Boris Johnson to ban public bodies from running anti-Israel boycotts

Posted On: 
19th December 2019

Boris Johnson has announced he will ban public institutions from holding anti-Israel boycotts after they were labelled a “thin disguise for anti-Semitism” by a former Tory chairman.

Former Tory chairman Lord Pickles said the BDS movement against Israel is anti-semitic
Credit: 
PA Images

The plans in the Queen’s Speech are aimed at “preventing divisive behaviour that undermines community cohesion”, according to the Government.

But the Prime Minister was accused of “helping Israel wage a desperate war of repression” by a Palestinian organisation.

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It follows on from a Tory manifesto commitment to “ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions”.

Although it does not directly refer to Israel, the most prominent movement is the Palestinian-led “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” (BDS) campaign against the middle eastern nation.

Lord Pickles, an ex-Conservative Cabinet minister and chair of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, explained the plans to outlaw it while speaking at a conference in Jerusalem.

The peer said: "BDS is an organisation devoted to boycotting and removing investment from Israel, one of our key allies.

“We're going to ensure that public sector, places like councils and health authorities, can't work against Israel, can't prejudice Israel.

"BDS is just a thin disguise for anti-Semitism and we as Conservatives should always tackle racial discrimination.”

He added: “BDS is one of the worst, wink wink, nudge nudge, piece of racialism that we know."

'COHERENT'

The Government’s briefing on Thursday’s Queen’s Speech says: “We will stop public institutions from imposing their own approach or views about international relations, through preventing boycotts, divestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries and those who trade with them.

“This will create a coherent approach to foreign relations from all public institutions, by ensuring that they do not go beyond the UK Government’s settled policy towards a foreign country.”

It said the main benefits would be “preventing divisive behaviour that undermines community cohesion”, adding: “There are concerns that such boycotts have legitimised antisemitism, such as Jewish films being censored and Jewish university societies being threatened with bans.”

But the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has criticised the move, saying: “All those who believe in international law, human rights and freedom of expression must vigorously oppose this legislation.”

Its director Ben Jamal said: “We call upon the Government to live up to its responsibilities under international law to hold Israel to account, and to abandon these steps which serve to enhance UK complicity in human rights violations. 

“We call upon all civil society organisations and public bodies to join us in resisting these regressive and immoral measures designed to repress the Palestinian people’s legitimate struggle for freedom justice and equality.”

And the Palestinian BDS National Committee tweeted: “Boris Johnson is helping Israel wage a desperate war of repression on Palestinian rights and BDS.

“Supporters of freedom of expression, human rights and international law should oppose the UK government’s efforts to repress our peaceful movement for freedom, justice and equality.”