Jewish communal organizations are saying that a decision by Britain’s largest journalists’ union to boycott Israeli goods and ask for government sanctions on the Jewish state affirms what the groups have been thinking for some time — that the British media cannot report objectively on Israel.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the journalists’ motion did nothing to advance peace or help Israelis and Palestinians, and that the move tainted all British journalists by portraying them as biased.
We ve always feared that much of the British media was biased against Israel and distorted its news coverage, Neil Goldstein, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said in a statement Wednesday. Now we have proof certain.
The National Union of Journalists voted at its annual meeting April 13 for “a boycott of Israeli goods similar to those boycotts in the struggles against apartheid South Africa led by trade unions and for the Trades Union Congress to demand sanctions be imposed on Israel by the British government and the United Nations.”
The motion also condemned the “slaughter of civilians by Israeli troops in Gaza and the Israeli Defense Forces’ continued attacks inside Lebanon following the defeat of its army by Hezbollah,” and called for the end of “Israeli aggression in Gaza and other occupied territories.”
The measure, which was toned down from earlier proposals, passed by a 66-54 margin. It follows campaigns among British academics to boycott Israeli colleagues and institutions — calls that were overturned after they sparked international condemnation.
British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells said he was “disappointed” by the journalists’ vote.
“The government believes that as a friend of both Israel and the Palestinians, we can best exert influence by encouraging both sides to take the steps needed for progress toward peace through close engagement,” Howells said Wednesday.
Tim Gopsill, the union’s press spokesman, said the move was partially a reward to Palestinian journalists for cooperating with a campaign to free Alan Johnston, a BBC reporter kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
“The Palestinian journalists’ union has given huge support to the campaign for his release holding demonstrations and strikes against the Palestinian Authority to demand more action from them,” Gopsill wrote. “The boycott call was a gesture of support for the Palestinian people notably those suffering in the siege of Gaza, the community Alan Johnston has been so keen to help through his reporting.”
Gopsill said the move did not mean British journalists could not report objectively ! on Israe l.
“The NUJ is not telling members how to report Israel beyond its permanent injunctions to members to report independently and fairly on all matters, and not to produce racist or discriminatory copy,” he said. “The union has not and never would adopt a line on how any issue should be reported.”
In addition, the NUJ would continue to work with sister unions in the region, including a union of Israeli journalists, Gopsill said.
But not everyone believed business could continue as usual.
“It is astounding that British trade unionists should seek to ostracize the one country in the Middle East where trade unions enjoy freedom of association and expression while uttering not a peep against those regimes which really do suppress trade unions and intellectual inquiry,” Melanie Phillips wrote in the Daily Mail. “But this is now the madness of Britain.”
Michael Gove, a Conservative Party politician, wrote in The Times of London that the union “exists to defend, among other virtues, freedom of speech. That virtue is better defended in Israel than in any other nation of the Middle East and it comes under assault daily from forces driven by fanaticism.
“Now is a time, for all sorts of reasons, for showing solidarity with those defending democracy in that region, not for passing on the other side of the road,” Gove wrote. “So with no little sadness, I feel that I have to leave” the NUJ.