CFI praises government’s ‘ground-breaking’ anti-BDS bill

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CFI praises government’s ‘ground-breaking’ anti-BDS bill

The Conservative Friends of Israel group praised the Economic Activity of Public Bodies Bill as it was presented to parliament on Monday - but the directors of 14 Israeli based organisations were among its critics

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Michael Gove  (Blake Ezra Photography Ltd.)
Michael Gove (Blake Ezra Photography Ltd.)

The Conservative Friends of Israel group have described the UK government’s proposed anti-BDS legislation as “ground-breaking” as the bill was presented in parliament on Monday.

The Economic Activity of Public Bodies Bill aims to prevent local councils from adopting boycotts, divestments and sanctions targeting Israel, and had been a long-standing pledge by the Conservatives since Boris Johnson’s 2019 election manifesto.

Responding to the introduction of the bill, a joint statement by CFI’s parliamentary chairmen Stephen Crabb MP and Lord Pickles, along with the groups’s president Lord Polak said: “Today marks a watershed moment in tackling the divisive BDS movement. 

“The Government’s ground-breaking legislation, which delivers on a crucial manifesto commitment, will play a critical role in ending the abuse of public bodies for anti-Israel activity.

“BDS is harmful not only to community cohesion here in the UK but also the wider cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians”.

Rishi Sunak speaks to CFI reception

The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council had also led lengthy campaigns calling for the introduction of the legislation over claims that BDS was linked to antisemitism.

In a statement the JLC said they welcomed the bill adding:”Public bodies, especially local authorities, should actively support measures which enable community cohesion and oppose those who seek to undermine this.”

The JLC claimed public bodies “importing setting their own foreign policy through boycott, including BDS, “risks increasing levels of antisemitism.”

The Board also backed the bill saying:””We are pleased to support the Government’s endeavours in the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters Bill) which will directly hinder the unnecessary and inappropriate targeting of Israel by local authorities and other public institutions.

“We appreciate how the Government is working to prevent these organisations from setting their own foreign policy, which all too often creates a deeply divisive local situation as well as being deeply unsettling to local Jewish communities.“

Meanwhile the Labour Friends of Israel group said:”BDS damages communal relations and fosters antisemitism at home while doing nothing to further the cause of peace and reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Public bodies should not be singling out the world’s only Jewish state for boycotts.”

But the bill has not been received enthusiastically by all communal groups, nor by all civil society groups in Israel.  

It has also angered leaders of Uyghur community who fear the wide scope of the bill will prevent local bodies from campaigns to boycott operations linked to China, which they claim are responsible for the Muslim community’s continued oppression.

Civil society groups in the UK, including Liberty and Friends of the Earth have also voiced concerns about the bill, saying it could impact on campaigns around environmental issues.

The directors of 14 Israeli civil society and human rights organisations who wrote to prime minister Rishi Sunak and three other senior ministers on Monday urging them to withdraw the proposed legislation.

The letter’s authors, who include the directors of Peace Now, the co-directors of Ofek, The Israeli Centre for Public Affairs, and the executive Director of Combatants for Peace, claimed the bill compromised the UK’s current position of “recognising the illegality of settlements” in the West Bank, and also raised concerns about civil liberty and free speech issues.

They also suggested that rather than preventing antisemitism, the bill was “deeply damaging to the very real fight” against anti-Jewish racism.

The Israeli’s letter stated:” The bill will make it extremely difficult for the occupied Palestinian territories to be recognised and treated differently to Israel proper, despite the UK government recognising the illegality of settlements, and commitments it has previously made to distinguish between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.”

The writers added:” We are not part of the BDS movement and have different opinions and perspectives on the BDS movement, as well as the efficacy of the tactic of boycott itself. However, we are clear, as civil society organisations committed to civil rights and free speech, that the nonviolent tactics of boycotts and sanctions are legitimate acts.”

They claimed:” Attempting to paint this call as motivated entirely by antisemitism as opposed to a legitimate form of nonviolent protest against Israeli occupation is deeply damaging to the very real fight against antisemitism and to the right of the Palestinian people to fight against their oppression.”

An op-ed, written by the leaders of four major Jewish youth movements, and published by Jewish News, also condemned the proposed legislation saying it would “limit our civil liberties and ability to impact on a range of social justice issues from climate change to global poverty.”

Presented to parliament without a debate, communities secretary Michael Gove’s bill was tabled as one “to make provision to prevent public bodies from being influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign states when taking certain economic decisions, subject to certain expectations and for connected purposes.”

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