It’s the latest high profile “lawfare” attack against the boycott of Israel to be fought in British courts.
An Israeli army negotiator last week went to Central London County Court seeking tens of thousands of pounds in damages from the National Health Service and from Unison, the public sector union.
Lawyers acting for Lt. Colonel (res.) Moty Cristal sought at the pre-trial hearing to persuade the judge that he was the victim of “indirect discrimination.” Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust had canceled a workshop he had been due to speak at in April last year.
Unison and the trust say the event was really canceled because Cristal was once an official for the Israeli government. Unison has fairly strong policies in favour of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, and union members had threatened to boycott the session.
A Jewish News report quoted Unison’s lawyer saying that if Cristal was allowed to sue on this basis, the case would become “completely different and much wider.”
“No one thinks it will be an edifying experience to argue about Palestine, boycotting policies and the like. We say this a huge issue which is unsuitable to be debated in the courts … the court should be wary of releasing this tiger as an afterthought,” said Christopher Jeans QC.
Cristal is seeking damages totalling £26,500 and an apology.
Once again, Israel is using the courts to intimidate Palestinian solidarity activists into submission. And once again, they are using false accusations of anti-Semitism.
According to another report, Cristal’s lawyer emphasized that “he is an Israeli national and of Jewish ethnic origin.”
But Lt. Colonel Cristal’s role as a reservist in the Israeli army is no secret. In fact the resume on his profile at the Interdisciplinary Centre Herzliya’s website makes it plain: “Mr. Cristal is a Lt. Colonel (R.) in the IDF, with extensive operational experience in crisis negotiation.”
At the time of the incident, the website of Israeli “security” company PSOS listed Cristal as one of their lecturers and confirmed his rank.
In a video uploaded to YouTube he boasts of the role he says he played in talking “Palestinian terrorists” out of the Church of the Nativity siege in 2002. He laments that “many times in life, you can not exercise force even if you have it” and states he had to combine “the language of power with the power of language” to succeed.
Moty Cristal did not reply to an email seeking comment for this article.
Lt. Colonel Cristal told the Jewish Chronicle candidly last month that his goal in launching the case was to “fight the delegitimization movement” – an Israeli term for the Palestine solidarity movement.
False claims of anti-Semitism are a common tactic in such Israeli “lawfare” cases. Earlier this year, another such case crashed and burned in a London employment tribunal.
As I reported at the time, a judge threw out pro-Israel campaigner Ronnie Fraser’s long-running case against the University and College Union for “institutional racism” against him as a Jew.
Employment Judge A. M. Snelson ruled it was “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.”
A short report in the Jewish Chronicle last week stated glumly that UCU will in November seek to recover its legal costs from Fraser. “It is understood the claim amounts to around £500,000,” the paper claimed.
It’s surely no coincidence then, that Cristal appears to have ditched the firm of Anthony Julius, the top divorce lawyer who so spectacularly failed to win Fraser’s case.
The Jewish Chronicle – which was an enthusiastic backer of Fraser’s case until it spectacularly collapsed – said less than a month ago that Cristal was “expected to be represented by lawyers from the Mishcon de Reya law firm” – Julius’ firm (not so coincidentally, Julius is also chairman of the Chronicle’s board).
Jeremy Newmark of the pro-Israel Jewish Leadership Council told Haaretz last year that “We are liaising closely with the government of Israel” on Cristal’s case. Newmark was also a witness in the Fraser case, but the judge ruled parts of his evidence to be “preposterous” and “untrue.”
Cristal’s claim was due to be fought in the same Employment Tribunal as Julius. But since Fraser lost so comprehensively, there has been a change of strategy and he has taken it to London County Court.
The judge is expect to take a number of weeks to make a ruling on which aspects of the case will be allowed to go forward to court. Lawyers for the union and the NHS trust are arguing that the “indirect discrimination” claim should be disallowed.