Speech by Ivar Ekeland at the International Trade Union Forum for Support and Solidarity with Palestine organized by the UGTT in Tunis on January 20, 2018

Following the decision of US President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) organized an International Trade Union Forum of Support and Solidarity with Palestine in Tunis on January 20th. 2018, which corresponds to the seventy second anniversary of its creation. More than 50 unions around the world and many civil society organizations including AURDIP participated in this forum.

Many participants to the Forum called for BDS, including Hael Al Fahoum, the Palestinian ambassador to Tunisia, Azzam al Ahmad, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Shaher Saad, president of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, and Ivar Ekeland, treasurer and former president of the AURDIP.

Below is the speech of Ivar Ekeland.

Dear comrades.

I am here on behalf on AURDIP, l’Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine. We have worked in Palestinian universities, we have seen how our colleagues live, we have seen how the students and their families live, we have seen what a military occupation is, and it has changed us. We came back carrying a flame: Freedom for the Palestinian people !

Together with our sister organizations, notably BRICUP in the United Kingdom, we have tried to propagate this flame in France and in Europe. We have asked the European Commission several times to apply article 2 of the cooperation treaty with Israel, which mandates sanctions in case of violations of human rights. The European Parliament has formulated the same demand twice in the past, and the Commission never responded. Confronted with this denial, and together with many European citizens, we have decided to apply our own sanctions, et we joined the BDS movement, which the Palestinian society launched a little more than ten years ago.

Today I have heard several speakers ask what the organisations represented here could actually do. I will answer directly: we need you ! BDS has already met with stunning successes (I am thinking here of the statements of prominent scientists such as Steven Hawking or artists such as Ken Loach or Roger Waters), but it is met with violent opposition. It can be devious (public meetings or demonstrations in favour of BDS are prohibited under guise of preventing violence), or open (under President Sarkozy, the minister of justice has instructed public prosecutors to prosecute BDS militants for disrupting a lawful economic activity, and this instruction has never been revoked). Not only is BDS facing repression, it is also facing an attempt to deligitimate the whole movement, by accusing it of antisemitism.

This is where we need the trade unions. If you do not join BDS, at least support it by proclaiming its legitimacy. The European Commission, speaking through Federica Mogherini, has stated that calling for the boycott of Israel is part of freedom of speech, but we need that to be said by voices which are closer to the people and better heard. The trade unions have a crucial role to play in popularizing the Palestinian struggle and at in supporting the citizens who seek by peaceful means to pressure their own governments into applying the UN resolutions and international law.

We also need the Tunisians, and all the nationalities represented here in Tunis. We rely on your help to make our governments understand that the Palestinian struggle is far from forgotten, that it still causes indignation in world opinion, and that this standing example of not fulfilling international obligations makes it very difficult to solve peacefully the many other conflicts which are rife in the world. Our governments must be mad to understand that, by not applying international law in the case of Israel, they destroy the trust which lies at the heart of international relations, and they herald a cycle of violence which will engulf the planet, including their own countries.

We are extremely grateful to UGTT for having initiated this meeting. I how the organizations which are represented here will endorse this struggle, which is basically about the right of citiziens to influence politics.

Ivar Ekeland
Treasurer and former president of the AURDIP,
former president of the University Paris-Dauphine,
former president of the Scientific Council of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris