Those living on the other side of the pond were struck with confusion this week when UNISON — Britain and Europe’s largest public sector union, with more than 1.3 million members — prohibited Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) from attending its annual conference in Brighton, which wrapped up Wednesday. TUFI has attended this conference for the past four years without issue.
According to statements made by UNISON conference organizers, TUFI was not allowed to attend the conference because UNISON could not guarantee the safety of TUFI campaigners, who were perceived by the public to be “pro-Israeli.”
As reported London’s Jewish Chronicle, UNISON told TUFI director Steve Scott that “they had complaints from members in the regions about Gaza.” Scott added, “We issued a statement about Gaza but obviously we didn’t condemn Israel’s actions, so they said we should not be exhibiting this year.”
According to UNISON conference organizer Bill Gilby, he and his staff hesitated at offering TUFI a place at the conference “because of the union’s long-standing policy position on the Middle East, and concern about the welfare of individuals if such a stall were to be there.” Gilby asserted that he would not describe TUFI’s “absence” as a “ban.”
Consequently, TUFI held a separate event this week, attended by more than 50 UNISON delegates, in the hotel outside of the conference center. Speakers included Terry McCorran, a UNISON branch secretary from Northern Ireland and founder of the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel, and Eric Lee, who discussed the new organization Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP), of which TUFI is part. According to TULIP’s Web site, the event went smoothly, with the vast majority of attendees supporting TUFI’s pro-peace, anti-boycott message.
TUFI was established to strengthen ties between the Histadrut (the Israeli TUC), the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and the British Trade Union Movement.