Jewish Labor Committee President’s Address at the JLC Human Rights Award Dinner

Categories: Letters From Leadership

Stuart Appelbaum, Jewish Labor Committee President,

Addresses the 41st JLC Human Rights Award Dinner


Photo by John Clifford, Local 600, Cinematographers Guild, IATSE

 

As President of the Jewish Labor Committee, let me welcome you to our 41st Human Rights Award Dinner.

This is the one evening each year that we set aside to recognize and express our appreciation to a select group of leaders who have demonstrated a unique commitment to the values the JLC has stood for 77 years … Jewish values which continue to guide us today:
• a commitment to human rights;
• a commitment to economic justice – both on the job and in the community;
• and a commitment to tolerance and diversity: to racial diversity, religious diversity, diversity in sexual orientation, and language;
• a nation where all of us have a voice — and all of us count.

That’s the kind of America the JLC believes in and it’s the kind of America our honorees are helping to build each day:
• George Grisham, the president of 1199 SEIU – United Health Care Workers-East;
• Dr. Steven Sayfer, president and CEO of Montifiore Medical Center;
• Matthew Loeb, the president of IATSE: the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts – a union with a commitment to working people as long as its name;
• and Denis Hughes, who headed NY’s labor movement for many years, as President of the New York State AFL-CIO.

Their life’s work — their commitment — gives living testament to the words of Isaiah when he called on all of us to, “Observe what is right and to do what is just.”

And observing what’s right and doing what’s just is the special mission of the JLC.
It’s the reason why, when some tried to brand Occupy Wall Street as an anti-Semitic mob, we stood up and told the truth: that it’s not the Occupy movement that’s anti-Semitic, it’s the right-wing hate machine and the corporations that fund it.
We all have a part to play in building this movement and, at the JLC, we’ll continue to do ours.
Observing what’s right and doing what’s just.
That’s why the JLC has been on point to educate and to mobilize Jewish organizations to win the strong labor laws working people want and desperately need.
Because, sisters and brothers, you and I both know that we can’t have a fair and decent and just society when only 11 percent of workers in this country have a union.
Wells-Fargo and J.P. Morgan-Chase and CitiGroup won’t rebuild the middle class, but a strong, growing labor movement will – and it’s time to turn the heat all the way up and fight for laws that will help make that happen.

Doing what’s just.
It’s the reason why the JLC went to work to mobilize Jewish opposition to Scott Walker’s union busting agenda in Wisconsin… it’s the reason we supported the campaign that overturned John Kasich’s assault on collective bargaining in Ohio … it’s the reason we’re opposing Mitch Daniels drive for right-to-work in Indiana … and it’s the reason why we’re helping to organize New Jersey’s Jewish community to help fight Chris Christie’s anti-labor jihad in New Jersey.
All of us know that Chris Christie has an insatiable appetite for union busting – and in 2012 we are going to put him on a diet!

Observing what’s right and doing what’s just.

And that doesn’t end with standing up for Jewish values here at home, but around the world — and nowhere is that more urgent than in the Middle East.
Together with our allies overseas, the JLC is pushing back against a well-orchestrated campaign to demonize Israel as an apartheid state.
This is not a disagreement with certain Israeli policies, something that is quite legitimate.
Rather, it’s a campaign whose end goal is to undermine the very idea of a Jewish state. And they’ve made some headway in doing that.
Yet, while unions in some countries bought into that new twist on what is still anti-Semitism, I’m proud to tell you that, here in America, not a single union has!
And thanks to some of the people at this table and in this room they never will!
But not all of the threats facing Israel today are coming from outside its borders. Some are home grown.
We’ve all been thrilled by the winds of change in the Middle East.
Still, with this change we’ve also seen new expressions of contempt for Israel within the Arab world.
It’s a contempt that’s rooted, in no small part, in the conviction that Israel will never accept the right of the Palestinians to an independent state.
And, sadly, Israel is cursed with a right-wing coalition government that’s regularly giving credence to it.
We all know Benjamin Netanyahu talks a good game about a two-state solution, but, at the very same time, his administration continues to shamelessly promote the construction of illegal settlements on the West Bank – a policy that no severely impedes negotiations.
It’s like an employer who comes to the bargaining table telling us he wants a contract that’s a win-win for both sides while, at the same time, he has his lawyers working on decertification petitions.
The upshot is that Hamas – a terrorist organization that murders Israeli men, women and children and Palestinians — is winning new support and, as they do, moderates who were once ready to negotiate peace are backing away and trying to sound as tough as the terrorists.
The truth is that if Netanyahu doesn’t negotiate with Palestinian moderates today, there simply won’t be any moderates left to negotiate with tomorrow.
That’s why it’s time all of us – Jew and non-Jew – send a message to Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition that the only path to peace is through good faith negotiations with the Palestinians.
There’s nothing anti-Israel about being pro-peace and looking for a settlement worked out fairly by both sides.

We all understand that, and I’ll tell you someone else who does: President Barack Obama.
That’s why Netanyahu’s right-wing supporters in this country have pulled out the stops to slander the president as some kind of enemy of Israel.
They hope that if they repeat that lie long and loud enough that some Jews might actually fall for it … enough, maybe, to flip Florida against President Obama this fall.
Who would they replace him with? Maybe a guy like Rick Santorum – a man who said that allowing Palestinians to have their own country on the West Bank would be like the U.S. giving Texas back to Mexico.
[Which, come to think of it, may not be that bad of an idea.]

Now, the JLC is barred from getting involved in elections, but we are not barred from telling the truth, and, as I see it, the truth is that Israel has no stronger friends in this country today than Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton – and the Jewish community in Florida – and across America – need to understand it.

It’s about observing what’s right and doing’s what’s just.
For 77 years that’s been the vision that’s guided the JLC.
From its fight against the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s … through its battles against segregation in the ‘50s and ‘60s… to its work for strong labor laws and a secure Israel today … the JLC of 2012 remains what it always has been: labor’s voice in the Jewish community and a uniquely Jewish voice in the House of Labor.
• a voice for human rights;
• a voice for economic justice;
• a voice for freedom;
• and a voice for peace.

And, speaking for the JLC, we are honored by the support you’re giving us so we can continue to speak out so we can be heard loud and clear in the months and years to come.
Thank you.

About Stuart Applebaum

Stuart Appelbaum is the President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and President of the Jewish Labor Committee.
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