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March 31, 2010

Economy for Jews only

Scott Stockdale

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The Hidstadrut - an Israeli trade union - has been and continues to be instrumental in building the myth of progressive Zionism, according to Katherine Nastovski, a graduate student in Social and Political Thought at York University.

Speaking recently at a meeting sponsored by Not in Our Name (NION) Jewish Voices Opposing Zionism, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Ms. Nastovski said Hidstadrut is a pre-state organization founded in 1920, which helped build an apartheid state.

Initially founded as a Jewish trade union which would also provide services such as employment exchange, sick pay and consumer benefits, Hidstadrut's initial goals were to provide a federation for all Jewish workers in the British Mandate of Palestine, promote land settlement, promote workers' rights against management and promote Jewish employment.

However, Ms. Nastovski said Histadrut morphed into an economic empire that includes Israel's largest bank (Bank HaPoalim) and numerous other enterprises, employment agencies and unions, while simultaneously overseeing the Israeli defence force.

“Hidstadrut supports capital development to build business and services for settlers. It saw private capital as a means to offset Arab labor. They've created a separate economy for settlers only. It's productive but not distributive.”

She added that Hidstadrut has become the principle engine for capitalist development in Palestine and, although its enterprises may lose money, building a nation is more important.

In order to achieve its goal, Ms. Nastovski said socialism had to be revised, to replace its premise of class struggle with that of nation building.

“Ben-Gurion said: 'Workers must be transformed to build a nation. We need an army of labor to build a nation.' “

By offering work, health insurance and pensions, workers were drawn to Hidstadrut, but Ms. Nastovski said that because Hidstadrut was intended to serve Jewish workers only, labor segregation became a key part of territorial segregation.

In a presentation after Ms. Nastovski's, Dana Olwan, assistant Professor of Gender Studies at Queen's University and a member of Solidarity for Palestinian Rights (SPPR) in Kingston, said a March 5, 2010 article in the Jerusalem Post said men from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior (IMI) were looking to see if any businesses had illegal workers helping them and these IMI officials vowed to apprehend, fine and deport illegal workers.

She said there are currently 260,000 migrant workers in Israel – mostly from the Philippines and Thailand – and although these migrant workers constitute 10 percent of the Israeli labor force, half of them are considered illegal workers.

“This is a colonial movement. They're retaining land control with Jewish labor. These ideas are ubiquitous in Israel. Israel seeks entry into the global economy, but its economy is for Jews only. It imports immigrants to do the dirty work for peanuts.”

Although Israel continues to seek admittance to the OCED (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), Ms. Olwan said an OCED report states it will not admit Israel until these economic problems are solved.

“In 2005 there were 57,800 Palestinians with college degrees. This is 8.7 percent of Palestinians. Seventy-seven percent are employed, but only half in jobs related to their degrees. Palestinian graduates' salaries are 35 percent lower than Israeli graduates. Half of Palestinians live below the poverty line.”

She added that in the last decade Palestinian workers in Israel have been defrauded of $2 billion by methods such as taking 1/5 of their salaries for welfare and other social benefits, even though they aren't eligible to receive these benefits.

Ms. Olwan said building permits are granted in such a way as to minimize dependence on Palestinian labor, while Palestinian investment is restricted because they must get permits from the Israeli government. There are also tariff restrictions on the flow of Palestinian goods into Israel.

She said Israel uses Palestinian labor to build illegal settlements, and Israelis who open businesses in the industrial zone in the West Bank get tax deductions. Meanwhile there is a 31 percent unemployment rate in the West Bank.

Due in no small part to this desperate situation, 40,000 Palestinians are working illegally in Israeli. Ms. Olwan said 50,000 of these illegal workers are arrested annually and subjected to deportation and imprisonment.

In answer to a question after her presentation, Ms. Olwan said there is nothing virtuous about Zionism.

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