British journalists continue working with counterparts in Israel

Britain's National Union of Journalists says it will continue working with its counterparts in Israel despite a vote by its annual meeting to boycott Israeli goods.

The motion was adopted Friday on a vote of 66-54, committing the 35,000-member union to boycott Israeli products "to demand sanctions be imposed on Israel by the British government and the United Nations."

"This is not, as some critics have indicated, an institutional boycott," NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said in statement released Tuesday. "The NUJ will continue to seek to work with all its sister unions in the region, be they Israelis or Palestinians."

"The boycott call has nothing to do with reporting," Dear added. "The NUJ is not telling members how to report Israel beyond its permanent injunctions to members to report independently and fairly on all matters, and not to produce racist or discriminatory copy."

The British government said it disagreed with the boycott, but said it valued freedom of expression and would not interfere in what it called an internal discussion.

"The government believes that, as a friend of both Israel and the Palestinians, we can best exert influence by encouraging both sides to take the steps needed for progress toward peace through close engagement," Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells said in a statement.

Dear said the call for the boycott related partly to the kidnapping of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in Gaza.

"The Palestinian journalists union has given huge support to the campaign for his release holding demonstrations and strikes against the Palestinian authority to demand more action from them.

"We work closely with the Palestinian union through the International Federation of Journalists and the boycott call was a gesture of support for the Palestinian people notably those suffering in the siege of Gaza, the community Alan Johnston has been so keen to help through his reporting," Dear said.

In Israel, Simon McGregor-Wood, chairman of the Foreign Press Association, which represents foreign media covering Israel and the Palestinian territories, said the group opposed the boycott.

"We feel it's highly inappropriate for journalists to clearly take a position on the coverage of any story," said McGregor-Wood, ABC News' bureau chief in Israel and himself a British journalist. "From what we know, it appears to be unreasonable to go against the basic tenets of journalist objectivity and balance."

He said the FPA's board discussed the British boycott at its annual meeting this week and would issue a formal statement after studying the resolution. But he said it was clear "we don't want to be associated with this sentiment."

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Author`s name Angela Antonova