LONDON/JERUSALEM (EJP)---A Knesset committee is due to discuss the "anti-Israel climate in the UK" on Tuesday, after a leading British foot retailer announced a boycott of all suppliers sourcing goods from Israeli settlements.
Israel’s foreign ministry criticised last Sunday’s decision by the Co-Op, the fifth largest UK supermarket chain, to extend their existing boycott of goods made in settlements to include companies sourcing products from such disputed regions.
"They say they are targeting settlement products, but in fact they are targeting everything that is Israeli. The settlements are a pretext. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement boycotts everything that is Israeli," said foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
This latest boycott by the Co-Op largely relates to four Israeli companies. One of the companies concerned, Agrexo, allegedly also exports Palestinian produce from Gaza, which will apparently also be subject to the boycott, despite an official statement from the Co-operative Group that it would continue "to actively work to increase trade links with Palestinian businesses in the Occupied Territories."
This latest British boycott comes in the wake of reports earlier this month that respected Israel negotiation expert, Professor Moty Cristal, had his invitation to speak at a National Health Service (NHS) Trust event in Manchester withdrawn, due to pressure from one of the UK’s largest trade unions UNISON, which openly supports the boycott movement.
Israel’s Trade Union Histadrut is similarly subject to a boycott by UNISON and a campaign is underway to pressure thefellow British union Trade Unions Congress (TUC) to adopt the same strategy, despite the union’s close ties with Palestinian sister organisation the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and the fact that it represents many thousands of Israeli Arab members.
Histadrut has been working with the PGFTU to advance the rights of Palestinian workers, yet despite UNISON’s claims to be guided in its boycott policy by this same organisation, their campaign regarding Histadrut remains in place.
Knesset Member Einat Wilf who called for the meeting by the sub-committee on ties with the Jewish World of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption & Diaspora Affairs Committee to discuss the alleged anti-Israel bias in the UK, claims that Britain is increasingly becoming the European centre for anti-Israel demonstration and that in chairing the debate, she aims to "address the challenges faced by the Jewish and pro-Israel community in Great Britain and the range of possible responses to these challenges."
The meeting will include representatives from British Jewish community bodies, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Jewish National Fund, World Jewish Congress and the Zionist Council in Israel.
In response to news of the boycott, Jon Benjamin, the chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, described the move as "naive and a retrograde step."
"This extension is significantly less than the full boycott of Israel sought by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign," he continued. "However, the Co-Op has not fully understood the Jewish community’s serious concerns with an ever-increasing slippery-slope boycott policy."
However, not all British organisations are keen to draw conclusions on the extent of anti-Israel feeling in the UK. Director of the British Council in Israel, Simon Kay, has described the kneejerk reaction to boycott instances as "disappointing."
In a recent article for Ynet news, Kay claimed:"Recent surveys show consistently that Britain is among the least anti-Semitic of countries. Anti-Semitic incidents and calls for boycott concern us...but these concerns must not be generalized into a judgement about the entire UK University and cultural scene."
He went on to admit "there are some problems but these are dwarfed by the demand we are witnessing for UK-Israel collaboration."
This is a sentiment that is, at least, publicly endorsed by the Co-Op, who claim they "continue to have supply agreements with some 20 Israeli suppliers that do not source from the settlements."
For Benjamin, these claims "that it may buy more produce from other Israeli companies in place of these four” have to be seen to be believed.
A spokesman for the British Israel Coalition Public Affairs Committee (BICPAC) has meanwhile called on the British Jewish community to respond in kind:
"We call on friends of Israel from all communities to respond by making clear where their loyalties lie, and choose to shop elsewhere until this ugly policy is cancelled. There are many shops in the UK which stock hundreds of Israeli goods. It is the duty of those who support a just and peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians to continue buying these goods in shops which do not deliberately target Jews and Israelis with boycotts."