Tel-Aviv based legal rights organization Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center has taken on General Electric Co. on Thursday, urging the company to void GE's labor accords with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) in light of the union's endorsement of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The letter, signed by Shurat HaDin president Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Tel-Aviv and U.S. counsel Robert J. Tolchin, of New York, puts the publicly traded GE "on notice that the BDS movement’s efforts are unlawful racial discrimination on the basis of national origin and/or race, creed and religion under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and numerous U.S. state and federal statutes."
In the letter, Shurat HaDin warns GE, the international industrial mega-company based in Fairfield, Connecticut, that implementing BDS policies "could result in severe criminal and civil liability" for the company and its officers.
Shurat Hadin "will take all steps permitted by law 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, including without limitation filing legal action without further notice," it adds.
Darshan-Leitner spoke Thursday about the move.
"GE, an iconic American company known worldwide for quality products and services, cannot risk that goodwill by associating with this irresponsible labor group, which blatantly encourages an anti-Semitic economic war against Israel and its manufacturers," she said.
UE: Israel guilty of 'ethnic cleansing'
The union, known widely as UE, in June ratified new national labor agreements with GE. The UE represents almost 3,500 GE employees.
In mid-August, at its national convention in Baltimore, UE passed a resolution that "points to Israel's long history of violating the human rights of the Palestinians, starting with the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-48 that turned most of Palestine into the State of Israel."
The UE resolution calls on the U.S. to end aid to Israel and to support "a peace settlement on the basis of self-determination for Palestinians" and the right of return.
The resolution, the union said, is designed to pressure Israel "to end its apartheid over the Palestinians just as similar tactics helped to end South African apartheid in the 1980s."
The UE says it is the first U.S. national union to endorse the worldwide BDS movement against Israel.
Taking BDS by the horns
The letter from Shurat HaDin to GE's CEO warns the company not to affiliate "with any person or entity calling for a boycott or similar effort against the Israeli government or the nation’s manufacturers, companies, products or services."
GE's corporate policies prohibit bias in employment and commit the company to observe all applicable labor laws. And its website says that “diversity and inclusiveness" are essential to GE's "productivity, creativity, innovation and competitive advantage.”
As a legal matter, a boycott is not protected by the freedom-of-speech language of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because a boycott is not speech, it is action. Calls for and instruction in implementing unlawful actions are not protected speech.
Darshan-Leitner said that the union's outrageous call to support the boycott even violates the constitution of one of its own regional unions.
"That document says the UE is supposed to unite `all workers in our industry … regardless of craft, age, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, race, creed or political beliefs,'" she said.
"It would be absurd for any electronic manufacturer anywhere in the world, much less a publicly traded company like GE, to engage in or support a boycott of Israelis or Israeli manufacturers as Israel is a globally recognized high tech powerhouse and the source of much innovation in the electronics industry."