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British Jews Angrily React to Boycott of Israeli Professor

Manchester’s Jewish community reacts in anger to a decision to cancel an address by an Israeli professor in the city.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 5/14/2012, 7:16 AM

Boycott supporters
Boycott supporters
Flash 90

Manchester’s Jewish community has reacted in anger to a decision by the National Health Service (NHS) to cancel a planned address by an Israeli professor at an NHS Trust event in the city.

Professor Moty Cristal, an Israeli expert on negotiating skills and crisis management, had been invited to lead a workshop in Manchester next week entitled, ‘The Role of Negotiation in Dealing With Conflict.’

Prior to the workshop, however, he received an email informing him that the workshop had been cancelled due to pressure exerted by the trade union UNISON.

The e-mail claimed that the session was cancelled "on the grounds that it is UNISON’s policy and also that of the Trades Union Congress to support the Palestinian people".

The Trust went on to explain in a statement quoted by the European Jewish Press (EJP) that "The purpose of the proposed event was to improve working relations between management and the unions. Clearly, this aim would not have been achieved in the face of a UNISON boycott, particularly as Professor Cristal was to be the only speaker."

It denied this decision signified an endorsement of UNISON’s policy regarding Israel.

Manchester Jewish Representative Council president Lucille Cohen wrote a letter to the Trust chief executive saying, “The community is shocked and offended by such a move against a citizen of the only Jewish country in the world.”

UNISON is one of the largest trade union organizations in Britain, representing 1.3 million workers.

It has frequently voted, dating back to 2002, to boycott Israel, EJP noted, adding that in a statement on its website, the organization claims: “UNISON reaffirms its solidarity and support for the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). UNISON calls for a boycott of Israeli goods and services until such time as the Israeli government agrees to comply with UN resolutions and return to the negotiating table. We will continue to liaise with the PGFTU and Trade Union Friends of Palestine in setting out the future of this campaign.”

Professor Cristal has previously lectured extensively around the world and in the UK, including to the Muslim Council of Britain and has been a proponent and participant in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

"I'm furious from a professional point of view and deeply disappointed from a national point of view," Cristal told the Guardian after his appearance was cancelled. "I have always been perceived first and foremost as an expert, rather than an Israeli. But here people didn't have the wisdom to look behind the Israeli flag to my professional contribution."

Israel's Ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, has also criticized boycott campaigns and their tendency to target the very individuals and organizations attempting to affect progress and change.

“By their nature, boycotts target places of connection and interaction, the very arenas in which dialogue and dissent are most likely to occur,” Taub wrote in The Guardian. “Their insistent focus on censoring academics, cultural events and professional ties target in practice the very elements of society which anyone interested in fostering understanding should be wanting to bolster.”

The decision to cancel Cristal’s appearance followed a decision by the UK's fifth biggest food retailer, the Co-operative Group, to end trade with Israeli companies.

The food retailer recently announced it would no longer be "engaging with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements." That decision affects PA Arabs who work for Israelis, as they may lose jobs as a result.

Last January, a coalition of prominent British academics and cultural figures accused the Natural History Museum in London of helping to break international law by leading a research project with Ahava – Dead Sea Laboratories.

The coalition claimed that Ahava, which has a plant in a kibbutz on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, is located in an “illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank.”

The members of the coalition sent a letter to a local newspaper in which they condemned the museum - which is the fourth most visited in Britain - for its research collaboration with Ahava.