Tuesday, April 17, 2007

British union: boycott of Israeli goods

British union calls for boycott of Israeli goods
Alan Cowell April 16, 2007 International Herald Tribune

LONDON: Britain's biggest journalists' union, The National Union of Journalists, has criticized Israel's "military adventures" and voted narrowly in favor of a boycott of Israeli goods. The vote followed calls by some British academics last year to ostracize their Israeli counterparts.

At the journalists' union's annual delegates meeting last Friday, a vote calling for "a boycott of Israeli goods similar to those boycotts in the struggles against apartheid in South Africa" was approved by 66 to 54. They also urged British and United Nations sanctions on Israel.

The union has around 40,000 members, represented at the annual meeting by roughly 150 delegates from its 60-plus branches.

The ballot did not, however, make the same calls for a boycott of contacts with Israeli journalists as previous academic efforts to ostracize Israeli university teachers.

"This was opposed by the leadership and approved by the membership," said Jeremy Dear, the union's general secretary.

The boycott call was initially part of a broader condemnation of Israel's so-called "slaughter of civilians" in Gaza and "savage pre-planned attack" last year on Lebanon but was separated for a specific vote. The condemnation of Israeli military action in Gaza and Lebanon was approved by a wider margin.

In the debate leading to the vote, there had been some opposing delegates arguing that a boycott call would not help British journalists do their job in Israel, and others arguing that it was not the job of a journalists' union to get so involved in such issues.

The timing of the ballot was particularly delicate since a BBC journalist, Alan Johnston, has been held for more than a month in Gaza, making the boycott call seem one-sided. A Palestinian group claimed on Sunday to have killed Johnston but the BBC said it treating the report as a rumor.

"We had a whole separate section of the conference" devoted to Johnston's plight, Dear said. According to the Union's Web site (www.nuj.org.uk), the delegates voted unanimously to "keep up the urgent global campaign for Alan's release" and criticized Palestinian authorities for failing "to carry out their promises to do all they can to free Alan."

Dear said there had been "some feedback," primarily from unidentified e-mail correspondents in the United States, saying he "should be put in a concentration camp" or tried for hate crimes.

He said those who supported the boycott call had argued that, while the union represented journalists, it still had a "duty to uphold those things in that are in our constitution" concerning human rights.

On the union's conference blog, however, a critic of the ballot, identified as Olivia Lang, said "it is not going to make life easier for journalists anywhere in the world" to be seen to be taking sides. "We need to strive to maintain our objectivity when reporting," she wrote.

The ballot, however, stirred little immediate comment in Britain.

Jonathan Freedland, a columnist for The Guardian and The Evening Standard, who said he is a member of the National Union of Journalists, took issue in a telephone interview with the union's decision, saying it made no distinction between Israel itself and Israeli settlements in occupied territories. "This punishes Israel proper along with settlers as if the two were the same," he said.

Moreover, he said, "as a tactic it strikes a raw nerve in the Jewish psyche."

"You won't win over the Jewish diaspora" with such boycott calls, he said.

Last year, the largest British university teachers' association voted to encourage individual academics in Britain to sever professional contact with their counterparts in Israel.

The call echoed an appeal one year earlier by a smaller association, which first demanded a boycott of two Israeli universities and then withdrew the call under pressure from some of its members. The two associations later merged and the policy lapsed, said Trevor Phillips, a spokesman for the combined association. It will be discussed again next month, he said.


Ardvark said...

I wonder what BBC correspondent Alan Johnson would think about this move.