GE threatened with lawsuit over BDS-supporting union


An Israeli-based nongovernmental organization called on General Electric Co. to void a labor accord with an American union that recently endorsed the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

In a letter sent last week to GE CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt, Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center President Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Tel Aviv and its U.S. Counsel Robert J. Tolchin, warned Immelt to rescind a recently concluded labor agreement with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, as the union recently announced its endorsement of the BDS movement. Darshan-Leitner and Tolchin cautioned that Shurat HaDin is willing to take legal action to ensure that GE “is not engaged in instituting, promoting or inciting boycotts of the State of Israel, Israeli manufacturers, companies or their products or services.”

“By calling to boycott Israel, [the union] is actually working against their own [rules] because they are supposed to work with people of all backgrounds,” Darshan-Leitner said in an interview.

“GE is a publicly traded company and if they are involved in discriminating acts against Jews, against Israelis, their shareholders will not put up with it,” she added.

Darshan-Leitner said that should GE engage with the union, they would be violating United States law regarding nondiscrimination based on nationality. Illinois and South Carolina passed laws earlier this year barring investments in companies that boycott Israel.

A new labor agreement between the union and GE was ratified in June. UE represents approximately 3,500 GE employees.

The resolution, passed in mid-August at UE’s national convention in Baltimore, calls on Congress to end military aid to Israel, and to “pressure Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the siege of Gaza” and negotiate a peace agreement that includes the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The resolution further endorses the BDS movement and urges the union “at all levels” to become engaged in BDS.

In the body of the resolution, Israel is accused of “ethnic cleansing,” “apartheid” and waging a “merciless war” on Gaza in the summer 2014. While Palestinian death tolls are noted, no mention is made of Israeli military and civilian deaths nor the actions of Hamas militants.

UE noted that it joins British union UNITE, UAW Local 2865 representing graduate employees of University of California and the Congress of South African Trade Unions in backing BDS.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League sent a letter to UE’s president, Bruce Kipple, at the union’s headquarters in Pittsburgh, urging the union head to reconsider.

“The UE has shamefully lent its support to a campaign that is bigoted in its origins and entirely counterproductive to peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians,” wrote Greenblatt. “It’s a sad break from your traditions of fairness and inclusivity.”

A spokesperson with GE said in a statement, “The United Electric Workers are a separate entity independent from GE. GE complies with all U.S. anti-boycott laws and regulations.”

Though Darshan-Leitner does not believe the global BDS movement has done much economic harm to Israel overall, she worries about the future.

“In terms of demonizing, they cause a lot of damage,” she said. “They’re reaching out to the young people, students at a time when they can be influenced on their attitude toward different things.”

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