UNISON, which with over 1.6 million members is Britain's biggest trade union, will assemble next week to discuss renewing and expanding an economic boycott of Israeli businesses.
In a special interview with Ynet, Richard Salt, Director of Trade and Investment at the British Embassy, stressed that the British government opposes all boycotts, and instead encourages constructive steps such as dialogue and negotiations.
Although Salt's job is to strengthen economic ties between Israel and Britain, he does not seem particularly disturbed by the boycott initiative.
It appears that Salt is not taking the boycott very seriously. Trade relations between Israel and Britain are very good and will continue to be good, he remarked.
UNISON is the largest union in the British Trades Union Congress and is highly involved in political and social campaigning. The group is calling on British companies not to buy Israeli products but, Salt points out, how can one know whether a product is Israeli-made?
In the modern global age, when goods are made of parts manufactured all over the world, can anyone know if a certain machine was made by Iscar? Can someone know that computer programs are partially developed in Israel, Salt says.
Salt is also skeptical of the union's claim that they will withdraw any pension funds invested in Israel. "I wouldn’t speculate that they will go that detail," he says.
Salt thinks Israel is a good place to invest, and notes that there is a lot of British money in Israel. He maintains optimism about Israeli-British business relations, regardless of the boycott – if it is even implemented.
Salt, 44, who has been a trade attaché for Britain for 14 years, feels at home in the turbulent Middle East. Salt was born in Yemen to a French mother and British father, who worked in the oil industry. His parents were married in Iran and he speaks Arabic and Persian. From 1996 to 2000 he represented the UK in Damascus, and before that he worked in Algeria.
He says he deliberately chose to work in Israel after working in Arab countries for so many years to get to know and befriend "the other side", to understand the Jewish people and learn a more balanced view of the world.
He says the boycott needs to be viewed proportionately: Considering that 60 million people live in the UK, the union, representing 1.6 million – many of whom don't support the boycott, does not constitute a significant slice of the British people. He says there also exist many Israel-friendly organizations, and adds that he has not yet met a single serious businessman who has an ideological problem with doing business in Israel.
'Good place for business'
Some people, however, refrain from visiting Israel due to the security situation. Israel has the image of being a dangerous place, he notes, and one of the goals of his work here is to attract people to Israel so they can see firsthand that it is a good place to do business.
In his view, the Israeli government is very business-friendly, despite Israeli businessmen's complaints otherwise. The government generously subsidizes start-up companies, which gives a high yield for investments. The Israeli market has also undergone wonderful privatization processes, Salt says.
It's enough to see the high number of patents Israel has to understand that something extraordinary is going on here, he adds, and he has every reason to believe that the growth will continue.