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August 10, 2007

Union Leadership Did Not Support a Boycott

Two motions were tabled to Unison’s national delegate conference in June which addressed Israel and Palestine (“U.S. Unions Organize Against British Boycott,” July 27). Both motions were tabled by individual Unison local branches, as is their democratic right. They were not tabled by myself — as Unison’s deputy general secretary I don’t have this right — nor by the union’s National Executive, as the Forward implies.

Motion 54 would have committed the union to imposing a far-reaching boycott. I want to make it absolutely clear that at no stage did the leadership of Unison support Motion 54. It received a very low position in the internal prioritization system we use to determine which of the large number of motions tabled get debated.

In fact, the leadership of the union worked hard to ensure that Motion 54 would not even be debated, let alone adopted, and I met representatives of Trade Union Friends of Israel, the Israeli embassy and the International Secretary of the Histadrut on several occasions to make this position clear.

Motion 53, which was eventually carried by our conference, largely restated previous union policy. It does make reference to the use of boycotts as a tactic to put pressure on the government of Israel, but does not commit Unison as a trade union to impose such a boycott, either on Israel itself, Israeli goods or Israeli organizations.

Unison has long-standing relations with the Histadrut. We welcomed guests from the Histadrut, as well as the Palestinian trade unions, to our conference in 2006, and they jointly addressed a session of the conference. I met with Ofer Eini, president of the Histadrut, most recently in the spring of this year.

Unison has a long record of fighting racism, fascism and antisemitism. We have led campaigns against the far-right British National Party and sponsored trips organized by the Holocaust Memorial Society of school children to visit concentration camps in Poland. We have also produced a DVD about the experiences of a Holocaust survivor, and commissioned a touring play about the Holocaust.

Keith Sonnet
Deputy General Secretary
London, England

Yiddish Vegetarians Congregate Online

Jenna Weissman Joselit’s informative August 3 essay introduces us to the world of Yiddish-speaking vegetarians in the early 20th century (“When Vegetarians Were Rare”). That world still exists on the Internet.

A blog called “In Mol Araan,” meaning “Into the Mouth” in Yiddish, contains beautiful photographs, information about an enormous variety of food, and fascinating comments, approximately one-quarter in Yiddish and three-quarters in English.

George Jochnowitz
New York, N.Y.

Snide Coverage Doesn’t Do Justice to Confab

I was disappointed to read the Forward’s coverage of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation’s “Why be Jewish?” event in Park City (“Bronfman Corrals Big Names for Cushy Confab in Utah,” August 3). Having been unable to attend the conference myself, I was looking forward to a substantive engagement with the ideas exchanged by the various speakers and participants.

Instead, I found myself wincing at the Forward’s derisive tone and wholly unsympathetic selection of quotations. The Forward’s snide summary judgment that the event “turned into philosophical and theological grandstanding” smacked of populist anti-elitism.

Soundbites from disgruntled attendees are no substitute for a discussion of the debates that occurred at the event. The fact that the article does not make one reference to what such speakers as Bernard-Henri Lévi, Leon Wieseltier and Tova Hartman had to say seems to me a testament to the Forward’s willful indifference to ideas.

Amos Bitzan
Berkeley, Calif.

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