Board and JLC back government’s anti-boycott bill in front of parliamentary committee

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Board and JLC back government’s anti-boycott bill in front of parliamentary committee

Daniel Sugarman tells MPs the 'history of boycotts against Jews is a very painful one', while Russell Langer said the proposed anti-BDS bill 'will have a positive impact on communities here in the UK'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Russell Langer and Daniel Sugarman address parliamentary committee (pic Parliament TV)
Russell Langer and Daniel Sugarman address parliamentary committee (pic Parliament TV)

The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council have given their firm support to a government bill aimed at preventing public bodies from engaging in economic boycotts against Israel as the proposed legislation was scrutinised by a committee in parliament. 

Daniel Sugarman, the Board’s director of public affairs, told the cross-party committee of MPs that the legislation would “certainly make things better for Jewish communities, particularly small Jewish communities who have been in positions where they sometimes feel that unless they vocally criticise Israel as Jews, they will not get a hearing.”

He told the committee the “history of boycotts against Jews is a very painful one.”

Sugarman added:”It links back to Nazi Germany, and for at least a significant percentage of the community  when we hear about boycotts of Israel that link is raised.”

Speaking alongside his communal colleague in Westminster, Russell Langer, head of policy at the Jewish Leadership Council, agreed that the proposed legislation “will have a positive impact on communities here in the UK.”

He added:”Unfortunately, what we see here in the UK, and it happens with other foreign issues, but specifically with the Israeli/Palestinian issue, we see a foreign conflict affecting inter-community relations in the UK.

“Worst of all, we then see public bodies getting involved in that debate and making these tensions worse.”

But giving evidence to the public bills committee on Tuesday, Yachad director Hannah Weisfeld expressed her organisation’s opposition to the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, that would impose fines on public bodies, including local councils, that seek to mount boycotts against Israel.

Confirming her organisation’s opposition to BDS itself, Weisfeld told MPs:”If you crackdown on the ability of people to express their opinion in local democracies, rather than bring people together, you can create real disharmony amongst communities.

“There has been a tiny number of examples of what we would refer to as BDS motions at local government and public body level.

“If this legislation passes in its current form , I don’t think it would be overstating to say there would be BDS motions in public bodies all across the country were people try and test this legislation because they are so frustrated their right to express an opinion has been clamped down on.” 

But bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons in July, but after a sizeable rebellion from Tory MPs who argued the bill, as it stands, impacted on freedom of speech, and also ignored foreign office warnings about a conflation between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories.

Labour had also argued, under former communities secretary Lisa Nandy, that why the party was firmly opposed to the boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement, the bill had been poorly drafted and was a “political trap” set by the Tories for the party, after the Jeremy Corbyn antisemitism crisis.

Within the community, anti-BDS legislation has long been called for by the main communal organisations, but the drafting of the actual bill has prompted further concerns, particularly in legal circles, about its wide-ranging scope, and impact on free speech.

Weisfeld added:”There are members of the Board of Deputies and of the Jewish Leadership Council who have been very opposed to this legislation.

“I draw your attention particularly to the Union of Jewish Students, the main Jewish youth body in the UK, who at their last conference passed a unanimous motion from all 400 students, without a dissenting voice,  which said UJS….’opposes this government’s proposed boycott bill …. presenting a risk to British Jewish communities and is a setback to Israeli/Palestinian peace.'”

There were further concerns about the apparent conflation of Israel with the Occupied Palestinian territories within the bill.

Labour’s Wayne David, joined by MPs including Bob Blackman on the committee, raised this concern with the Board and JLC representatives.  
For the JLC, Langer said:”Very clearly, Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and Golan Heights are listed separately on the bill… but more importantly the (UK) government has been clear that this doesn’t change UK policy.”

Sugarman added there are “currently hundreds thousands of Jewish people living beyond the green line. There has been a firm understanding among different parties to peace negotiations that there will have to be land swaps in terms of a future two state solution, which we hope and pray for.”

Also giving evidence at the first session, in a three day-long committee hearing, was James Gurd, executive director of Conservative Friends of Israel.

He told the committee “[BDS] is a deeply divisive movement, which seeks to delegitimise the state of Israel in the UK, and the UK Government should have absolutely no truck with it.”

Gurd added:”The Jewish community on the receiving end of repeat efforts to pursue boycotts of Israel or indeed, the companies operating within the contested territories.”

Others called as witnesses included Jo Donnelly, head of pensions at the Local Government Association (LGA) and Jon Richards, vice chair, at the Local Government Pension Scheme Advisory Board.

On Thursday, the journalist Melanie Phillips will speak in favour of the bill, while the KC Richard Hermer will outline his serious concerns over the proposed legislation.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: