Around 200 lawyers and academics have said moves by the UK and other nations to discourage support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement may violate fundamental human rights.
An open letter signed by legal experts from Britain and 14 other European nations said the boycott of Israeli companies and goods manufactured in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was “a lawful exercise of freedom of expression”.
“France, the United Kingdom, Canada and certain state legislatures in the United States, have adopted laws and taken executive action to suppress, outlaw and in some instances, criminalise the advocacy of BDS,” the letter added.
“Such measures aim to punish individuals, companies and private and public institutions that adopt ethically and legally responsible business, investment and procurement decisions.”
In February, the Cabinet Office issued guidance saying that apart from where legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been imposed, procurement boycotts by public authorities were “inappropriate”.
In a statement, it said such boycotts “undermine good community relations, poisoning and polarising debate, weakening integration and fuelling anti-Semitism”.
“Any public body found to be in breach of the regulations could be subject to severe penalties,” it added, without specifying what they would be.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, welcomed the move but it was met with consternation from the Palestine Liberation Organisation and BDS movement.
Leicester City Council is among those to have boycotted products produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank with a law passed in 2014.
But it was cleared of anti-Semitism alongside two other councils at the High Court in June after the charity Jewish Human Rights Watch lodged a complaint.
Anti-boycott measures were signed into the US Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) by Barack Obama last year, while BDS activists have been found guilty of inciting discrimination in France and the Canadian parliament passed an anti-boycott motion in Feburary.
Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are widely regarded as illegal under international law, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressing fresh concern over the issue on Thursday.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said proposed legislation in Israel that would allow the retroactive “legalisation” of construction on privately owned Palestinian land would violate international law.
The Israeli–Palestinian conflict intensifies
The Israeli–Palestinian conflict intensifies
Medics evacuate a wounded man from the scene of an attack in Jerusalem. A Palestinian rammed a vehicle into a bus stop then got out and started stabbing people before he was shot dead
Israeli ZAKA emergency response members carry the body of an Israeli at the scene of a shooting attack in Jerusalem. A pair of Palestinian men boarded a bus in Jerusalem and began shooting and stabbing passengers, while another assailant rammed a car into a bus station before stabbing bystanders, in near-simultaneous attacks that escalated a month long wave of violence
Palestinians throw molotov cocktail during clashes with Israeli troops near Ramallah, West Bank. Recent days have seen a series of stabbing attacks in Israel and the West Bank that have wounded several Israelis
Women cry during the funeral of Palestinian teenager Ahmad Sharaka, 13, who was shot dead by Israeli forces during clashes at a checkpoint near Ramallah, at the family house in the Palestinian West Bank refugee camp of Jalazoun, Ramallah
A wounded Palestinian boy and his father hold hands at a hospital after their house was brought down by an Israeli air strike in Gaza
Palestinians look on after a protester is shot by Israelis soldiers during clashes at the Howara checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus
A lawyer wearing his official robes kicks a tear gas canister back toward Israeli soldiers during a demonstration by scores of Palestinian lawyers called for by the Palestinian Bar Association in solidarity with protesters at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, near Ramallah, West Bank
Undercover Israeli soldiers detain a Palestinian in Ramallah
Palestinian youth burn tyres during clashes with Israeli soldiers close to the Jewish settlement of Bet El, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, after Israel barred Palestinians from Jerusalem's Old City as tensions mounted following attacks that killed two Israelis and wounded a child
At least 570,000 Israeli settlers live in around 130 settlements and 100 outposts in the West Bank according to UN figures.
The open letter said the BDS movement aimed to encourage Israel’s compliance with international law and that “states that outlaw BDS are undermining this basic human right and threatening the credibility of human rights by exempting a particular state”.
Signatories include Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, chair of the British Institute of Human Rights, Alain Pellet, Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur in France, Guy Goodwin-Gill, a former legal adviser to the UN and Lauri Hannikainen, a member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.
A spokesperson for the British Government said it had “made its position on boycotts clear”.
“While we do not hesitate to express disagreement with Israel whenever we feel it necessary, we are firmly opposed to boycotts,” he added.
“We believe that imposing sanctions on Israel or supporting anti-Israeli boycotts would not support our efforts to progress the peace process and achieve a negotiated solution.”
The position potentially conflicts with the Foreign Office’s Overseas Business Risk assessment for Israel states that the Government does “not encourage or offer support” to business with the occupied territories.
EU guidelines introduced in November 2015 also require products made in settlements to be labelled as such, rather than being marked “Made in Israel”.Reuse content