The largest education union in the United Kingdom backtracked on a pledge to boycott advertisements from Israeli companies, with its co-head confirming on Wednesday that the statement was “made in error.”
The clarification came after criticism of a statement made by the National Education Union (NEU) — which claims more than 500,000 members — in the January/February 2019 issue of its magazine, which responded to a concern raised by a subscriber identified as Ian R K Davies from Edinburgh, who said he was pleased to read that the Trades Union Congress endorsed a motion in September “in favour of Palestinian citizens of Israel and of Palestinian refugees” in the previous edition.
The measure was passed without opposition, with dozens of audience members waving Palestinian flags and holding banners reading “I support Palestine.”
Yet Davies said he was “dismayed to see a half-page advertisement, three pages further on, for SodaStream,” noting that the company is based in Israel.
“I cannot understand why the [NEU’s] own magazine accepts advertisement revenue from an Israeli company,” Davies wrote, before urging the union to support the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The movement says it seeks to isolate Israel until it accedes to three Palestinian demands, which supporters say are grounded in international law. Critics — including major Jewish organizations in the UK and worldwide — have branded it discriminatory for denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.
Davies pointed out that SodaStream maintained a factory in the West Bank until 2015, on land claimed by Palestinians for a future state. “Happily (the loss of Palestinian workers’ jobs notwithstanding), this was closed following pressure from campaigners,” he continued. “I urge you to support the BDS campaign by rejecting advertising revenue from Israel-based companies in future.”
After reprinting the letter, an NEU magazine editor wrote that the union scrutinizes “our adverts to make sure they are in line with union policies and decision making.”
“We will not be carrying adverts from SodaStream in future,” the editor pledged, before directing readers to the official website of the BDS campaign.
The exchange drew some criticism on social media, with a Twitter user by the name of Melanie Golding – who identified herself as a Jewish teacher — saying in late December that she was “shocked” by the decision to print the statement. She followed-up on her tweet on Tuesday to confirm that she had cancelled her “longstanding membership.”
Neil O’Brien, a member of parliament with the ruling Conservative Party, subsequently shared Golding’s tweet and asked NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted, “Is it really NEU policy to ban adverts from any Israeli firms in your paper?”
“Many of your members will be doing a good job teaching kids about tolerance and getting along with other people — please think about what message you are sending here,” he said in a separate tweet.
Bousted replied on Wednesday by confirming that it “is not the @NEUnion policy to ban adverts from Israeli companies in our union magazine.”
“The response to the letter was made in error,” she added. “The @NEU has not yet developed policy in this area.”
The NEU was formed in 2017 after a merger between the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. The union’s NUT section regularly sends delegations to the Palestinian territories, and describes itself as having “a proud history of solidarity with the Palestinian people.”