ACTU’s ‘river-to-sea’ chorus

Last month, the ACTU castigated Israel for "the deaths of over 34,000 civilians since 7 October" and "the use of starvation as a weapon of war".

Jeff Lapidos. Photo: LinkedIn
Jeff Lapidos. Photo: LinkedIn

A Jewish union official who was a delegate at last week’s congress of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said he was prevented from criticising its pro-Gaza position.

Last month, the ACTU castigated Israel for “the deaths of over 34,000 civilians since 7 October” and “the use of starvation as a weapon of war”.

Lapidos, branch secretary of the Australian Services Union, responded at the time with an email to ACTU secretary Sally McManus and president Michele O’Neil, pointing out that at least 10,000 of the fatalities classified as “civilians” by the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry “were combatants for Hamas and Islamic Jihad”.

At last week’s triennial ACTU Congress, Lapidos proposed an amendment to the policy but O’Neil deferred it to her executive, rather than allowing it to be debated on the floor.

Lapidos had been ready to speak on his amendment, and slammed the ACTU leadership for quashing any dissension.

“I can understand that many of the unions wished to avoid a divisive debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict at Congress,” he told The AJN afterwards. “But this does not explain why [McManus] was not prepared to negotiate a compromise.”

Disgusted at union delegates chorusing “Free, free Palestine from the river to the sea” during a session on racism, Lapidos recounted, “What was really upsetting for me is that [O’Neil] did not raise any concern.”

The ACTU passed a motion in line with its May statement. It called for “unimpeded access of humanitarian aid into Palestine corridors to allow humanitarian aid into Palestine” and for “the Australian government to exercise all avenues of influence and pressure and diplomacy to stop the bombing and ground assault by Israel into Gaza and work for an immediate and lasting ceasefire”.

Lapidos’ amendment, seconded by Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association Newcastle secretary David Bliss, called for “all hostages held in Gaza” to be immediately set free, and for any future Palestinian state “to recognise trade union and human rights, respect for women and the rights of LGBTQIA communities”.

Importantly, it called for there to be no role for Hamas in any future Palestinian government.

Dismayed at McManus, Lapidos told The AJN, “Obviously, this was too much for Sally’s one-eyed view of Hamas freedom fighters.”

An ACTU spokesperson claimed its policies received unanimous support at the congress.

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