Statement on Israel and Palestine

Statement from Equity General Secretary Paul W Fleming and Equity President Maureen Beattie:

"Equity has a long, and proud history of standing up for peace and justice around the world – including in Palestine. Violence directed against ordinary working people in both Israel and Palestine is appalling, and it is to be condemned by our movement. The disproportionate actions of the current Israeli government over the past few weeks, both in the policing of Jerusalem and toward Gaza, are particularly horrifying. We stand in solidarity with Palestinians taking industrial action, and workers around the world taking action in support of them.
 
"We are directly in touch to offer support and solidarity to our progressive Israeli sister union, Shaham, and through the International Federation of Actors (FIA).
 
"Through the International Committee for Artists Freedom we are in close contact with artists and organisations across Gaza and the West Bank and stand ready to offer support and solidarity as the situation develops. Right now, Equity and ICAF are asking all our members to consider offering financial support to the Alrowwad Arts Centre who advocate for the rights of Palestinian performing artists and entertainers, as well as progressing efforts for peace through art and understanding across communities. We are doing all we can to continue our long, strong relationship with them at a time of unprecedented difficulty. Members are also encouraged to join the COVID-safe protest organised by Trade Unions for Palestine this Saturday, which Council affiliated to this week.
 
"As part of the global trade union movement, and the art and entertainment our members create, Equity will do all we can to support the voices of working people in Palestine and Israel who want a just and lasting peace."

Equity, Israel and Palestine – Frequently Asked Questions


Following Equity’s support for the Trades Unionists for Palestine Grouping, and attending a march in solidarity with Palestinians on the 22nd May, members have asked questions about what this means. Here are some short answers to the most commonly asked questions.

No, Equity isn’t a non-political union. Being a trade union is a political act in itself, and requires us to have a political voice both in the UK and abroad. This has always been the case – in 1907, Kier Hardie (the first Labour Party MP) spoke up for variety artists who staged the infamous Music Hall Strike. They were part of the Variety Artiste’s Federation, which later was incorporated into Equity. In the 1930s, Equity was founded not just by actors, but by trades union and political advisors – most prominently the first General Secretary, and Communist Party councillor Alfred M Wall, and the then MP for Islington North, Robert Young. We do, and have always, worked with politicians, campaign groups and others on political campaigns at home and abroad to stand up for our members’ interests, and the interests of performing artists, entertainers, and working people around the world.

We also affiliate to organisations involved in political questions in the UK and around the world – like Amnesty International, Liberty, and the Colombian Solidarity Campaign.

Equity does not, however, affiliate to a political party. Some trade unions do, most notably to the Labour Party and support candidates and campaigns. Ironically, Equity’s longstanding decision to be independent of a party can make us more political – we are free to speak truth to power, whoever it is, without the restrains of formal affiliation. Our parliamentary group, organised with fellow entertainment unions contains MPs and peers from all parties who support our union’s aims.

Equity’s rules oblige us to stand up for artists who are suffering around the world. We are one of the most powerful entertainment unions in the world, and this comes with an enormous responsibility to stand up for trades unionists in other countries who don’t have the industrial strength or political freedom that we do.

In the 1950s, Equity jointly founded FIA, the international federation of actors’ unions. We regularly give and receive support and solidarity from our sister unions who are members.

In some parts of the world, there are not free trade unions for us to work with – often these are in places where artists need the most protection. In those cases we work with other organisations who stand up for them – like Amnesty International in Burma, the Belarus Free Theatre in Belarus, and the Alrowwad Arts Centre in Bethlehem.

No. Equity regularly takes a position on political events all over the world, and always have done. We even have a committee – the International Committee for Artists Freedom (ICAF) – which is dedicated to this work.

In the 1930s Equity was involved in aid for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. Most famously in the 1970s and 1980s, we refused to allow our members work to appear in apartheid South Africa. At the time, most TV in South Africa came from the UK, and our decision essentially stopped the scheduling of large amounts of TV. Nelson Mandela and others spoke about how Equity’s action was some of the most effective in putting pressure on the then South African government.

In the last 12 months, we have put pressure on the French government to stop destructive reforms to the French benefits system for actors. We successfully lobbied the Japanese government to introduce a coronavirus support scheme for the self employed. We have delivered practical support to Belarus Free Theatre over the last few months as the political situation there has worsened. In Burma, we are actively advocating for artists who are suffering since the military coup, building on our longstanding successes, like securing the release of Zarganar, the popular Burmese comedian and critic of the military regime.

In December 2020 we sent money directly to the Alrowwad Arts Centre in Bethlehem to support them in dealing with the COVID pandemic in Palestine, where they are co-ordinating some medical responses for both performers and the local community.

It would be wrong to single out the Middle East for policy, and wrong to hold the governments, organisations or others to different standards than we expect elsewhere in the world. This also means that it would be wrong to not have a policy position.

 

No. Our policy has not changed in recent months, although our position has developed over decades, the current policy was decided in 2019 when we set up formal relations with Alrowwad.

In 2019 we attended a meeting of EuroFIA, the European section of FIA, in Tel Aviv, which was organised by our Israeli sister union Shaham. They are a progressive, inclusive union with whole we are proud to have good relations. We also met Alrowwad, and formalised our relationship with them, in the absence of a Palestinian union, following that trip.

Our policy is to support performing artists and all working people in the region – irrespective of which community they come from. We do not believe that the interests of Israelis or Palestinians are served by the ongoing conflict, the terrorist activity of Hamas, or the disproportionate responses of the Israeli government.

Our policy is shared with the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which supports Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. It also supports the recognition of the State of Palestine. Both Equity and the TUC want to see the implementation of UN resolutions.

No. Trades Unionists for Palestine is a loose coalition of 16 trades unions from across sectors in the UK – the represent everyone from teachers to train drivers, nurses to bakers. Not all these unions have the same policy on Palestine, Israel or the conflict, and joining does not oblige us to have the same position as other unions who have different policy.

Where we are all agreed is that we want peace and justice in the Middle East.

Equity Council agreed to join Trades Unionists for Palestine by putting our logo on their banner when they met on Tuesday, and mandated the General Secretary and President to make a statement, which was published online on Thursday. Following the statement, the situation has changed rapidly, and a ceasefire has been declared – which is of course to be welcomed.

Saturday’s march was showing solidarity with Palestine. The trades union bloc on the march want to pressure our government to do more to stand up for ordinary Palestinians who are not served by the violence perpetrated in their name by Hamas, and have suffered extraordinary hardship as a result of the disproportionate actions of Israel’s current government in recent weeks.

Equity doesn’t have policy for the sake of it. We only make policies which mean we can make a real difference rather than empty posturing. Our policy is about giving real and practical support to Alrowwad, and Shaham, when they ask us for it. Our policy makes a real difference and shows a united trade union movement to our government who must do all it can to secure a just and lasting peace. A united trades union movement, mobilised on the streets, in parliament and in the courts can affect real change.

Equity’s Council decides our policy – by voting in Equity’s elections for Council, President and General Secretary you give them their mandate.

Any member can get involved in the work of ICAF, as they campaign in solidarity with artists around the world.