The decision of the Trades Union Congress to support a “targeted, consumer-led” boycott of goods from Israeli settlements in occupied areas has been described as a warning shot.
Communal leaders fear that unions which are avowedly anti-Israel will attempt to implement a much wider boycott next year. They also believe that not enough was done ahead of congress to avert the outcome.
The TUC says the move will “reiterate our encouragement to unions to affiliate to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and to raise greater awareness of the issues”. It has also called for greater co-operation between Histadrut and the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions.
“This is the last chance saloon,” warned Ronnie Fraser, chair of the Academic Friends of Israel and a trade union movement researcher. “We have been given a year’s reprieve by this decision. But unless the Anglo-Jewish community is pro-active in various ways, I believe the TUC will agree a full boycott motion and certain members of the community will be beating their breast saying ‘what should we do?’ The communal leaders picked up the boycott ball but didn’t run fast enough with it.”
Mr Fraser’s view drew support from Zionist Federation vice-chairman Jonathan Hoffman, who said: “I think there will be people pushing for a full boycott. The PSC will say that people will not know what produce comes from where and the only way to resolve it would be a full boycott.”
But this was rejected by Trade Union Friends of Israel director Steve Scott: “I don’t believe this will get on to next year’s agenda,” he said. “This was the first Israel debate for three years.
“What we want to see is more co-operation and contact between Histadrut and its Palestinian equivalent. We stopped a full motion on boycott, divestment and sanctions. We can regard that as a partial victory and we will be working to make sure people are aware of what the Palestine Solidarity Campaign is, who is behind it and what it supports.”
The Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies were “genuinely saddened” about the general council statement, noting: “The TUC has a noble record as a positive and unifying element in British life and in international relations. This new policy will only create discord and divisiveness, masking a pro-boycott agenda behind the smokescreen of opposition to settlements.”
Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor said: “The boycott statement fails to acknowledge Israel’s obligation to protect its citizens from terror and issues no calls on Gaza’s rulers or the Arab world to address Israel’s legitimate security concerns.”
A spokesman for Gordon Brown referred to a recent interview in which he vehemently opposed “any boycott of Israel because I cherish our relationship with the Israeli people. I do not believe that boycotts of Israel make any contribution towards achieving peace. They foster suspicion and animosity when it is precisely dialogue and co-operation which are called for.”