The first day of hearings in what could be a landmark case over the boycott of Israel in Britain began Wednesday in London. The case was brought by Moti Cristal, an Israeli conflict resolution expert, against a British trade union and healthcare trust for canceling a lecture he was supposed to give last year, allegedly due to his Israeli citizenship.
The case was first published in Haaretz last April, after Cristal’s master-class workshop on conflict resolution at a Manchester event sponsored by a local trust of the British National Health Service (NHS) was cancelled due to pressure from members of UNISON, the second-largest trade union in Britain, who were scheduled to attend the workshop.
Cristal was informed that the cancellation was “on the grounds that it is [the union’s] policy and also that of the Trades Union Council to support the Palestinian people.” A local leader of the union, Kevin Nelson, confirmed to Haaretz at the time that “It was considered that the decision to invite a prominent Israeli negotiator would be unacceptable given UNISON and TUC (Trade Union Congress) policy on the Middle East conflict.”
Following discussions with both Israeli diplomats and British Jewish leaders, Cristal decided to pursue the case in court and sued the union and the NHS trust for discrimination. Wednesday was the first day of a three-day pre-trial procedural hearing at the Central London County Court, in which the judge will rule whether to allow Cristal to also sue over an infringement of the British Human Rights Act. His barristers claim that he was discriminated against as an Israeli, while the union and the health trust maintain it was because he was a negotiator on behalf of the Israeli government and therefore was not an infringement of the Human Rights Act.
The local Jewish community is still reeling from the decision by a union tribunal six months ago to dismiss the case of Jewish academic Ronny Fraser, who charged that the anti-Israel policies of the University and College Union discriminated against him and other Jewish members. The failure of the UCU case lead various prominent members of the community to criticize such legal attempts, but the Cristal case still has a number of influential backers in the community.
While officially the case is being brought against the union and the trust by Cristal as a private citizen, he is being supported by various individuals and organizations within the British Jewish community, including the Fair Play Campaign Group set up by the Jewish Leadership Council to fight boycott attempts of Israel. The Israeli embassy in London is not a party to the proceedings, but it is closely following the case and Ambassador Daniel Taub has also advised Cristal. The embassy spokesperson said that “the embassy occasionally helps Israelis confronted with discrimination on the basis of their nationality. We don’t comment in detail on these consultations.” Cristal and his lawyers would not comment on the case before the three-day hearing is over.
A UNISON spokesperson said that the union would not be commenting on the case while legal proceedings were ongoing and a spokesperson for the NHS trust failed to respond for comment.
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