Boris Johnson government to ban public bodies from boycotting Israel and other countries, in crackdown on BDS movement

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Thursday 19 December 2019 14:04 GMT
Queen's Speech: Her Majesty announces her government will 'stand firm against those who threaten the values of the United Kingdom'

The government will ban universities and local councils from organising boycotts, sanctions and disinvestment (BDS) against other countries, under plans announced in the Queen's Speech.

The proposals will also see public bodies banned from working with organisations promoting BDS, which is most often used against Israel.

The BDS movement has most recently sought to stop businesses, artists and universities working with Israeli institutions, in protest at the country's treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

Among other measures, it has urged local councils to divest their pension funds from companies accused of benefiting from the occupation.

Boris Johnson's government said the change would form part of a new approach designed to stop public bodies from taking their own stances on foreign policy issues.

Instead, a new "coherent" approach will unite all public institutions and ensure that individual organisations do not take a different approach to that of the government.

The government said taxpayers' money should not be used to fund public organisations campaigning on foreign policy.

In documents laying out its agenda for the coming parliament, it claimed that BDS had fuelled antisemitism, citing examples including the censorship of Jewish films and threats to ban Jewish university societies.

However, the plans are likely to come under attack from free speech campaigners and anti-Israel activists, who will argue that institutions should be able to express their own views on foreign affairs.

While BDS has most recently been applied to Israel, i was also used in opposition to apartheid in South Africa.

The Conservatives alluded to the plans in their manifesto.

The document said: “We will ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries. These undermine community cohesion.”

Earlier in the week, Tory peer Eric Pickles, the UK's special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, said: "One of the great things of having a Conservative government with a decent majority is that we can start to address injustices. and in particular we're going to tackle BDS, which is an organisation devoted to boycotting and removing investment from Israel - one of our key allies.

"We're going to ensure that the pubic sector, places like councils and health authorities, can't work against or can't prejudice Israel. If we're being really honest, BDS is just a thin disguise for antisemitism.

"We as Conservatives should always tackle racial discrimination, and BDS is one of the worst wink wink, nod nod' pieces of racialism that we know."

But Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “The campaign for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) seeks to hold Israel accountable for its violations of Palestinian rights and of international law.

“Failing to take action to hold Israel to account makes one complicit. Israel has been engaged in a global campaign to have laws prohibiting BDS introduced so that it can act with impunity."

He added: “Unsurprisingly a Conservative government that seeks to ally itself with Donald Trump and his far-right agenda is following suit.

“All those who believe in international law, human rights and freedom of expression must vigorously oppose this legislation.”

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