U.K. Union Bars Israeli Expert From Conference on Conflict Resolution

Union members who were to take part in class objected to participating in a workshop with an Israeli expert.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

LONDON - A master-class on conflict resolution that was set to be given by an Israeli lecturer in Manchester next week was canceled by the British National Health Service, after trade union members who were to take part in the class objected to participating in a workshop with an Israeli expert.

Moty Cristal, an Israeli expert on negotiating skills and crisis-management, was to have taught a class entitled The Role of Negotiation in Dealing with Conflict, as part of a workshop on conflict resolution for health-trust managers and union officials. The workshop is being organized by Manchester Mental Trust, part of the NHS.

Israeli expert Moty Cristal.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Cristal has worked in the past with Palestinian groups and human-rights organizations, and has lectured on his field on numerous occasions in Britain, including a lecture to the Muslim Council of Britain. Despite this, he received an e-mail on Friday from the company that organized the event, that Cristal's expertise was no longer required, following pressure by members of UNISON, Britain's largest trade union, which represents 1.3 million public service workers. The message said the class was being canceled "on the grounds that it is [the union's] policy and also that of the Trades Union Council to support the Palestinian people."

While the council has voted in the past against general boycott resolutions of Israel (while boycotting goods manufactured in West Bank settlements), the UNISON National Delegate Conference has repeatedly voted in favor of a general boycott, despite the recommendation of its national executive to "critically engage" instead with Israelis and Israeli organizations, including the Histadrut.

The lecture by Cristal had been organized and sponsored by the NHS, which is owned by the British government and does not boycott Israel in any way.

Senior UNISON officials who were contacted by Haaretz were unaware of the decision, indicating that it was most likely reached following pressure by local officials in Manchester. At last year's UNISON conference, the Manchester Hospitals branch of the union demanded a boycott, with branch secretary Frances Kelly saying that "it is time all world organizations decided to boycott all Israeli institutions implicated in the occupation and its practices."

Cristal responded to the cancelation by writing to Manchester Mental Trust chief executive Jackie Daniel, "In terms of your future bargaining position with UNISON, I believe that the last minute cancelation is perceived more of an appeasement toward UNISON, rather than a leadership call. Values-wise, unlike you, I am confident that the only way to resolve conflicts, let alone the Israeli-Palestinian one, is through effective communication and constructive dialogue, rather than violence or boycotts."

The Israeli Embassy in London said in response that "the cancelation of a private expert simply due to his citizenship or ethnic identity is a racist policy in every way. What is even more shameful is the fact this was supposed to be an NHS-sponsored workshop dealing, ironically, with negotiating and conflict resolution. It seems that those who canceled it are in urgent need of such training.

In response, Kevan Nelson, the regional secretary of UNISON North West Region confirmed that "UNISON's local representatives at the Manchester Mental Health & Social Care Trust did request that the decision to invite Mr Moti Cristal to facilitate a Partnership Workshop on 8th May 2012 be reversed."

Explaining the decision, Nelson said, "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: “Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust runs a local Partnership Programme to encourage positive working relations between managers and the Trade Unions representing its staff. The Programme includes a series of motivational and educational talks by invited guest speakers.

“Moty Cristal’s name was originally put forward by a third party organisation as part of a roster of potential speakers. Subsequently, however, Unison representatives informed the Trust’s Executive Team that participation by its members would be in direct conflict with the Union’s official policy stance. This position was corroborated by Unison’s full-time regional officer, at the Trust’s request.

“Given the over-arching collaborative purpose of the Partnership Programme, and the likelihood that large numbers of staff would not attend, the Trust’s Executive Team took the decision to cancel the event. The Trust therefore informed Choice Dynamic International, the organisation which has had all direct contact with Mr Cristal, of that decision. No direct communication has been sent to, or received from Mr Cristal from the Trust.”



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