Positive News on Israel Boycott from “The Jewish Chronicle”

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[Hat tip to A.L.]

UK Trade Unionists Retreat from Boycott

The Jewish Chronicle / August 10, 2007

By Bernard Josephs and Leon Symons

British labour leaders appeared this week to be distancing themselves from boycott Israel motions passed at trade union conferences, with the head of Unison, one of Britain’s biggest and most pro-Palestinian unions, writing a warm “personal” letter to the head of the Histadrut, Israel’s trade union movement. In the letter, seen by the JC, Unison secretary-general Dave Prentis — whose organisation’s conference called for a “concerted economic, cultural, academic and sporting” boycott — told Histadrut head Ofer Eini that the resolution “does not commit Unison to boycott Israel or Israeli organisations”.

Rather, he suggested, the resolution expressed the view that a boycott was “one of the ways” Israel could be made to change its policies. “This was very different from asking Unison as a union to boycott Israel. I would like to reassure you that Unison policy continues to be based on a two-state solution based on a viable, independent Palestinian state living alongside Israel.”

Mr Prentis said that although Unison reserved its right to criticise Israel, it believed in Israel’s right to exist within safe and secure borders.

He pointed to his union’s campaigns against racism and antisemitism which were “at the heart of our union”, and pledged to work together with Histadrut in a “constructive and positive way”.

The letter was greeted as a positive development by anti-boycott campaigners. There was also satisfaction that despite fears that the boycott issue could be raised at next month’s TUC conference, there was no sign of it in the event’s preliminary agenda.

Bicom chief executive and Stop the Boycott Campaign joint chair Lorna Fitzsimons paid particular tribute to the Trade Union Friends of Israel, whose director Steve Scott, she said, had played a major role in pushing back the boycott tide. He had put Israel’s case to TUC and individual union leaders, and the progress was “a testament to Tufi’s efforts”.

However, a ground-breaking co-operation agreement between 20 Israeli and Palestinian transport union officials failed to move the Transport and General Workers’ Union from its boycott of Israeli goods.

The Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists met in Cyprus last week under the umbrella of the International Transport Federation.

Their co-operation agreement was set out in a joint declaration made by Avi Edri, of Histadrut; Naser Yunes, president of the Palestinian General Federation of Transport Workers; and the ITF general secretary, David Cockroft.

The T&G, now part of the Unite union, is an affiliate of the ITF. But a spokesman said it could do nothing to undo the decision taken by delegates at its annual conference.

“We sent a very clear message by boycotting Israeli goods and products. This is not a call to boycott dialogue,” said the spokesman. “We welcome any dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian transport officials and hope that it is a foretaste of a deeper and wider co-operation.”

Meanwhile, the council of Cambridge University has unanimously rejected calls for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

At a meeting at the end of last month, the council unanimously endorsed a statement issued by Universities UK opposing any proposed academic boycott by the University and College Union.

In a letter to the British Medical Journal, which has been conducting a debate by doctors on the boycott, Dr Henri Stellman, executive director of the Hadassah Medical relief Association UK, warned that a decision to boycott Israel would hit Palestinian physicians, nurses, social workers and health professionals “who work at Hadassah and consider it their hospital”.

Boycott Backtrack

[Leader {Ediitorial}] / The Jewish Chronicle / August 10, 2007

Boycotts of Israel, its institutions, its goods and services and its academic community, have been the summer’s hot story, as a variety of British and Irish trade unions have passed resolutions binding their membership to the boycott policy. But slowly — and it is perhaps too soon to celebrate — the boycott bandwagon looks as though it is being turned around. First, the National Union of Journalists — its executive embarrassed by the strength of opposition — decided that it was not ready to implement the boycott resolution passed in late April. This week, we report that Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, one of Britain’s biggest unions, has written a warm letter to his opposite number in the Histadrut, Israel’s labour movement, effectively pledging firm friendship and a will to co-operate — a very different stance from that of the framers of the pro-boycott resolutions. Much credit should go to the Trade Union Friends of Israel’s Steve Scott and Doreen Gerson, who have doggedly made Israel’s case up and down the country. There has been solid support, too, from ouraged US activists — the American Jewish Committee placed an advert in the New York Times this week, denouncing the academic boycott — and from 50 Nobel laureates, rounded up by fellow laureate Eli Wiesel.

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