Across the country, strikes are being organised in the heath service by public sector union Unison. Just this week, the union described plans to cut 50 per cent of nursing staff at NHS Direct as a “disaster”. The Department of Health and Unison are effectively at war. All the more bizarre then, that they are united in their fight against Moty Cristal, an Israeli conflict resolution expert, whose invitation to run a workshop at Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust was withdrawn in May.
I have tried this week to discover why Unison and the Trust have decided to prioritise fighting an expensive legal case during such straitened times. Neither was prepared to comment while the case was ongoing. This is patent nonsense: this is not a criminal trial and there is no jury to prejudice. But I can understand their reticence. It must be extremely embarrassing that a rare point of common ground between NHS managers and Unison is their determination to justify boycotting a respected international expert, simply for being an Israeli. Meanwhile, the Department of Health and ministers have thus far refused to intervene for fear of further inflaming Unison.
The relationship between the Jewish community and the trade union movement has reached a new low with the Moty Cristal case and that of Ronnie Fraser, who has taken the University and College Union (UCU) to employment tribunal over allegations of institutional antisemitism.
The work of the beleaguered Trade Union Friends of Israel continues. The organisation held a well-attended annual dinner last week and a delegation will fly out to Israel on Sunday. But there is a sour feeling in the air and patience has been tested on both sides. Outgoing TUC general secretary Brendan Barber has always drawn the line at support for a boycott of settlement goods and has worked hard to prevent British trade unions from sliding into an outright boycott of Israel. But there are those in the TUC leadership who wish the issue would go away — and believe the Jewish community has become “bogged down” in the boycott issue.
But, like Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Mr Barber has decided to keep his head down over Moty Cristal. Perhaps they think if they avoid the issue it will just go away, or that it is an obscure matter unworthy of their attention. But their hand may yet be forced when the case comes to court. Moty Cristal is by profession a skilled negotiator and, as such, he knows his demands must be very clear and very reasonable. All he wants is an admission of wrongdoing from the health trust and the union and an assurance that it won’t happen again. This will cost them nothing. The alternative is potentially very expensive indeed in terms of hard cash and reputations.
Messrs Hunt and Barber could stop this nonsense now.