U.K. public services union to consider boycott of Israel

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Assaf Uni and Haim Bior, Haaretz Correspondents | Haaretz | 1 June 2007

BRITAIN – The United Kingdom’s public services union UNISON will consider a proposal for imposing a boycott on Israel during its annual conference in mid-June, in the wake of Wednesday’s decision by a British lecturers union to back a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
UNISON representatives who are in contact with the Histadrut labor federation have in recent days presented the Histadrut’s international activities director, Avital Shapira, with a copy of the proposal.
According to the proposal, UNISON, which has some 1.4 million members, will urge other British unions to follow its lead and cut off all economic and cultural ties with Israel.
Histadrut sources said the impression they have received is that UNISON will vote in favor of the boycott. The conference will be held June 19-22 in Brighton.
If approved, the boycott would have a significant practical, and not just symbolic, impact, given that the union enjoys large economic influence in Britain.
According to Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini, “this is a dangerous decision, because it could harm numerous workers in Israel and their employers, specifically in organizations that have commercial ties to Britain.”
Histadrut sources said the boycott is likely to take the form of a consumer embargo on Israeli-made goods, as well as an instruction to UNISON’s pension funds not to invest in Israel.
Eini said UNISON still enjoys significant power in Britain, despite the trend over the past two decades of declining professional union powers in the country, and is deeply involved economically in British companies, including in the private sector.
Eini sent a letter Thursday to UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, calling on him to immediately cancel the proposal. Eini sent a similar letter to Guy Ryder, head of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
“Despite the end of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians have decided to continue the path of bloodshed and violence,” wrote Eini in both letters.
“In Sderot and the area surrounding the Gaza Strip live children, women, workers, and pensioners who are suffering on a daily basis due to non-stop and indiscriminate missile fire that cause civilian fatalities and destroy homes and factories,” he continued. “The Palestinians’ path has turned the residents into refugees in their own country, who are forced to wander to tent camps in safer Israeli cities.”
Histadrut sources called the proposal an escalation in the negative attitude toward Israel in Britain, given that professional unions generally maintain solidarity with their counterparts in other nations, regardless of the geopolitical situation.
The majority of UNISON’s members come from the National Health Service and the local authorities. The Manchester community and mental health branch is behind the push to boycott Israel, and has urged action against Israel during the union’s conferences in recent years.
In its 2006 conference, the union rejected a proposal to impose sanctions on Israel while harshly criticizing Israeli policy in the territories.
Citizens of Israel in support of the proposal for a UNISON Economic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
Written by Citizens of Israel
Tuesday, 05 June 2007

If you would like to sign please send your name to: bds.occupation@gmail.com
We Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel strongly support the proposal for UNISON to implement an economic and cultural boycott of Israel. We commend this proposal, especially in the wake of the historic decision by the University and College Union in Britain and similar proposals by the Architects for Peace and Justice in Palestine and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Actions such as these have an immediate impact within Israel. They receive wide coverage in the mainstream media and provide an extremely effective tool in our joint struggle to bring the occupation to a just end.
We are Israeli citizens active against our country’s occupation of Palestine. We refuse to accept the state of poverty, unemployment, oppression and violence from which our Palestinian brothers and sisters are suffering in the OPT. We stress the connections between the violent oppression of the Palestinians in the OPT, and the oppression of the working poor, women, immigrant workers, the unemployed, Arabs, and other minority groups within Israel. The ongoing conflict in the region prevents Israeli workers from effectively mobilizing against neo-liberal reforms and an accelerated process of privatization, under the guise of an ongoing state of emergency in which national security always take precedence over sectarian needs.
It is now evident that the so-called disengagement from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 has, in fact, kept the military occupation of the strip intact. Since the implementation of the disengagement plan in August 2005, the Israeli military has killed more than 590 Palestinians in direct conflict in the Gaza Strip, including 113 children, and injured over 1,600, including 103 children. It is also evident that the current situation in Sderot is the direct consequence of Israel’s continuing aggression in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Since the ruling of the ICJ court in Hague against the Separation Wall, and in blatant violation of that ruling, the Israeli government has accelerated construction of the Wall, leading to progressive violations of the human rights of residents of the West Bank. It also continues to build and expand settlements, including on land confiscated for the purpose of building the Wall, illegal according to international law.
As citizens devoted to the promotion of peace and democracy in the region, we are especially bewildered at the international community’s decision to punish the Palestinians and to withhold funds from the PA for having exercised their democratic right to elect the government of their choice. At the same time, the international community continues, through economic investments in Israel, to actively support Israel’s daily violations of international law and accelerated colonization of the occupied territories. We fear the potentially irreversible damage created by Israeli and international policy, and realize that the occupation will truly end only when its cost becomes higher that its gain for Israeli society. As Israelis, we stress that divestment and boycott actions taken by individuals or organizations against the occupation are neither Anti-Semitic nor Anti-Israel. We also recognize that boycott, divestment and sanctions constitute one of the few effective methods left to civil society in the absence of intervention by governments and official policy makers. We salute UNISON for putting the proposal for boycott of Israel up for consideration, and strongly encourage others to take similar steps.