Universiteit Leiden

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L-PEG Research Seminar

Hebrew Labour without Hebrew Workers: the Histadrut, Palestinian workers, and Israel’s contemporary construction industry

Friday 19 March 2021
Online (link sent to registered participants)


The policy of Hebrew Labour, which aimed at the exclusion of Palestinian workers and produce from the Yishuv’s and Israel’s economy, was a founding principle of both the Labour Zionist movement and the Israeli state. Israel’s principal union federation, the Histadrut, was founded with the aim of organising the so-called conquest of Hebrew labour, and it mobilised its status as a quasi-state body after 1948 to institutionalise it. However, labour shortages and colonial expansion across the whole of historic Palestine in the 1960s led to the gradual integration of Palestinian workers, from both sides of the Green Line, in Israeli industry – primarily in construction and agriculture. However, by the 1990s the Histadrut’s political and economic power had waned and Labour Zionism appeared a spent force within Israel’s political life. Nonetheless, taking the contemporary construction industry as its starting point, this paper argues that the Histadrut continues to play an important role in the policing of separation between Palestinian and Jewish workers, guided by the principles of Hebrew Labour. It explores the ways in which the Histadrut’s membership structure, collective agreements, and relationship to the state lead it to serve as a gate keeper to a highly segregated and unequal sector, in which Palestinian workers toil in dangerous circumstances, for low pay, without union protection under the supervision of their unionised Jewish overseers.

Registration: Please register in advance at l-peg@hum.leidenuniv.nl to receive a copy of the paper.

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