One of Britain’s biggest trade unions unlawfully sought the cancellation of a Jewish academic’s speaking engagement on the grounds that he was from Israel, a court has heard.
Unison is being sued along with a health trust for racial discrimination after Professor Moty Cristal’s workshop on conflict resolution was cancelled last year after a complaint on behalf of the public sector union’s members.
The Israeli expert had been due to lead a session for managers and union officials at the Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust last May when he received an email stating that Unison had objected to his presence and its members would boycott the event.
It is alleged that Professor Cristal, who is claiming £26,500 in damages, was told the invitation to a prominent academic from Israel was in conflict with Unison policy. Although the health union has a long-standing boycott of goods produced in the Occupied Territories, lawyers for the academic said they could find no lawful justification for an apparent ban on Israeli citizens.
Dinah Rose QC, who is representing Professor Cristal at the Central London County Court, said her client’s treatment amounted to a form of racial discrimination under legislation which bans unequal treatment on grounds of nationality. Both the union and the health trust deny any wrongdoing.
Ms Rose said: “He is an Israeli national and of Jewish ethnic origin. This case is very important to Professor Cristal.
“It is also a case of considerable general public importance, because it raises the issue of circumstances in which it is unlawful both for public or for private bodies to seek to boycott people because they are Israeli or because of their association with the Israeli state.”
The academic, 45, from Tel Aviv, had been due to address staff members on negotiation skills in May last year but less than a fortnight before the event he was told of the cancellation and the reasons for it. The court heard that the email to Professor Cristal cancelling the engagement stated that “to invite a prominent Israeli negotiator would contradict Unison and TUC policy”.
Ms Rose said: “No policy of either Unison or the TUC... has been identified to us or disclosed to us. We are aware that it is TUC policy to boycott goods which have been produced in Palestinian occupied territories. We have not been shown any policy of Unison or been told how it would be contradicted by Professor Cristal’s attendance.”
The academic, who had been due to deliver a seminar entitled “The role of negotiation in dealing with conflict”, is seeking payment of his £3,500 fee and additional sums for injury to feelings and aggravated damages.
Ms Rose said Professor Cristal wanted to underline “his right to equal treatment without discrimination, particularly without discrimination on racial grounds”.
The case is expected to last until Friday.