Pro-Israel group banned from UK trade union conference

By JONNY PAUL
May 26, 2010 11:30

UNISON tells Trade Union Friends of Israel that it could not have a stall at its conference in Bournemouth next month because there was no room.

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Keith Sonnet

Keith Sonnet 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

LONDON – Britain’s largest public-sector trade union has banned an organization that promotes Israeli-Palestinian cooperation from attending its annual conference next month.

UNISON, which has around 1.3 million members, told Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) that it could not have a stall at its conference in Bournemouth next month because there was no room, and as it did not work with TUFI, the latter was not allowed to attend.

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The union’s deputy general secretary, Keith Sonnet, who is also a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – a fringe group that advocates a one-state solution and is a major player in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel – wrote to TUFI last week saying the union was unable to offer the organization a stall because “we have no ongoing work with the Trade Union Friends of Israel, nor are we affiliated to the organization.”

A UNISON spokesperson confirmed the decision: “We just haven’t got room for everyone. We are not affiliated [with] or work with TUFI, so we must give priority to organizations we are affiliated with.”

TUFI, along with similar solidarity organizations, has stalls at all trade union conferences. It promotes Israeli-Palestinian trade union cooperation and the strengthening of links among the Israeli, Palestinian and British trade union movements.

In its mission statement, it states that TUFI promotes efforts toward finding a just and lasting peace settlement for both Israelis and Palestinians, and builds support for the peace process in the UK by providing meetings and briefings for British trade unionists. It also takes British delegations to Israel to meet with both Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists.

At its 2009 conference, UNISON also did not allow TUFI to have a stall. According to TUFI, UNISON initially said the organization had put in its request too late, but then said it represented a “security threat,” claiming safety concerns for Jewish members of the union following Operation Cast Lead.

TUFI director Stephen Scott told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that his group was disappointed not to be allowed to exhibit, but hoped UNISON would allow it back at next year’s conference.

“The decision has been met by anger [from] UNISON activists who support what we do, and they have taken this up with their union,” Scott said, adding that “while we do not want to stifle debate, nor stop the Palestinian cause, we are afraid that the conflict is promoted with no context and that Israel again takes all the criticism. If enough mud is chucked, it sticks – and to be frank, with Israel, anything goes.”

Still, he said, “we will continue to work for peace and cooperation, and maybe UNISON will have us back next year.”

The Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP), a movement working to unite trade unions and nongovernmental organizations to counter Israel-boycott calls, accused UNISON of excluding advocates of a two-state solution in order to demonize Israel.

“It is a part of the campaign to sever relations between British and Israeli unions, which is part of a broader campaign to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state,” said Eric Lee from TULIP. “Trade unionists everywhere, and not only in Britain, must call on UNISON to reverse its decision, to welcome those who advocate peace and a two-state solution.”


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