UNISON backs Israel boycott

Britain’s largest trade union last night backed an economic, cultural, academic and sporting boycott of Israel.

UNISON members at the National Delegate Conference in Brighton carried a motion calling for a full boycott of Israel until it withdraws to its 1967 borders and set up a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Unlike previous years the resolution doesn’t just call for a boycott of Israeli goods but includes cultural, academic and sporting industries.

It calls for the UK and the European Union to end trade agreements with Israel and suggests developing closer relations with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

While yesterday’s motion represented more of a statement than policy, the UNISON National Executive was last night deciding whether to allow another debate calling for trade and economic sanctions against Israel. The resolution would back investigations into companies and UNISON members involved in trading with Israel and would seek disinvestment from pension funds linked with Israel.

The proposals were roundly condemned by anti-boycott campaigners. BICOM Chief Executive Lorna Fitzsimons said: “The whole thrust of rebuilding Israel and a new state of Palestine is about economic engagement, economic reconstruction. The area needs investment and this call by one of Britains’ largest trade union is a kick in the teeth to Palestinians.

“How is this going to help the new emergency government in the Palestinian authority? Just as all the democratic countries come to their aid, UNISON appear to be urging everyone to withdraw. This is silly, and I know does not reflect the wider Labour movement. This is bad for Britain and bad for the Palestinians”
Jeremy Newmark, the Chief Executive of The Jewish Leadership Council, added, “This vote is not in Britain or the Palestinian’s interest. We might see a tit for tat boycott of British goods votes – which would have severe repercussions for us. At a time when Israel and the Palestinians are engaging with each other at last, this UNISON vote flies in the face of common sense. We should all condemn this impractical and foolish decision.”

It comes after the University Colleges Union last month backed an academic boycott of Israel just weeks after the National Union of Journalists voted for a boycott of Israeli goods.

Over 50 Nobel laureates including Elie Wiesel this week hit back at the anti-Israel motions, signing a petition which stated, “Not only do such boycotts encourage the extremists but they also praise and glorify prejudices.”

Meanwhile Engage has announced an anti-boycott rally to be held at Friends Meeting House in Euston on Wednesday 11 July.

Jane Ashworth, Director of the organisation, told TJ: “The event will provide a rallying point for those who want to oppose boycotts and those who want to oppose it as part of their world view against racism.”