BBC journalists lead bid against union's Israel boycott
Over 270 journalists sign petition to counter NJU sanctions approved in vote eariler this month.
By JONNY PAUL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
April 29, 2007 20:55
3 minute read.
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Over 270 BBC journalists have signed a petition opposing the decision earlier this month by the UK's largest trade union of journalists to boycott Israeli goods, saying they are "dismayed" at the passing of the motion.
Earlier this month the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) voted at their Annual Delegates Meeting (ADM) for "a boycott of Israeli goods similar to those boycotts in the struggles against apartheid South Africa led by trade unions and for the Trades Union Congress to demand sanctions be imposed on Israel by the British government and the United Nations."
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The controversial vote passed by a narrow margin of 66 to 54 after a vote twice failed to give a clear result.
The BBC petition was sent to the NUJ executive and calls on the NUJ to ballot the membership of the union. The ADM, where the motion was passed, was attended by 110 NUJ delegates rather than the general membership of the union, said to be around 39,000 journalists.
The text of the petition reads: "As BBC journalists and NUJ members we are dismayed at the passing of a motion at the ADM calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. As members of a corporation which prides itself on providing impartial news coverage, we cannot associate ourselves with a move which involves taking sides in any conflict.
"We call on the union to hold a ballot of all members to see whether they support the view taken at ADM on an issue which could have a profound effect on the way all British journalists are viewed at home and abroad."
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ, said there was "no difference" between an Annual Delegates Meeting, which had 110 NUJ delegates present, and an Annual General Meeting, which would be made up of the 39,000 NUJ members.
"There is no difference - we call it an Annual Delegate Meeting but it is the annual conference. It is attended by delegates representing their branches, so they represent the 39,000 members," he said.
Last week Chancellor Gordon Brown said the boycott was "unacceptable." Speaking to a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Fair Play anti-boycott campaign, he said: "The boycott is unacceptable and we will do all we can to help."
The Guardian newspaper has also been critical of the motion. In an editorial entitled "Neither balanced nor fair" published on April 20, it called the decision "misguided." The editorial said: "If it were press freedom in the Middle East that truly concerned delegates, Israel - which has a comparatively open and robust domestic press - would hardly be the obvious starting point.
"It is doubtful that many of them [NUJ members] will have welcomed a motion which will inevitably be seen by some as casting doubts on whether they can truly approach their work in a spirit of fairness and disinterested inquiry."
In a letter to The Guardian following the editorial, Roger Lyons, chair of Trade Union Friends of Israel, said: "What trade unionists need in the region is solidarity, engagement and respect, not divisive calls that can only help the extremists. The general secretary of the Palestinian General Trade Union Federation said in a letter only this week to Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut, that 'we must emphasize our mutual need for peace in our two societies, for the benefit both of workers and because peace will reflect stability.' If the two union federations want to work for peace together it is our duty to support them. It is a pity that the NUJ did not take part in our recent delegation to the region to show real solidarity with fellow trade unionists, rather than taking on gesture politics."
The BBC journalists will hold a meeting with Dear on May 8, where they plan to discuss the motion.