Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, posing with G4S staff

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, posing with G4S staff

The General Secretary of Israel’s Labor Party has challenged his opposite number in the UK to make it clear that any of boycott security firm G4S is not taken because of its work in Israel, writes Justin Cohen

With only around half of its members present, Labour’s national executive committee voted last November to sever ties with the company, which had provided security for the party’s annual conference for more than a decade. The vote was later rejected by a group overseeing the organisation of the conference because it would only leave one company to tender, inevitably forcing up costs.

Now minutes from the original NEC meeting have made it clear G4S “has been told it cannot tender to provide conference security because of its work in Israel”. Hilik Bar, who is also deputy speaker of the Knesset, told UK Labour General Secretary Iain McNicol.

In a letter sent to all members of the NEC, he wrote: “This makes the decision a boycott of Israel and contradicts longstanding Labour Party policy against boycotts. As you may be aware, G4S is a top target of the boycott movement, which seeks to isolate and delegitimise Israel.”

Late last year, the conference arrangements committee referred the issue back to the NEC, which is due to meet today. It’s not known whether the matter will be discussed but it’s understood that some members who are against boycotts are still in favour of dropping G4S over other unconnected controversies in which the company is embroiled.

Bar wrote: “We hope you will use this opportunity to reverse the decision or to make it very clear that it was not taken because of G4S’ work in Israel.” While saying he shared frustration at the current impasse in the peace process, he insisted boycotts sought to paint Israelis as “illegitimate partners” and were “utterly counterproductive” by “playing into the hands of the most radical elements in Palestinian and Israeli societies”. The vote – which  was taken after Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson had left the meeting – was strongly condemned by the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and Labour Friends of Israel.

While insisting the move was not a boycott of Israel, NEC member Jennie Formby, political director of the Unite union, confirmed to Jewish News in November the decision was taken “because of concerns this company has acted unethically and has been found in breach of the human rights obligations of the OECD guidelines for multinational companies.”

Meanwhile, Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East chair Grahame Morris has written to Jeremy Corbyn backing the move not to renew the contract “because of that company’s activities in the UK and around the globe”.

He added: “We have campaigned for this decision because it puts the values of social justice, fairness and equality at the very heart of the Labour movement. When you look at the headlines of the last few weeks about the actions of G4S and the UK juvenile detention system, which include some terrible accusations, I think it’s very clear that the NEC has made the right decision and should stick to it.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “There is no pre-existing contract for 2016 annual conference and decisions about future contracts are continually reviewed.”