U.K. Public Services Union to Consider Boycott of Israel

Histadrut sources say they believe proposal will pass; UNISON enjoys wide economic influence in Britain.

BRITAIN - The United Kingdom's public services union UNISON will consider a proposal for imposing a boycott on Israel during its annual conference in mid-June, in the wake of Wednesday's decision by a British lecturers union to back a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

UNISON representatives who are in contact with the Histadrut labor federation have in recent days presented the Histadrut's international activities director, Avital Shapira, with a copy of the proposal.

According to the proposal, UNISON, which has some 1.4 million members, will urge other British unions to follow its lead and cut off all economic and cultural ties with Israel.

Histadrut sources said the impression they have received is that UNISON will vote in favor of the boycott. The conference will be held June 19-22 in Brighton.

If approved, the boycott would have a significant practical, and not just symbolic, impact, given that the union enjoys large economic influence in Britain.

According to Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini, "this is a dangerous decision, because it could harm numerous workers in Israel and their employers, specifically in organizations that have commercial ties to Britain."

Histadrut sources said the boycott is likely to take the form of a consumer embargo on Israeli-made goods, as well as an instruction to UNISON's pension funds not to invest in Israel.

Eini said UNISON still enjoys significant power in Britain, despite the trend over the past two decades of declining professional union powers in the country, and is deeply involved economically in British companies, including in the private sector.

Eini sent a letter Thursday to UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, calling on him to immediately cancel the proposal. Eini sent a similar letter to Guy Ryder, head of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

"Despite the end of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians have decided to continue the path of bloodshed and violence," wrote Eini in both letters.

"In Sderot and the area surrounding the Gaza Strip live children, women, workers, and pensioners who are suffering on a daily basis due to non-stop and indiscriminate missile fire that cause civilian fatalities and destroy homes and factories," he continued. "The Palestinians' path has turned the residents into refugees in their own country, who are forced to wander to tent camps in safer Israeli cities."

Histadrut sources called the proposal an escalation in the negative attitude toward Israel in Britain, given that professional unions generally maintain solidarity with their counterparts in other nations, regardless of the geopolitical situation.

The majority of UNISON's members come from the National Health Service and the local authorities. The Manchester community and mental health branch is behind the push to boycott Israel, and has urged action against Israel during the union's conferences in recent years.

In its 2006 conference, the union rejected a proposal to impose sanctions on Israel while harshly criticizing Israeli policy in the territories.