Several high profile and large NUJ branches — ITN, BBC London and Observer — have spearheaded a campaign for ballot over the NUJ’s recent decision to “call for a boycott of Israeli goods”. They believe, of course, that the policy will overturn the decision of the 2007 Annual Delegate Meeting. The sponsors of the ballot call are probably right. Whether a vote against the boycott in such a ballot will be for the right reasons is another matter.
Many journalists who are vocal on the matter have been concerned about the way the policy will undermine the “impartiality” they need to do their job. On one level that is not an unreasonable concern. But one can imagine political situations where it would be a good thing for journalists to take a clear political stance — against fascist regimes for example — no matter whether or not it undermined “impartiality”. In such situations journalists should live with the consequences, rather than moan about wanting to be “impartial”.
It’s a complex argument, but the main objection to the boycott decision must be that its singling out of Israel for a boycott is politically pernicious as well as a distraction from making solidarity with the Palestinians.
There is some doubt over whether the National Executive of the union are at liberty to call a ballot on the issue. But the union’s General Secretary, Jeremy Dear, has distanced himself personally from the boycott, indicated that the Executive is not in favour of the policy, and said it might be possible to go ahead with a ballot, risking censure at next year’s Annual Delegate Meeting.
Resolutions calling for a ballot will be considered at an Executive meeting on 7 June.