Northern Ireland

Council chair defends blocking trade mission to Israel


The chair of a Belfast City Council committee has defended a decision to block council representation on a trade mission to Israel.

A majority of members of the Growth and Regeneration Committee voted against the proposed trip on Wednesday night.

Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Green Party and People Before Profit opposed it on grounds of "ethical trading".

Committee chair, Sinn Féin's Deirdre Hargey, told BBC's Talkback members felt the trip was "inappropriate".

DUP committee member Guy Spence posted a tweet criticising the move.

"Sinn Fein, SDLP, People Before Profit and the Greens showed their true colours towards the state and people of Israel by refusing to allow the [council] Development Director to be part of an international trade mission... with five local businesses," he wrote.

In a further tweet, he claimed that council members had "succumbed to the pressure of the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement.

"An anti-Semitic campaign that has nothing to offer our city in regards to International Trade other than small-minded hatefulness".

The trip, due to take place in late July, would involve delegates from the council, Invest NI and Catalyst Inc.

It would cost the council about £1,500.

Ms Hargey defended the move to block it, saying: "We have an international relations strategy where we work with key destinations across the world. We don't have a direct connection with Israel, or with Palestine for that matter, in terms of international relations."

Image caption Sinn Féin's Deirdre Hargey said the trip was inappropriate

She added that a proposal to support the BDF movement is due to go before the council on 1 July and that a majority of members felt the trip was "inappropriate" and that it should not take place "until other discussions had happened".

"There have been numerous UN violations of sanctions perpetrated against the Palestinian people.

'Saddened and disappointed'

"What we're trying to do in terms of ethical trading as a council is to look at all of those issues," she said.

According to council minutes, the meeting's aim was "to explore ways of bringing forward initiatives to support local businesses to become more competitive".

The former trade union activist, the Rev Chris Hudson, said he was "saddened and disappointed" at the move.

"The rationale and the logic of it doesn't stack up and it actually won't make the slightest bit of difference, because Israel will go on to build its economy, to trade with numerous countries, particularly America.

'Just posing'

Mr Hudson pointed to Tuesday's 30th anniversary commemorations of the Tiananmen Square killings, adding that despite its poor humanitarian record, "there will be no question that Belfast will continue [trading] with China, as will Ireland, as will the rest of the UK".

A similar council trip to Shenyang has been supported in the past.

Mr Hudson said: "I could give you a list of 10 countries where human rights violations exceed anything that's happening between Israel and Palestine. But this will be read by people in the Jewish community that Israel is always to be treated differently and that the BDS campaign is not about the violations against the Palestinian people, but about the destruction of the state of Israel.

He added: "I think Deirdre would be much better for her party and the other parties to engage in critical dialogue with the Israeli authorities, with civic society, and indeed go on a delegation and bring those questions with you. But this [the committee vote] is just posing - it adds up to nothing."

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