Boris Johnson banned from Palestinian charity visit after branding Israel boycott supporters 'lefty academics'

The Conservative MP's tour of Israel and the West Bank was ending in controversy today as Palestinian groups refused meetings

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Boris Johnson's tour of Israel and the Palestinian territories was ending in controversy today as Palestinian groups and charities cancelled a string of meetings in the West Bank.

The Conservative MP was still due to meet the Palestinian Prime Minister but there was growing anger and calls for protest over comments where he dismissed Israel boycott supporters as "lefty academics".

He was due to visit the Sharek Youth Forum at its offices in the West Bank this afternoon following a tour of Israel but was told he was not welcome just hours before his expected arrival.

A spokesperson for the charity said the action was taken in response to Mr Johnson's "inaccurate, misinformed, and disrespectful statement" regarding the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson prays at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, on November 11, 2015 in Jerusalem's Old City, Israel.

She told The Independent: "It is our conclusion, supported by the Palestinian youth that we represent, that he consciously denies the reality of the occupation that continues to oppress them and all Palestinians.

"As Palestinians and supporters of BDS, we cannot in good conscience host Johnson, a person who denounces the international BDS movement and prioritises the feelings of wearers of ‘corduroy jackets’ over an entire nation under occupation. 

"In Johnson’s own words, the 'only democracy in the region… a pluralist, open society' is one that oppresses citizens, confiscates land, demolishes homes, detains children, and violates international humanitarian and human rights law on a daily basis. We, at Sharek Youth Forum, refuse to give a platform to someone who fails to acknowledge our very existence as Palestinians." 

Mr Johnson had been scheduled to meet with a group of young Palestinians at the Sharek Youth Forum's headquarters.

The group, launched by the UN Development Programme in 1996, aims to empower young Palestinians and involve them in projects to develop their communities.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson wears virtual reality goggles during a visit to the Google offices in Tel Aviv on Monday

Sharek’s announcement came after the Palestinian territories’ first female governor, Leila Ghannam, cancelled her meeting with Mr Johnson on Tuesday, citing “personal reasons” for clearing her diary.

There was also outcry after the Palestinian Business Women’s Forum reportedly banned Jewish Chronicle correspondent Noga Tarnopolsky from attending the meeting with Mr Johnson.

The MP was reportedly “exasperated” by the demand and promised to raise the issue.

When The Independent spoke to the forum, a representative could not confirm whether Ms Tarnopolsky had been banned because she was Jewish or whether the meeting was still going ahead.

During Mr Johnson’s visit to Tel Aviv on Monday, he had been asked about his views on the growing movement to boycott Israeli products, services and universities by British campaigners.

UK: Pro-Palestine activists protest against BBC's coverage of Palestine violence

“I cannot think of anything more foolish than to say that you want to have any kind of divestments or sanctions or boycott against a country that, when all is said and done, is the only democracy in the region, is the only place that has, in my view, pluralist, open society – why boycott Israel?” he said in footage broadcast by Channel 4 News.

“I think there’s some misunderstanding over here about it. The supporters of this so-called boycott are really just a bunch of corduroy-jacketed…lefty academics who have no real standing in the matter and I think are highly unlikely to be influential in Britain.”

It is Mr Johnson’s last day in the region following visits to business centres and holy sites amid heightened security following a wave of stabbing attacks and clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces.

Eleven Israelis have been killed in stabbings, shootings or other attacks since the start of October, while Israeli forces have shot dead more than 70 Palestinians, including at least 42 who security forces said were carrying out or attempting attacks.

Conflicting claims about Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and third-holiest in Islam, have partly been fuelling the crisis.

Palestinians are concerned that Israeli authorities are trying to erode Muslim control of the compound, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock – a claim continually denied by the Israeli Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson visited the landmark today, alongside the Western Wall and Holy Church of the Sepulchre.

He was then heading across the separation wall to the West Bank’s de-facto capital of Ramallah, where he is expected to meet Rami Hamdallah, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority. Journalists accompanying Mr Johnson said they had been barred from the meeting.

The London Mayor has previously provoked controversy with his comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, declaring himself a “passionate Zionist” on LBC radio during the Gaza war last year.

He went on to call Israel’s bombing of the strip “disproportionate…ugly and tragic”.