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UK Trade Union UNISON being brought to court regarding their racist use of Israeli identity as a reason to cancel a lecture by a private expert

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It was announced on August 24, 2012 that legal action will be taken by Israeli expert Moty Cristal against a National Health Service (NHS) trust and the trade union UNISON following the cancellation of his lecture on May 8, 2012. Cristal, an Israeli authority on negotiating skills and crisis-management, was invited to teach a “master-class” on conflict-resolution as part of a workshop for health-trust managers and union officials organized jointly by the NHS Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust and UNISON.

On April 27 he received an email from the company organizing the seminar, with which he has worked in the past, telling him that his lecture had been cancelled "on the grounds that it is [UNISON’s] policy and also that of the Trades Union Council to support the Palestinian people."

Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust is one of only five mental health and social care NHS organizations in the country. The National Health Service (NHS) is the publicly funded healthcare system in the United Kingdom. UNISON is the largest trade union in the United Kingdom with over 1.3 million members. Over 400,000 people who work in the NHS and for private contractors providing NHS services are UNISON members.

Kevan Nelson, the regional secretary of UNISON North West Region, who is understood to be a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 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…."

Amir Ofek, press attaché at the Israeli Embassy in London, said: "The cancellation of a private expert simply due to his citizenship or ethnic identity is a racist policy in every way."

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.”

The boycott of Moty Cristal’s lecture lead 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 it became clear that there would be no official denunciation.

The first step in a legal action for Ambassador Daniel Taub and members of the “Jewish Leadership Council” (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.

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 National Health Service 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.”

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."

UNISON has a history of increasingly extreme actions against the Jewish State.

In June of 2007, UNISON advocated a total boycott of Israel over its continued “occupation” of Palestinian territories. A statement issued by delegates meeting in Brighton read: "The conference believes that ending the occupation demands concerted and sustained pressure upon Israel including an economic, cultural, academic and sporting boycott". In addition, delegates called on the British government to press for an arms embargo against Israel.

The resolutions at the 2009 National Delegate Conference accepted completely the extremist Arab position regarding Israel – in effect calling for the end of the Jewish State – by demanding that Israel do the following:

  • Withdraw to its 1967 borders;
  • Allow the refugees the right of return;
  • Remove all settlements from the Palestinian occupied territories and occupied Syrian Al-Joulan;
  • Demolish the apartheid wall

They also condemned the British, US and European governments for refusing to negotiate with [the terrorist group] Hamas;

Called on the British government to support a ban on imports of all goods, especially agricultural products from the “illegal” settlements in the occupied territories and until such a ban is introduced, to support a boycott of these goods; continued to press the British government to end arms exports to Israel; immediately end all economic, political, intelligence, and logistical aid to Israel; and to work within the EU to end the EU/Israeli Agreement that allows Israel favored trading status;

 Decided to continue to support both financially and physically the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and demonstrations (including those vigils at the Israeli embassy) organized in support of the Palestinian people;

Decided to continue its work with and support of civil society organizations in Israel, including the scores of young Israelis imprisoned for refusing to take part in the army of occupation, who oppose the continuing occupation, and support the rights of Palestinians such as Workers' Hotline, workers' advice centres and Sawt el-Amel.

In June of 2010 at its annual conference, UNISON accused Israel of lying over the Gaza flotilla incident, decided to join the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign in support of a full boycott of Israel – economic, cultural and sporting; to suspend ties with the Histadrut - Israel's organization of trade unions; and called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador.

Further Reading:

Steven Jaffe and the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel fight hatred against Israel

Howard Jacobson, acclaimed English novelist, uses his wit and intelligence to fight against those who would delegitimize Israel

Ronnie Fraser takes legal action against the anti-Semitism of the University and College Union (UCU) in the UK

American anti-Zionist Norman Finkelstein calls the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement "a cult" that wants to eliminate Israel

Veteran anti-Israel campaigner Carole Swords convicted by a London court of slapping a Jewish man during a boycott protest at a supermarket

Denis MacEoin fights hatred at Edinburgh University