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Union director who pushed for Israel boycott to leave role

    Jennie Formby (Picture: Twitter)
    Jennie Formby (Picture: Twitter)

    The political director of Britain's biggest trade union is moving from her role following a series of anti-Israel controversies.

    Jennie Formby has been involved in a number of incidents at Unite in the past five months.

    She was said to have caused outrage at a Labour national executive committee meeting last week by complaining that the peer appointed to investigate claims of antisemitism among Labour-supporting students at Oxford University had previously visited Israel.

    She was also one of the leaders of an attempt to get the party's NEC to boycott security firm G4S because of its work in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

    The JC understands there has been discontent over her outspoken comments. Her new role as the union's regional secretary in the south east region is a less prominent one.

    Writing in the Huffington Post on Tuesday, political executive editor Paul Waugh claimed Labour NEC members had reacted with shock when Ms Formby questioned the suitability of Baroness Royall to lead the Oxford investigation.

    Ms Formby reportedly told the meeting that she had searched for details about the peer on Google and had read a JC story from last week which made reference to a 2007 delegation to Israel she had been on with Labour Friends of Israel.

    Mr Waugh wrote that MP Shabana Mahmood – who has herself been criticised for outspoken attacks on Israel, including an episode in which she celebrated the closure of a supermarket in her Birmingham constituency by anti-Israel activists – told the meeting Ms Formby's comments were "highly inappropriate".

    Ms Formby has been in her job since 2013 and is a close ally of union boss Len McCluskey.

    The union official was behind the attempt to end Labour's links with G4S last November over the security giant's work with Israel.

    Labour's NEC voted to boycott G4S after the majority of members – including party leader Jeremy Corbyn and deputy Tom Watson – had left a meeting.

    The vote was not overturned, but at a meeting last month the minutes were amended to remove references to G4S's links in Israel.

    Unite said Ms Formby had campaigned for peace in the region and defended her against "repugnant smears".

    A Unite spokeswoman said: "After the normal recruitment and appointment process, it will be recommended to the Unite Executive Council when it next meets next week that Jennie Formby be appointed the union's Regional Secretary in the South-East.

    "Upon taking up that post she will stand down as the union's political director after three highly successful years in that post. Jennie will remain a member of Labour's NEC.

    "Jennie Formby has devoted her life to fighting injustice and racism, including supporting campaigns for peace for both the Israeli and Palestinian people. Suggestions to the contrary are repugnant smears and may result in legal action."

    The spokeswoman said Ms Formby was not being moved because of any issue relating to Israel. The union said she had applied for a new job and was moving as a result of getting that job.

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