UK: Unison escalates BDS to a new level in call on company to pull out of Israel

In an apparent escalation of the BDS (boycott divestment sanctions) campaign targetting the Jewish state, Britain’s giant public sector union Unison has called on a company to cease its activities in both the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Israel itself.

According to the union’s press release, “Unison today called on controversial security firm G4S to cease commercial activity in Israel and Palestine territories, because it is in breach of the Geneva Convention.”

The union claims that G4S provides security at some Israeli prisons which hold Palestinians, and that this is a breach of the Geneva convention.

Just in case anyone thought the call to withdraw from Israel as well as the occupied territories was a slip of the tongue, Unison General Secretary Dave Prentiss in his letter to G4S writes explicitly “I would urge you withdraw now from doing business in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.”

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s (PSC) Sarah Colborne noted that the Unison call to G4S was a significant development. “A union publicizing this is very significant,” she told the Electronic Intifada. “It’s a ground-breaking move: I’m not aware of this happening before within British trade unions.”

The PSC issued a press release lauding the union for its decision.

At this year’s Unison National Delegate Conference a lengthy resolution on Palestine was adopted which did not explicitly call on companies to cease all activities in Israel.  Instead, the focus was on a boycott of settlement goods.

According to the resolution adopted, which is binding on the Unison leadership,”UNISON supports boycotting Israeli settlement goods”.  The only part of the resolution which could lead to Unison calling on G4S to cease its activities in the country is a sentence supporting “campaigns to stop public service contracts being awarded to companies which are complicit in Israeli violations of international law, including the 4th Geneva Convention, for instance by contracts which service the illegal settlements, construct the Apartheid Wall or provide security in prisons holding Palestinians illegally transferred from the Occupied Territories”.

In other words, it seems that Unison wants to punish G4S in the UK for conducting activities in Israel and Palestine it disapproves of, but there is no blanket call for G4S to cease all activities in Israel.

This escalation of Unison’s support for a complete boycott of Israel — rather than a limited boycott of settlement goods — parallels the union’s opposition to Israeli academic Moty Cristal, whose visit to Britain was stopped by a Unison branch which thought that union policy included a blanket ban on all Israelis.

These small, incremental changes in union policy — which have no basis in the decisions taken by the National Delegate Conference — represent a form of “mission creep” which are leading one of Britain’s largest unions firmly in the direction of hostility towards Israel rather than support for a peace process that could result in a two-state solution to the conflict.