Child in cap and gown
Jewish and Israeli leaders hope to halt the campaign by British institutions closing their doors on Israeli experts and academics. Photo by AP
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LONDON -- A British court will soon be asked to rule on the legality of boycotting Israelis in the next few weeks. The Israeli Foreign Ministry and the British Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) are helping coordinate legal action being taken by an Israeli expert, against a National Health Service (NHS) trust and the trade union UNISON following the cancellation of his lecture earlier this year.

Their ultimate aim is a landmark ruling against British institutions closing their doors on Israeli experts and academics.

The boycott of Moty Cristal’s lecture, which was first reported in Haaretz in April, led to angry responses from the Israeli government, British politicians and Jewish leaders in the U.K., but Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and his department refused to comment or condemn the move. Senior Israeli diplomats discussed the case with Mr. Lansley and trade union officials but when it became clear that there would be no official denunciation, they decided to pursue legal action. The first step for Ambassador Daniel Taub and members of the JLC was to file a claim against the NHS trust and UNISON to the Employment Tribunal in Manchester. Their hope: that it could deliver a ruling that this was an illegal boycott act.

Cristal, an Israeli authority on negotiating skills and crisis-management, was invited five months ago to teach a “master-class” on conflict-resolution as part of a workshop for health-trust managers and union officials organized under the auspices of the NHS Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust and UNISON. Shortly before the lecture was to take place, Cristal was notified by the company organizing the event that his appearance had been cancelled due to union members' objections to the inclusion of an Israeli "on the grounds that it is UNISON’s policy and also that of the Trades Union Council to support the Palestinian people."

Kevan Nelson, the North West regional secretary of UNISON North West Region confirmed at the time that "it was considered that the decision to invite a prominent Israeli negotiator would be unacceptable given UNISON and TUC policy on the Middle East conflict, the irrelevance of the speaker to working relationships within a local NHS Trust and the inappropriateness of funding an international speaker at times of such austerity, when front line staff in the trust are at risk of redundancy." A Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust spokesperson said at the time that “given the over-arching collaborative purpose of the Partnership Program, and the likelihood that large numbers of staff would not attend, the Trust’s Executive Team took the decision to cancel the event.”

Israeli diplomats have confirmed that the Foreign Ministry is determined to pursue the Cristal case since “this was not a private ideological group or a commercial company trying to boycott Israel, but the NHS and one of the largest national trade unions.” Sources close to the proceedings said this week that “this is a good case to draw a line and make it clear that boycotting an Israeli is illegal discrimination.”
Cristal also remarked on the affair this week, saying that “the issue is being handled in a very clever way by the JLC and Daniel Taub and we are not going to let go here since this is an extreme case of discrimination against an Israeli by a governmental body.”

The JLC last week informed the Foreign Office of the legal action and Britain’s ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, immediately invited Cristal for a meeting. “[Gould] said that Her Majesty’s Government is against boycotts of Israelis,” Cristal said, “but didn’t mention my legal action. I thought it strange that he only invited me now, not when the case happened originally.”

The Israeli Embassy in London would not comment on the issue.

Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the JLC, said, "I can confirm that we are supporting Moty Cristal in taking legal action against Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust and UNISON for discrimination. We are liaising closely with the government of Israel in this matter.” The lawyer acting on behalf of Cristal is James Libson of the Mishcon de Reya law firm.

The NHS trust refused to respond on the action saying, "We do not comment on matters that have yet to be adjudicated."

A spokesperson for UNISON said, “We can confirm that UNISON is named in the case - we are considering our response and cannot comment further at this stage."