Reaction expected on bill banning Israeli boycott – BBC News

  • By Ione Wells
  • Political journalist


A picture shows the Jewish settlement of Kedar in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in June 2023

A cross-party reaction is expected to the government’s plans to fine public bodies that initiate boycotts against Israel.

Critics argue it is inconsistent with Britain’s longstanding foreign policy towards the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and could discourage support for groups around the world facing persecution.

The bill aims to stop the council “pursuing their own foreign policy agenda”, the government said.

It said it would ensure Britain “speaks with one voice internationally”.

The bill, which is being debated on Monday, seeks to prevent public bodies, including councils, from campaigning against, boycotting or sanctioning certain international areas unless supported by the British government’s own foreign policy.

Much of the debate on this issue focuses on the boycott of Israel and Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

A movement called the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is calling for a broad-based economic and cultural boycott of Israel and Israeli settlements – similar to that implemented in South Africa in the apartheid era.

Such a boycott is supported by Palestinians who see it as pressure on Israel to end its military occupation.

The Israeli government, on the other hand, sees the entire BDS movement as unjust towards Israel and as antisemitic.

Mr Gove has previously said such campaigns “undermine British foreign policy” and “lead to appalling antisemitic rhetoric and abuse”.

Workforce changes proposed

But Labor – and a number of Conservative MPs – have raised concerns about the bill’s potential impact on British foreign policy.

The British government’s longstanding policy called for an end to Israel’s military occupation of the Occupied Palestine as part of a negotiated “two-state solution”.

Britain has for decades upheld an international legal position, in which Israeli settlements are deemed illegal – although Israel disputes this – and sees their expansion as an “obstacle to peace”.

The bill does not stop public bodies from complying with UK-wide sanctions, and gives governments the power to get certain countries exempt from restrictions.

For example, the government intends for Russia and Belarus to be released.

But the bill does not allow rules to exclude Israel, the Occupied Territories, or the Occupied Golan Heights.

In doing so, he grouped the three territories together, which critics say undermines Britain’s foreign policy position by suggesting boycotting Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory or Golan Heights would be tantamount to boycotting Israel – despite the illegality of the two former territories under international law. law.

Critics have also raised concerns that the bill will limit campaigns against human rights abuses in other parts of the world – such as against the Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang.

A government spokesperson said: “Public bodies should not pursue their own foreign policy agenda.

“The bill will not preclude our crackdown on forced Uyghur labor in the supply chain as it contains exceptions to the prohibition of labor-related abuses, including modern slavery.

“The boycott prohibition does not apply to individuals, including publicly elected officials, when engaging in private acts protected by the Human Rights Act.”

Labor has proposed changes to the planned law.

The amendments said it was against any “discrimination” by public bodies in how they spent their money and said all public bodies should act “without bias” when making decisions about procurement and investment.

But it said the bill risks “significantly undermining support” for groups around the world facing persecution, for example the Uyghurs in China, who are “currently victims of serious and systemic human rights abuses.”

He also said it undermined Britain’s old cross-party position in the Occupied Territories and Golan Heights by “uniting it with the State of Israel”.

Labor has also raised concerns about the bill placing “unprecedented” restrictions on the ability of elected public bodies to express views, which they say impact local government pensions and limit freedom of speech.

Labor lawmakers were asked not to vote at all.

Some Tory lawmakers and government insiders have voiced concern about the plans. It is understood that this includes the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns.

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