Union blocks Friends of Israel stall

By Leon Symons, June 11, 2009

The trade union Unison has rejected a request by Trade Union Friends of Israel (Tufi) to run a stall during its annual conference in Brighton next week.

However, the union gave different reasons for the ban. Tufi has been told that the rejection was because of Israel’s action in Gaza and complaints by regional members. But a Unison member who spoke to deputy general secretary Keith Sonnet was told that as the union was having three Palestinian-run stalls, there was no room for Tufi.

The member, Linda Baharier, said: “This was a supposedly democratic union stifling free speech and I told Keith Sonnet that this was discriminatory. They might have had complaints, but I also know members who will make complaints about this decision.”

Ms Baharier said she had contacted lawyer Anthony Julius, who has acted for members of the University and College Union to deflect a threatened academic boycott of Israel. “Mr Julius said he would look into this,” she said.

Tufi has manned a stall at the Unison conference for the past four years. But this year the union’s executive told Tufi director Steve Scott that it had decided not to allow the stall because of Gaza “and, they said, for our own safety”. Mr Scott said: “At first they made excuses, then they said it was an executive decision after they had complaints from members in the regions about Gaza. We issued a statement about Gaza but obviously we didn’t condemn Israel’s actions, so they said we should not be exhibiting this year.

“They told us that if we had a problem with the decision we should complain. So we have written to Dave Prentis, the general secretary, and another executive member, Alison Shepherd, but I doubt that anything will change.

“The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is affiliated to Unison so they would have stalls there. But every year we’ve been there, there have been stalls carrying anti-Israeli material. One year, a person wore a Hizbollah T-shirt.”

Mr Scott said Tufi would hold a fringe meeting on June 17, the conference’s third day.

A spokesman for the Fair Play Campaign said: “Unison has acted shamefully by banning Tufi from its conference. It supports peace and works with Palestinian trade unions, but it seems that Unison just doesn’t care. As in the University and College Union, the boycott movement is targeting supporters of Israel and trying to drive them out of the trades union movement.”

Bill Gilby, the union’s conference organiser, said he would not describe Tufi’s absence as “a ban”. He said his conference team had received “an expression of concern” at the possibility of Tufi being offered a stall, “because of the union’s long-standing policy position on the Middle East and concern about the welfare of individuals if such a stall were to be there”.

In previous years, claimed Mr Gilby, “Tufi had a stall at our conference and sometimes they didn’t even turn up.”

Last updated: 12:12pm, June 11 2009