Letters: Israel boycott ban is anti-democratic

The following letters appear in the 20th February edition of the Independent

Friday 19 February 2016 20:00 GMT
Palestinian women cross into Israel via the Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem
Palestinian women cross into Israel via the Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem (Getty)

The Government’s attempts to block public bodies from boycotting and divesting from companies involved in Israel’s oppression of Palestinians undermines local democracy in order to shield Israel from criticism (“Boycott of Israeli goods to be criminal offence”, 15 February).

Local councils, student unions, trade unions, political parties and other democratic bodies across the UK have voted to support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). BDS is a peaceful and effective way of challenging the international support that Israel receives despite its ongoing human rights abuses and violations of international law.

The Government’s proposal would effectively force local councils and other public bodies to unethically invest in Israel’s occupation and in arms companies.

Palestinians launched the BDS movement more than 10 years ago because governments, including our own, fail to hold Israel to account for its deliberate attacks on Palestinians and other war crimes. Instead, the UK sells Israel the weapons it needs to attack Palestinians with impunity.

Rather than attacking local democracy and insulating Israel from the consequences of its human rights abuses, the UK government should take steps in support of freedom, justice and equality.

An end to the arms trade with Israel would be a good start.

Ahdaf Soueif

Roger Waters

Tommy Sheppard MP

Cat Smith MP

Malia Bouattia

NUS Black Students’ Officer

Len McCluskey

General Secretary, Unite the Union

Alex Cunningham MP

Chris Stephens MP

Clive Betts MP

Dave Anderson MP

Kate Osamor MP

Marie Rimmer MP

Martyn Day MP

Nic Dakin MP

Steven Paterson MP

Yasmin Qureshi MP

Louise Haigh MP

Lord Ahmed Nazir

Baroness Jenny Tonge

Matt Wrack, General Secretary FBU

Mick Whelan, General Secretary ASLEF

Tim Roache, General Secretary Elect GMB

Mick Cash, General Secretary RMT

Piers Telemancque, Vice president Society and Citizenship, NUS

Shelly Asquith - Vice President Welfare, NUS

Ken Loach,

Mark Thomas,

Rizwan Ahmed,

Mike Leigh,

Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade

Alexei Sayle

Anna Carteret

April De Angelis,

Baroness Jenny Tonge

Caryl Churchill,

Fionn Travers-Smith, Move Your Money

Gillian Slovo,

Hari Kunzru,

Hugh Lanning, Chair of Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Jeremy Hardy,

Jo Ram, Community Reinvest

Joel Benjamin, Community Reinvest

John Hilary, Executive Director of War on Want

Maggie Steed,

Maxine Peake,

Mick Bowman, Newcastle City Council

Michael Radford,

Miriam Margolyes,

Niall Buggy,

Pauline Melville,

Peter Kosminsky,

Rachel Holmes,

Riya Hassan, Palestinian BDS National Committee

Robert Wyatt,

Vica Rogers, Debt Resistance UK

Would the Church of England be liable for criminal sanctions if it were to decide not to invest or procure from certain companies or countries on ethical grounds? As the established church in England would it be within the meaning of “wider public sector” mentioned in Matt Hancock’s announcement?

Now that really would be an intriguing situation before the courts and before the public.

Maurizio Moore

Brentwood, Essex

The British Government’s drive to prevent councils from not buying Israeli goods and services might have some credibility if it was also taking action against the systematic and decades-long Israeli violations of international law. Boycott, divest, sanctions campaigns exist because the Government has done nothing to stop illegal settlements, theft of Palestinian land and resources, home demolitions and forceful transfer. The policy should be to insist councils and public do not buy settlement goods as even the Government declares them to be illegal.

It is a disgrace that the Government smears and criminalises those who decide through choice not to buy certain products but do nothing about those actually committing serious crimes, even war crimes. The Government has done nothing to stop trade in settlement goods which is trade in proceeds of crime, from land that belongs to another people, in a project designed to destroy any chances for peace.

End this illicit trade and stop selling arms to Israel and regimes with appalling human rights records. Then ministers might have some standing to tell the British public what they should or should not buy. Otherwise do not expect decent members of the British public to do nothing while international law is breached on a daily basis.

Chris Doyle

Director, Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU),

London EC4

The Government’s attack on local democracy is the latest in a sustained assault on our democratic rights and freedoms, following the Lobbying Act, Trade Union Bill, Prevent and much else. Over 14,000 people have already responded to the Government and made known their opposition to this attack. We encourage everyone who believes in local democracy to make their voices heard. Go to waronwant.org/ProtectLocalDemocracy

John Hilary

Executive Director, War on Want

London N1

The EU is a disaster for workers’ rights

The claim by Tim Roache of the GMB union that the “EU has given us the most progressive employment legislation” is simply not true (report, 15 February).

The Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, health and safety and maternity leave legislation had nothing to do with the EU. Roache mentions the EU Working Time Directive which, among other things legislates for 20 days’ holiday; whereas we have 28 days, including bank holidays, enshrined in British law. EU laws did not protect the union members at GCHQ when Thatcher banned unions there in 1984. EU laws will offer no protection from Cameron’s Trade Union Bill, which is intended to throttle British trade unions.

Meanwhile, the EU’s TTIP free trade agreement with the US will hand power to transnational corporations to open up health and education to irreversible privatisation and will lower environmental standards.

John Hendy QC, dubbed “the barrister champion of the trade union movement” by the trade journal The Lawyer, has said: “The EU has become a disaster for the collective rights of workers and their trade unions.” The only surveys of trade union members’ voting intentions on the EU suggests that a higher proportion of them would vote to leave the EU than among the general public.

Given that Roache secured only 2.4 per cent of the GMB’s membership vote to win the general secretary position, it’s hardly a mandate. I suggest he look to improving the GMB’s democracy, rather than making his union a slave to the EU.

Phil Lenton

Newcastle upon Tyne

If opinion polls are to be believed, younger voters are much more likely to be in favour of staying in Europe, while those over the age of 60 tend to favour leaving.

This latter group is the generation that enjoyed free higher education, affordable homes and is benefitting from inflation-proof pensions. It will leave behind a failing transport infrastructure, a grossly overstrained NHS, an outdated and environmentally backward power generation system, a seriously flawed housing market and a far from egalitarian education system. Is its final legacy going to be pulling the UK out of Europe, despite the clear wishes of the next generation?

By the time the true impact of leaving Europe is felt, the older generation will be either dead or even further into their dotage. Is there not a strong case for disenfranchising all over-60s from the forthcoming Brexit referendum? I would gladly abstain from voting, if I could be sure that others would follow suit, but I fear that is highly unlikely.

M T Harris

Grimsby, Lincolnshire

It’s all very well reducing benefits for EU migrants, but it won’t make a significant difference to the numbers coming into the UK. What we need is control over our own borders, and this is non-negotiable so long as we remain members of the EU.

Ron Gellért-Binnie


Dave Brown’s cartoon of 19 February shows a modified EU flag (a UK spanner in the European works). How appropriate that the French for spanner (or at least the adjustable sort) is clé Anglaise. We will see how adjustable the English sort is!

John Whitton


Oxbridge graduates don’t aim high enough

The issue of students from disadvantaged backgrounds not getting into “top universities” is aired again (“Higher education ‘access gap’ grows,” 18 February) – still without considering a couple of linked factors.

First, the so-called elite institutions are not the best for all subjects. For example, pharmacy courses at Sunderland or Brighton have had very high reputations for many years, as well as high employment rates on graduation.

Second, students from areas of deprivation are more likely to have a social conscience, having seen first-hand the more pressing need for teachers, nurses, social workers, police officers and charity organisers. Sadly, graduates from universities such as Oxford and Cambridge are significantly under-represented in these socially useful occupations.

Perhaps we need a campaign to raise the aspirations of Oxbridge graduates above mere money-making and prestige, to help them all to play more constructive roles in society?

Chris Johnson


Time to relocate the Falklanders?

You report (15 February) that Michael Fallon is to visit 1,400 British service personnel in the Falklands, which has a population of about 2,000 people. So there are approximately seven servicemen for every 10 Falklanders. At the same rate, to defend about 60m Britons, would require around 42m personnel. As the Falklanders wish to be British, might it not be reasonable, in the long term, to offer them free resettlement in the UK?

Richard Maples


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