Top South African Trade Unionist Willy Madisha issued a white-hot condemnation of Israel’s apartheid policies at a London conference on Saturday.
Addressing the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s trade union conference at TUC Congress House, the COSATU president declared that South Africa’s apartheid policies had been ‘a Sunday picnic’ compared to the state of Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians.
‘Apartheid was characterised by killings, hangings, disappearances, arrests, exile, confiscations, inferior education, rapes and the creation of bantusans.
‘All this was a Sunday picnic compared to what is happening to the Palestinians. I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state’ said Mr Madisha.
But he questioned the inadequate global response to the worsening situation.
‘Why are all the things done to apartheid South Africa not being done to Israel?’ he asked.
‘The trade union movement must move beyond resolutions, otherwise history will look back on us and spit on our graves’ he warned.
Mr Madisha proposed a concerted international boycott campaign along the lines of the one that ended apartheid in South Africa.
His speech was greeted with rapturous applause at the day-long event, which brought together dozens of activists to discuss the role that trade unionists can play in winning justice for Palestinians.
Palestinian speakers spoke of the dire social and economic situation facing people in the occupied state.
They explained how Israeli control of communications links and borders had devastated the economy and warned that the withholding of vital international aid in the wake of the Hamas electoral victory risked a social catastrophe.
Palestinian General Delegation representative Husam Zomlot pointed out that ‘it is not aid for the government, but for the people.’
Poverty in some Palestinian areas has already reached 80 per cent, he said.
Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions general secretary Shaher Sae’d received a standing ovation when he explained the severe hardships facing the Palestinian workforce.
He called for trade union pressure to be exerted on the British government to channel funds into job creation programmes.
Mr Sae’d endorsed Mr Madisha’s call for an international conference to organise a boycott campaign to counter ‘the real issue: the silence of the world.’
‘We need to put all our efforts into this’ he added.
British speakers drawn from the 16 trade unions that backed the PSC event expressed their solidarity and called on fellow activists to throw their weight behind the campaign for justice.
CWU general secretary Billy Hayes urged: ‘Get your branch affiliated.’
FBU president Ruth Winters warned that the policies of Israel and the international community risked fuelling the situation.
‘They need to remember what we all know ‘extreme oppression provokes extreme reaction’ she said.
A number of speakers also acknowledged the power of pro-Israeli lobbyists who regularly attempted to label criticism of the state’s actions as anti-semitism.
PSC trade union liaison officer Bernard Regan labelled this a ‘McCarthyite attitude’ and emphasised that the campaign’s targets were simply the government of Israel’s brutal policies.