Stop boycotting, Miliband tells unions

Mr Miliband at the site of the new Jewish Museum in Warsaw

Mr Miliband at the site of the new Jewish Museum in Warsaw

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has expressed dismay that Israel boycotts are being discussed by trade union congresses and conferences.

He said this week: “Ivan Lewis, minister of state responsible for the Middle East, is meeting representatives of leading British unions in order to make clear the government’s firm belief that calls for boycotts of Israel cannot and do not contribute to peace.

“British people of all backgrounds are distressed and frustrated by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many wish to take action to advance the goals of peace and justice, a response I understand and share intensely.

“But I am saddened when this proactive energy is channelled into boycotting economic and academic events, as well as cultural events which seek to increase understanding.

“Such boycotts would, I believe, obstruct opportunities for co-operation and dialogue and serve only to polarise debate further. Boycotts would only make it harder to achieve the peace that both Palestinians and Israelis deserve and desire.

“Rather than seeking to boycott, I urge the British unions to help find a shared solution to common challenges, and I am encouraged that they are ready to do so.

“I commend Israeli and Palestinian trade unions for their determination to build bridges between their societies, for example through joint training for their members.

“It is vital that we do all we can to break the vicious cycle of fear and mistrust and help Israelis and Palestinians find common ground so that they can live together in peace.”

Mr Miliband’s comments came as the Trade Union Friends of Israel (Tufi) responded to its ban from the annual conference of Unison in Brighton last week with a packed fringe meeting.

Tufi also claimed a moral victory after around 30 per cent of Unison delegates voted against an anti-Israel conference motion the following day.

Among the 50-strong audience at the Tufi meeting was writer Julie Burchill, who lives in Brighton.

Speakers at the fringe meeting included Terry McCorran, a Unison branch secretary from Northern Ireland; Chris Hudson, a peace activist; and Eric Lee, who spoke for the new global union body, Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (Tulip).

Tulip’s Eric Lee said that the anti-Israel activism in the UK trade union movement was not found in other countries and should not be seen as the norm.

Tufi director Steve Scott highlighted the positive Israeli-Palestinian trade union co-operation between the Histadrut (Israeli TUC), the Palestine General Federation of Trade Union, and transport and construction unions from both sides.

How Poles saved the Foreign Secretary’s mother

David Miliband has revealed that his mother’s life was saved during the Holocaust by Polish people, who were risking their own lives.

On a visit to Poland this week, Mr Miliband took time out of his official schedule to visit the family grave in Warsaw’s Jewish cemetery.

“My mother was born here, her life was saved by those who risked theirs sheltering her from Nazi oppression,” he said in a speech.

“I come here with a curiosity about the place where my grandparents and my mother were born, alongside an acute sense of tragedy for the terrible losses suffered during the Second World War.”

His speech also mentioned the Polish king, Casimir the Great, who in medieval times offered sanctuary to English Jews being persecuted in London and York.

Mr Miliband’s mother, Marion Kozak, is from Czestochowa in southern Poland. Many of her family died during the Shoah, some at Auschwitz, but few details are known about how she survived. She emigrated to Britain in the 1950s where she met Mr Miliband’s father Ralph, whose parents had come to England from Poland in the 1920s.

Officials from the proposed Museum of the History of Polish Jews had earlier met Mr Miliband in Brandt Square, where the museum is to be located. “He’s gone to visit the family grave,” said Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, leader of the museum’s development team. “This is quite a homecoming.”

Czestochowa was occupied by the Nazis on Sunday September 3, two days after the invasion of Poland.

The next day, known as Bloody Monday, 150 Jews were shot by the Germans. Later, a ghetto was established and approximately 45,000 Jews were murdered. After the war just over 2,000 Jews returned to the town.

    Last updated: 10:46am, June 25 2009