At its annual delegates conference this week, UNISON, Britain's largest labor union, voted to impose sanctions on Israeli companies, including boycotting manufactured products, cutting ties with businesses and ending investments in Israeli pension funds as a response to the continued occupation of the West Bank. UNISON has approximately 1.6 million members.
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While the motion is more of a statement than actual UNISON policy, the resolution, unlike past measures, doesn't just call for a boycott of Israeli goods but includes cultural, academic and sporting activities, as well as calls for the UK and the European Union to end trade agreements with Israel and a suggestion to develop closer relations with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The boycott of manufactured goods will be an "economic and psychological blow for Israeli manufacturers," Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, said on Thursday. He added that he was surprised the Foreign Ministry hadn't done anything to try to stop the boycott.
Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut Labor Federation sent a letter to Dave Prentis, his UNISON counterpart, earlier this month in an attempt to prevent the resolution's passage.
"Despite the aggression of the Palestinians and their desire to spill Jewish blood, it never occurred to me to impose a boycott on Palestinian workers or employers," Eini wrote. "The boycott against Israel will only cause the situation to deteriorate further."
Over the past three weeks, ever since UNISON announced it would vote on the boycott proposal, Eini has held meetings with representatives from UNISON as well as with labor leaders from France, Italy and Germany. However, he was unsuccessful in his attempt to prevent UNISON from moving to break economic ties with Israel.
"The intention of the British labor union to boycott Israeli companies and goods shows that they are ignoring reality, and it represents a great paradox," said Lynn. "Here they are, due to their noble principles, attacking us and criticizing us, while the president of Iran is threatening to wipe us off the map."
Lynn is hopeful that the British trade office will come out against the intentions of UNISON, noting that over the past five years, trade and investments between the UK and Israel have risen sharply. "This boycott is scandalous and completely one-sided in favor of the Palestinians," he said.
According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, boycotts such as these aren't helpful to anyone. "These boycotts don't help the Palestinians, the Israelis or peace," he said, adding that such boycotts have been condemned across the board from a variety of political viewpoints. "One has to wonder about the motivations of people who choose to single out the Jewish State for special discriminatory action," he said.
Regev said the Foreign Ministry was very involved in the issue and had been engaging with the British government to try to stop the boycott.
Not all of UNISON's leadership however, is convinced that a boycott is a good idea.
"We understand the desperation which has driven Palestinian trade unions and some other civil-society organizations to call for a boycott, but we do not believe it will help," said Alison Brown, of UNISON's Yorkshire Ambulance branch and an incoming member of its national executive board. "Much better than a boycott is a positive labor-movement campaign of solidarity with the Palestinians, with the Israeli peace movement and workers on both sides," she said.
Earlier this week, Lynn and two regional directors of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce sent a letter to UNISON's president, Malcolm Cantello, urging him to put a halt to the boycott, saying, "Since its inception, Israel has been a democratic nation with the primary goal of establishing peace and ending terror."
The motion to proceed with the boycott passed by a show of hands, with approximately two-thirds of the 2,000 delegates in attendance voting in favor, according to Mary McGuire, a spokeswoman for the union.