LONDON – One of the UK’s largest trade unions voted last week to ban its members from visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories on delegations organized by the Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI), a Londonbased organization supporting cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian workers.
The GMB, which has more than 617,000 members from an array of sectors, voted on Thursday at its annual conference in Plymouth to uphold a 2011 decision to “take a lead in driving forward the boycott and divestment initiatives of companies who profit from illegal settlements, the occupation and the construction of the wall.”
Last week, after the motion was moved and seconded by far-left anti-Israel activists, the union noted that “a major priority” of TUFI is to fight the boycott [of Israel] which they said “campaigns against the policy of this union.”
Hence, it determined that GMB members are banned from participating in TUFI-sponsored visits to Israel or from speaking to TUFI platforms.
The union also reaffirmed that it is “unashamedly” affiliated with the radical fringe group Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Friday, a spokesman for the union – which is one of the three largest affiliates of the Labor Party – confirmed its position, saying it did not want to be associated with an organization that fights the boycott call.
“This is a freedom of association issue,” the spokesman said. “The congress does not want the union to be associated with an organization fighting a boycott of trade with illegal settlements in occupied territories.
Their decision is binding on the union as an organization.”
The spokesman denied it was a ban.
“They will not be funded or facilitated which is very different. What they do as individuals is a matter for them,” he added.
The motion was actually opposed by the leadership of the GMB, the Central Executive Committee, however their stance was shunned by the congress.
“The CEC stance on the motion was not accepted by congress after a debate,” the spokesman told the Post. “This is democracy in action in the union and the resolution is now GMB policy.”
The controversial motion was submitted by Julie Hunt, from the northwest London branch of the GMB. Last year, she was a signatory of a letter that called “to break all links with the Histadrut as it is not a trade union, but has been an integral part of the racist Zionist state since its inception.”
TUFI said it was disappointed with the decision.
“It’s important that British trade unionists visit the region and meet with trade unionists on both sides, supporting cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian workers, helping them to realize their hopes for a peaceful and better future,” said Stephen Scott, director of TUFI, on Friday.
“It is important to have an open, public debate about the role of the trade union movement in Israel and Palestine, and ensure that alternative voices are heard about the current situation in the Middle East,” he added.
TUFI said the motion specifically targets its opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, noting that the Labor Party totally opposes any form of boycott.
“We think it’s important to note that GMB are an affiliate of the Labor party, and the official policy of the Labor Party is opposition to BDS, with Labor leader Ed Miliband saying earlier this year ‘I think the boycotts of Israel are totally wrong. We should have no tolerance for boycotts,’” Scott said.
“TUFI and the Labor Party share our opposition to the boycott movement, and we do not believe this should be a reason to break links between the GMB and TUFI, but rather [it] provides an area for future debate and discussion.”