UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Tories to block Public Sector boycotts of Israel

The Tory government announced on Monday (15/2/16) that from now on only government approved boycotts will be tolerated. So much for local democracy.

Through a guidance note published by the Cabinet Office, without a debate, statement to, or a vote in parliament, the government has effectively banned public service organisations, which includes, local authorities, NHS Trusts, universities and students’ unions from adopting ethical procuring policies and supporting boycotts of Israel.

Although couched as guidance the statement makes it clear that public bodies will face severe penalties if they introduce or continue with boycotts on ethical grounds.

Despite the note being written in general terms, it is clear that the policy is a crude attempt to block the increasingly effective Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, (BDS) campaign against the Israeli apartheid state. In fact the announcement was made while Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock was on a trade visit to Israel.

The guidance note sets out a variety of spurious reasons for the ban, ranging from hindering UK export trade, to undermining community cohesion. No mention of the disastrous impact on community cohesion from Israel’s murderous policies in Palestine. In case these arguments fail to hit home the government falls back on the old chestnut of International security. Apparently a local authority introducing ethics into its procurement process may have dire consequences for our national security.

This change in policy is a major coup for the Israeli lobby which has tried every dirty trick in the book, including intimidation and spurious legal challenges, in a desperate attempt to undermine the BDS campaign. So far these underhand tactics have failed to stop the building of an effective movement. Many councils and the Scottish government have now adopted ethical procurement policies.

The ludicrous thing is that even the Foreign Office’s own documents describe Israel’s settlements in Palestine as being in breach of International Law. It further states that Israel’s illegal action is an obstacle to peace and the creation of a two state solution in the Middle East.

And now Eric Pickles,the former minister who sent thousand of pounds of public money on limo journeys to shift him from parliament to his office 5 minutes away, has attacked Trade Unions for supporting the call to boycott Israeli goods. In a briefing on the vicious Trade Union Bill, Pickles, through crocodile tears, argues that it is ‘hard left’ union activists who impose boycotts behind their members’ backs.

No one would expect Pickles to understand true democracy or to read trade union journals. But if he did, then he would know that resolutions supporting the boycott of Israel are debated in local trade union branches, at regional meetings and at national conferences.

The policy is then adopted and the decisions and the debates get reported widely within trade union publications. This is far more democratic than the way Eric Pickles and his Tory mates adopt policies. Oh yes and Mr Pickles is the Chair of Conservative Friends of Israel, this fact may have slipped his mind to mention in his briefing.

This Tory policy is about propping up the illegal regime in Israel and has nothing to do with security, community cohesion or even the economic impact on the UK. Everyone who believes that ethics should trump finance or trade must make sure they continue the fight to block Israeli goods from the occupied territories being sold in the UK.

Israel will only cease its illegal actions when world pressure forces it to change. If Israel wants to trade with the rest of the world then they must abide by International Law, respect Human Rights and recognise the rights of the Palestinian people to a homeland.

We must not cave in to either the Israeli lobby in the UK or their friends in Parliament. Trade Unions must play a key role in this and we need to see the leaders of our unions, especially the public sector unions, come out publicly and support the BDS campaign and reject the Tories anti democratic policies.

Boycotts helped free South Africa from surge of apartheid an effective boycott campaign against Israel can end the surge of apartheid against the Palestinian people.