BDS-backers ‘trolling the community’ with Hertfordshire boycott divestment petition
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BDS-backers ‘trolling the community’ with Hertfordshire boycott divestment petition

Bid to divest from Israeli-linked companies received by Hertfordshire County Council, as former minister Robert Jenrick tabled an amendment on a government bill to stop council BDS motions

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement have been accused of “trolling the mainstream Jewish community” in Hertfordshire by submitted a petition calling for Council to divest from companies connected to Israel.

The petition has been received by Hertfordshire County Council containing the necessary 1000 signatures in support a BDS proposal – meaning the authority is legally bound by its constitution to receive it.

The move, which targets the Herts Pension Fund, has sparked widespread fears amongst locals that the Council is planning to vote on anti-Israel proposal at meeting on Tuesday.

But Jewish News understands the proposal will not be debated, or voted upon at  Tuesday’s Full Council meeting.

Luke Akehurst, director of We Believe In Israel told Jewish News: “This is BDS supporters trolling the mainstream Jewish community in an area with a very large Jewish population by using procedures of council to publicise their anti-Israel agenda.

Hertfordshire County Council (Wikipedia/ Robin Hall / County Hall Hertford / CC BY-SA 2.0)

“It’s very heartening that all the councillors that have expressed a view reject BDS and that hundreds of local residents have emailed their councillor’s to express their concern about this move.”

It is understood the following a discussion with Group Leaders the following steps have been agreed for the Full Council meeting.

The petition was launched by David Leigh, from a group called the Herts Palestine Support Coalition

One local who watched Tuesday’s meeting of Hertfordshire County Council described the proceedings as “uneventful.”

They confirmed the BDS petition was received by the council “as it is obliged to do.”

Cllr Bob Deering then explained to Leigh that councillors cannot interfere in the commercial decisions of the Pension Fund, and that the Council has no authority to act on the petition.

Bob Deering

“It was left at that – and there was no debate,” added the source.

Leigh will  be invited to make a speech of introduction after which the chair of meeting with invite the Executive Member for Resources, Cllr Bob Deering to reply.

Deering explained that because the Pension Committee is bound to act in accordance with its fiduciary obligations towards beneficiaries it would be improper for Council to seek to influence the decisions of that body.

He then recommend to the Chairman that the petition be received and noted.

No formal vote will follow.

Local Tory Group councillor Caroline Clapper was amongst those to write to local residents confirming how “uncomfortable” she was with the petition, which had been started by anti-Zionist activist living in Hertfordshire.

Clapper wrote: “Our constitution makes it clear that any petition signed by more than 1,000 people must be presented to the Council.

“I can confirm this petition will be received by the Council, but I can also confirm that the intention is, it will not be debated or voted upon.”

A further statement by the Tory Group said Clapper,and three other councillors – Morris Bright MBE, John Graham and Seamus Quilty – had stood “united” in their opposition to anti-Israel boycotts

Meanwhile, the Conservative MP Robert Jenrick tabled an amendment to an upcoming government Bill on Tuesday aimed at stopping boycotts of Israel in all public sector pension funds.

Robert Jenrick speaking at a Conservative friends of Israel event during the Tory party conference.

In a proposed change to the Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill, the former Communities Secretary demandedthat administrators of public sector pension schemes “may not make investment decisions that conflict with the UK’s foreign and defence policy”.

The amendment aims to stop the Local Government Pension Scheme funds’ association with Israeli boycotts.

“Pensions that are paid for by the taxpayer and underwritten by the state should not undermine our foreign and defence policy,” Jenrick argued in an article written this week in The Times.

“If accepted, this measure will presage a wider bill outlawing BDS throughout the public sector, which I hope the government will bring forward in the next parliamentary session.”

Jewish News understands the Government is likely to give the proposal its backing.

LGPS funds have been under pressure from BDS campaigners over links to investments in disputed Israeli territories for several years.

In May 2020 BDS supporters will given a boost in their bid to divest from Israeli settlements on ethical grounds when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in its case against the government.

At the time, the government said it was committed to stopping “local boycotts” and would be introducing legislation to re-establish the ban.

Jenrick also referred to he pressure placed on the Merseyside Pension Fund to divest from travel company Expedia, which has been criticised for listing properties in Israeli settlements.

Jewish News revealed last week how Wirral Council’s Pensions Committee will vote on Wednesday on a report detailing the Merseyside Pension Fund’s links to nine Israeli companies alleged to be investing in settlements in the West Bank. It also revealed how Jo Bird, expelled from Labour over her support for a proscribed group, was behind the move.

 

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