On Monday 1 March over two hundred supporters of Northern Ireland Friends of Israel turned out to protest against the Boycott Israel campaign being waged by several trade unions in Northern Ireland.
NIFI co chair Terry McCorran spoke out against the campaign which has seen calls to ban the Israeli football team from playing in Belfast and to picket the Leonard Cohen concert because the singer was also performing in Tel Aviv. He also condemned the harrassing of Israeli workers at Castlecourt shopping centre in Belfast last year and the intimidation of shoppers and staff at Marks and Spencer. McCorran spoke in a private capacity as his union UNISON has a resolution in place to boycott Israel as does the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance.
Guest speaker Eric Lee from Trade Union Links with Israel and Palestine explained what the Boycott campaign was all about, who supports it and who opposes it, why it is a bad idea and how it can be countered. He argued that positive engagement with both sides was the best way to support peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Reverend Chris Hudson, who served as a full-time union official for over 18 years and was a leading member of the anti-apartheid movement in the Republic of Ireland, said it was “a big lie” to describe Israel as an apartheid state. Referring to the recent decision of the town council at Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, to tear out the page from the welcome book signed by the Israeli ambassador, Hudson asked: “what exactly is the Jewish community in Ireland to make of that? The ambassador of no other country on this earth would be treated that way”.
“This meeting marks a first organised stand against the boycott of Israel in Northern Ireland” Steven Jaffe, NIFI co chair, remarked, “and the fact that we had standing room only at our meeting indicates this issue is deeply divisive. The vast majority of our supporters are not Jewish. In Northern Ireland of all places we know that dialogue, however difficult, is the only way forward towards peace, not sterile and negative boycotting”.
STOP PRESS! Over 280 attend NIFI’s lecture on Anti-Semitism and Israel – for a report go to Israel Events in Northern Ireland.