LONDON – Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin told his country’s pro-boycott trade union federation on Friday that his government opposes any boycott of Israel.“The government does not agree with or support any form of boycott which would be completely inimical to the frank and honest dialogue we have always pursued with the Israeli government,” the foreign minister said, speaking at a one-day conference in Dublin organized by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).The ICTU voted in 2007 and 2009 to support the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) campaign against Israel.Last week, the ICTU said the conference, titled “Palestine-Israel: The way forward for Trade Union Solidarity,” was meant to “build support for their policy and learn from other union movements that have undertaken similar [BDS] campaigns.”Speaking at the conference, Martin also called on Hamas to release kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit and end attacks on Israel.“There must be an end to the completely unjustified, indiscriminate and deadly attacks launched by Hamas and other Palestinian militants against the population of southern Israel.“Hamas must also cease the insidious practice of kidnapping. I again call on Hamas to release the young Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, now in his fourth year of captivity in Gaza. I believe that the release of Schalit and return to his family would represent an extremely positive contribution to overall efforts to progress the peace process,” he said. Martin said Ireland needs to work closely with Israel.“I passionately believe that we need to continue to work actively with the Israeli government and people, as Ireland has always done, to persuade them of the benefits to be gained from active engagement in pursuit of a two-state solution,” he said.However, the Irish minister said he is opposed to the upgrading of European Union relations with Israel, until “political progress” warrants it.“Ultimately, EU-Israeli relations must be viewed through the prism of wider developments in the region. That is why I have consistently argued against moving to upgrade EU-Israel relations until such time as the level of political progress on the ground warrants it,” he said.He also said he wanted Ireland to follow the UK’s lead on settlement produce. In December, the British government issued advisory guidelines on the labelling of produce originating from the West Bank. The guidelines are voluntary but most of the major supermarkets followed the advice and label produce accordingly – stating whether it comes from settlements or Palestinian areas. The decision was criticized by Israel, saying it singles out Israel and empowers anti-Israel groups, and lauded by groups advocating a comprehensive Israel boycott.“I have signalled my support for working with other colleagues in government to improve the labelling of produce from illegal settlements in the West Bank imported into Ireland. The UK has provided a valuable lead in this regard and it is one which I hope Ireland can follow,” Martin said.He accused Israel of alienating moderate Palestinians and complicating the peace process.“Creating new facts on the ground, as Israel has repeatedly done in recent months, particularly in east Jerusalem through the expansion of settlements and the reprehensible policy of demolition and forced eviction of Palestinian families from their homes, has only succeeded in greatly complicating the search for peace. Such actions have alienated moderate Palestinian opinion and eroded confidence that the negotiation process can satisfy legitimate Palestinian aspirations,” Martin said. He also put the onus on Israel for the situation in Gaza.“I regard the current conditions prevailing for the ordinary population of Gaza as inhumane and utterly unacceptable, in terms of accepted international standards of human rights.“Most of all, we need to end the completely unjust, unacceptable and counter-productive blockade of Gaza. It was extremely dispiriting, when I visited in February, to see the condition to which much of Gaza and its population have been reduced,” he said.Martin said he hoped the ICTU conference would facilitate “a way forward for trade unionists and others interested in pursuing peace in the Middle East.”However, with the majority of the conference speakers active in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, and with the ICTU also backing it, Israel’s Embassy in Dublin said their boycott stance would only perpetuate the conflict.“In reality, the campaign to promote BDS against Israel is an exercisewhich by promoting an absurdly simplistic, black and white picture ofthe Middle East will only help perpetuate conflict rather than helpingto bring reconciliation and peace,” a spokesman said. “The proponentsof BDS do not speak of peace, reconciliation or coexistence betweenIsraelis and Palestinians. Their program is not one of encouragingconstructive engagement or bridge-building but one of demonization andzero-sum politics.”The Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP) movement, whichworks to unite unions and other non-governmental organizations tocounter calls to boycott Israel, also said the conference would notpromote reconciliation in the region.“This kind of one-sided Israel-bashing will do little to promote thegoal of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East – but will aidthose who want to isolate and demonize Israel,” Eric Lee from TULIPsaid.