrut has never started any mobilization against the different governments for labour segregation against natives with Israeli citizenship … including discrimination that occurs in public administration

Histadrut has never started any mobilization against the different governments for this labour segregation against natives with Israeli citizenship. Neither because of this, nor because of the discrimination that occurs in the public administration, where only 12% of public employment is held by Palestinian-Israelis, and almost exclusively as health personnel. Less than 1% of the executive positions of the administration are held by Palestinian-Israelis, who we recall, are 21% of the population of Israel.

Histadrut also does not confront systemic employment and wage discrimination on ethnic grounds in Israel. The average remuneration of Palestinian workers with Israeli citizenship is 42% lower than that of the rest of Israelis (5,420 shekel per month compared to 7,950, data from 2019). Histadrut also did not invest or build any industry in mostly Palestinian Israeli populations, contributing to their impoverishment. In 1990, Histadrut enforced the construction employers’ demand that Palestinian-Israeli workers pay an additional tax to finance the training of Jewish immigrants from the former USSR. This meant that the Palestinian-Israeli workers were forced to subsidize the job training of the workers destined to replace them.

In this systemic racism it is necessary to include the linguistic one as well. Let us suppose, as an example, that CCOO de Cataluña did not denounce, or mobilize, or put itself in profile before the repression of companies in Girona or Barcelona against workers who spoke Catalan among themselves, with Catalan being an official language of Catalonia. Well, that is exactly Histadrut’s position regarding the firings and repression of Palestinian-Israeli workers who communicate with each other in Arabic, Arabic being one of the official languages ​​of Israel.

Finally, what about the Palestinians in the ghettos of Gaza and the West Bank? They work in Israeli companies, either because they enter and leave the State of Israel on a daily basis crossing the ghetto’s military checkpoints (they are forbidden to sleep in Israeli territory), or because Israeli factories have settled in the West Bank (violating international law). The answer is that this native working class of the ghettos does not exist for Histadrut, nor does it exist for the State of Israel. They do not have the right to collective bargaining, nor to promotions, nor to pensions, nor to remuneration in the event of an accident at work or illness; they are given very low wages, etc. Taking advantage of the legal vacuum, Israeli employers apply individual bargaining or archaic Jordanian law with the Palestinian workforce in Gaza and the West Bank. This fact exemplifies the labour conflict during these months in an Israeli factory in occupied West Bank territory. Faced with the apartheid exercised by Histadrut against the Palestinian workers in the ghettos, other Israeli organizations such as Kavlaoved or Maan are in charge of supporting and organizing them.

The identification of Histadrut with Israeli politics, or Histadrut as an appendage of Israel 

Beyond its racist business and labour portrayal, it must be emphasized that Histadrut has supported all large-scale Israeli military aggressions against the Gaza ghetto: in 2008, 2012 and 2014, with about 5,000 deaths in total, a quarter children and girls, Histadrut justifies them in the same words as the Israeli government, “Israel’s right to self-defence.” Let us remember that the Palestinians are forcibly locked up in Gaza, since Tel Aviv does not allow them to return to their homes and lands that are within the State of Israel itself. In the same way, Histadrut justified the criminal Israeli assault in 2010 on the international flotilla headed by the Mavi Marmara, which sought to break the blockade of the Gaza ghetto. It has also supported all of Israel’s military aggressions against other neighboring countries. Notably, in 2006 Histadrut Secretary General Amir Peretz became the Labour Party Minister of Defence and carried out the brutal 2006 war against Lebanon.

Histadrut companies such as Tadiran and Soltam supplied the South African government with weapons, helping the Afrikaner regime to circumvent its global boycott. The Zionist regime in Israel and the Pretoria regime were close partners

Histadrut acted on behalf of Israeli and American foreign policy operating on behalf of the United States in African countries such as Zaire and Kenya in the 1960s, receiving funds from the US State Department. In the 1970s and 1980s it cooperated with the AIFLD program of the AFL-CIO and the CIA to undermine rural cooperatives in El Salvador for the benefit of intensive agribusiness, repressing indigenous union leaders and organizations, but above all being an additional element of the penetration of the US and Israel in Central America to finance and support the dictatorial regimes of the time or the death squads of the counterinsurgency.

Histadrut collaborated with the South African apartheid regime. The Iskoor Steel Company, 51 percent owned by Histadrut Koor Industries and 49 percent by the South African Steel Corporation, manufactured steel for the South African Armed Forces, helped build the wall between South Africa and Namibia, and Histadrut companies such as Tadiran and Soltam supplied the South African government with weapons, helping the Afrikaner regime to circumvent its global boycott. The Zionist regime in Israel and the Pretoria regime were close partners, since they shared supremacist ideology of the settlers against the indigenous people, and Histadrut was part of that institutional alliance.

The severance of relations with Histadrut is an ethical, political and union imperative

We have already seen how Palestinian workers are one of the sectors of the Palestinian population most affected by Israeli efforts to undermine the Palestinian economy with its regime of settler colonialism and apartheid. In 2005, numerous Palestinian unions were founding members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in Israel, BDS. This movement for the Boycott of Israel has grown unstoppably over the years, despite Israeli efforts to combat it, even creating a specific ministry.

The Palestinian unions, for their part, formed the Palestine Trade Union Coalition PTUC-BDS. This Palestinian trade union coalition issued in 2011 a statement of solidarity with the unions and the European working class that was suffering from the austerity policies of the EU, but also renewed the call to international unions to join the BDS movement, and expressly requested the break of union relations with Histadrut.

In response to this call, in September 2011 the British Trade Union Congress at the proposal of Unite, the largest British union, passed a resolution calling on all unions to review their bilateral relations with Israeli organizations, including Histadrut. Unite had already approved its severance of relations with Histadrut unanimously months before. In the same way, 27 Australian unions joined the Palestinian BDS campaign, supporting boycotts of the settlement industry, arms embargoes and divestments. Major unions from South Africa, France, Norway, Brazil, Canada, Ireland and more countries, have joined the boycott of Israel to varying degrees, and also the severance of relations with Histadrut. In Spain, multiple unions are attached to the BDS campaign.

In these days of May 2021, in the midst of a new massacre against the Gaza ghetto and a wave of repression by the regime against the indigenous population throughout the Palestinian territory – including lynching of Palestinian subjects of the State of Israel – there has been an overwhelming general strike by the whole of Palestinian society in the three parts in which Palestine is broken (Israel, the ghettos of the West Bank and the ghetto of Gaza).

The unity of Palestinian society in resisting oppression and apartheid has been rebuilt after decades of efforts to fragment and divide it by Israel and Western countries. For this reason, once again the Palestinian trade unions have launched an international call for solidarity: “to achieve our liberation, we need the solidarity of our comrades and friends of the international trade union movement”, calling for urgent measures from all trade union organizations in the world. Among them, joining the BDS movement, showing solidarity with the Palestinian strikes by calling mobilizations in their support, helping in resistance funds or taking forceful measures against companies or investment funds related to Israel.

It is the basic principle of international solidarity against oppression. Reciprocal to that received by the CC OO struggle during the Franco regime and the repression it suffered, including Process 1001, by international trade union forces.

Almost 20 years have passed since an internal report by CC OO exposed that Histadrut, an allied organization of this union, was an accomplice in war crimes. In 2021, CC OO continues to share organizational spaces with Histadrut: What is CC OO going to do?

Liliana Córdova Kaczerginski belongs to the International Network of Anti-Zionist Jews – IJAN

Jaldia Abubakra is a member of the Palestinian Women’s Movement – Alkarama

Daniel Lobato Bellido is a member of the Unadikum Association for solidarity with Palestine and the Middle East

All three are members of Samidoun España.