Another day: another Harriet Sherwood report on another British boycott.

The Guardian’s ‘World News’ Israel page carries a report by Harriet Sherwood on yet another British boycott – this time of an Israeli simply because he is…Israeli. 

The story goes briefly like this. Professor Moty Cristal – an expert in conflict resolution and founder & CEO of Nest Consulting – had been invited to address a seminar on conflict resolution to be held by the NHS Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust on May 8th

Last Friday he was informed by e-mail from the company organising the seminar that the invitation had been withdrawn at the demand of the trade union UNISON – Britain’s largest union of public sector employees with some 1.3 million members. 

According to Sherwood’s article:

“The session was cancelled, said the email, “on the grounds that it is Unison’s policy and also that of the Trades Union Congress to support the Palestinian people”.

“A spokeswoman for Unison confirmed that its members had requested that Cristal’s invitation be withdrawn. The union’s policy was to support a boycott of goods and services from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank rather than “a direct boycott of all Israeli people”, she said.”

“But, she added, “we are supportive of people in Palestine. The trade union movement has a long history of international solidarity. Our members would find it difficult to be lectured in conflict resolution by someone from Israel.” “

According to UNISON’s regional secretary Kevin Nelson:

“UNISON’s local representatives at the Manchester Mental Health & Social Care Trust did request that the decision to invite Mr Moti Cristal to facilitate a Partnership Workshop on 8th May 2012 be reversed.”

“Explaining the decision, Mr Nelson said: “It was considered that the decision to invite a prominent Israeli negotiator would be unacceptable given UNISON and TUC policy on the Middle East conflict, the irrelevance of the speaker to working relationships within a local NHS Trust and the inappropriateness of funding an international speaker at times of such austerity, when front line staff in the trust are at risk of redundancy.”

According to a report in Ha’aretz: 

“Senior UNISON officials who were contacted by Haaretz were unaware of the decision, indicating that it was most likely reached following pressure by local officials in Manchester. At last year’s UNISON conference, the Manchester Hospitals branch of the union demanded a boycott, with branch secretary Frances Kelly saying that “it is time all world organizations decided to boycott all Israeli institutions implicated in the occupation and its practices.” “

Mr Cristal’s reaction to his dis-invitation was very much to the point:

“Values-wise, unlike you, I am confident that the only way to resolve conflicts, let alone the Israeli-Palestinian one, is through effective communication and constructive dialogue, rather than violence or boycotts.”

In fact the UNISON members of Manchester NHS seem to have deprived themselves and others of hearing a very interesting speaker. 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEeaWiv7gSI]

In September 2009 the Trades Union Congress (TUC) adopted a motion to boycott Israeli goods produced over the ‘green line’. The original motion, proposed by the Fire Brigades Union and supported by UNISON and UNITE, had called for a total boycott of Israeli goods. 

Notably, the final resolution adopted by the TUC included the following statement: 

“To increase the pressure for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories, and the removal of the separation wall and the illegal settlements, we will support a boycott (where trade union members should not put their own jobs at risk by refusing to deal with such products) of those goods and agricultural products that originate in illegal settlements – through developing an effective, targeted consumer-led boycott campaign working closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – and campaign for disinvestment by companies associated with the occupation as well as engaged in building the separation wall.”

“We reiterate our encouragement to unions to affiliate to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and to raise greater awareness of the issues.”

The references to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign are significant. UNISON’s former leader, Rodney Bickerstaffe (now president of War on Want) is a patron of the PSC, as are Bob Crowe of the RMT union and Keith Sonnet – Deputy General Secretary of UNISON. The PSC’s chairman, Hugh Lanning, is also Deputy General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), with his bio on its website stating that:

 “Hugh is also Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and was instrumental in the landmark decision taken by the TUC to support the boycott campaign of settlement goods.”

As is unfortunately the case with many other British unions, the symbiotic relationship between UNISON and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign is illustrated by this call on the UNISON website for its members to pressure MEPs to oppose trade agreements with Israel as part of a PSC campaign. In 2010 UNISON sent a delegation to the Middle East – its report can be read here

So what has all this to do with the unions’ traditional role in protecting and enhancing workers’ rights? Absolutely nothing. As one blogger put it in 2009: 

“Is not the TUC supposed to be a union of unions to co-ordinate the efforts of skilled workers to gain recognition from employers and to ensure rights to workers?

What does this have to do with condemning sovereign nations? Why should they have a Middle East policy at all? Do they have an Africa policy? An Asia policy? A North American policy? An Antarctica policy?

Ah, no. 

As is the case with the Co-operative Group’s new boycott, this is yet another example of a small number of extremist activists exploiting the structure of existing institutions in order to promote an anti-Israel agenda. There are now some 17 different unions affiliated to the PSC. 

The boycotting of Moty Cristal cannot even be claimed to be based on anything to do with the ‘green line’ –  it is purely a reaction to his nationality and therefore racism proper. 

One would expect that a Left-leaning liberal newspaper such as the Guardian claims to be would have something of consequence to say both about that and trade unionists who appear to have little interest in the people they are really supposed to represent. 


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