A movement in Britain to boycott Israel economically and culturally gathered speed on Thursday as the country's biggest labor union said it would follow the union of university instructors in weighing punitive measures against Israel.
Mary McGuire, a spokeswoman for Unison, a union of public service employees with 1.3 million members, said a resolution calling for a boycott had been placed on the agenda for the group's annual national conference next month. Word of the proposal emerged one day after the University and College Union, representing 120,000 instructors, voted to urge its members to consider their future relationships and exchanges with Israeli academics.
The instructors' vote -- which did not impose an immediate boycott -- drew protests from academics in the US and Israel. In Britain, senior figures at some of the country's top universities, including Cambridge and Oxford, distanced themselves from the resolution, saying that they "strongly condemned" it and that they "reject outright the call for an academic boycott."
The chairman of the group, Professor Malcolm Grant of University College London, said, "It is a contradiction in terms and in direct conflict with the mission of a university."
Politicians from the major political parties also condemned the vote by the instructors' union.
Asked if the Unison congress would also consider a boycott of some form, McGuire said, "There is a motion down on our agenda that is to that effect."
However, she said, with around 150 motions from the union's 1,500 branches to debate, it was not clear whether the boycott call would be discussed. The Unison Web site said the proposal to be debated at the conference says, "Unison believes the appropriate response is to support the growing international moves towards a union-based campaign of boycott and sanctions against Israeli institutions, in line with the call from over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations including the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions and individual unions and labor collectives."
In a preamble, the motion "notes that, during 2006, Israel invaded Lebanon and Gaza, withheld tax revenues from the Palestine Authority and refused dialogue with the elected Authority following the democratic elections of January 2006, re-sealed the borders of Gaza, expanded illegal settlements in the West Bank, and continued the construction of the illegal Apartheid Wall."
It accused the government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair of adopting "a consistent stand in support of the Israeli government throughout the shameful events of 2006, even joining the US in failing to call for a ceasefire amidst worldwide condemnation of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon."
The motion suggested that the union discuss the kinds of economic ties its members have with Israel and Israeli companies, and highlight the scope of a potential consumer boycott. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said on Thursday that officials from Histadrut, the largest union in Israel, had seen a copy of the Unison motion.
Histadrut was reported to have urged the British union to withdraw the motion. But McGuire said the union leadership had no authority do so before the national conference next month.