Gove’s anti-BDS bill passes second reading in Commons, amid criticism from some MPs

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Gove’s anti-BDS bill passes second reading in Commons, amid criticism from some MPs

Labour's Dame Margaret Hodge says the bill, which passed its second reading in the Commons, is 'using Jews as a pawn in the government's political game.'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Michael Gove (House of Commons)
Michael Gove (House of Commons)

Michael Gove’s bill to ban public bodies from boycotting Israel has passed its second reading in the Commons, but only after sustained criticism of the scope of the legislation from Tory backbenchers and from opposition MPs.

During a four hour long debate on Monday evening, the Communities Secretary said the government’s economic activity of public bodies bill would “cricially” provide protection “for minority communities, especially the Jewish community, against campaigns that harm community cohesion and fuel antisemitism.”

Gove said action was necessary against BDS “because there is an existing, organised and malign campaign that aims to target and delegitimise the world’s only Jewish state.”

At one point in his speech the secretary of state named supporters from outside the Tory Party of the bill.

He named Labour Friends of Israel, Luke Akehurst “a member of Labour’s NEC” and the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council “all of whom back this bill.”

“I agree with Labour Friends of Israel,” said Gove. ” I agree with Luke Akehurst. I agree with the Board of Deputies. I agree with the Jewish Leadership Council, all of whom back this Bill. I agree with the French government and the German government that have taken action against the BDS movement.”

Gove also attempted to cast doubts about the credibility of a top barrister on issues relating to Israel, after he gave damning legal advice on Gove’s bill to Labour.

Gove said Richard Hermer was “a distinguished KC” who “has a record in this area—a record of political commitments that everyone can see clearly predispose him towards a political and particular view on this question.”

In a comment that sparked some anger he then added:”The question for every Member of this House is whether they stand with us against antisemitism or not.”

Speaking later in the debate Dame Margaret Hodge said:”I think this bill reflects what is wrong in politics today.

“The government has put forward legislation that is flawed, poorly drafted and will have damaging consequences here and abroad.”

The Jewish MP then added:”They haven’t done this to support Israel or to demonstrate solidarity with the Jewish community, or to show they really care about undermining the BDS movement.

“They simply want to set a political trap for Labour. This bill is not an attempt to bring about peace, provide better security for Israel… it’s about using Jews as a pawn in the government’s political game.”

Labour’s Lisa Nandy said her party “recognise the problem which he says the bill is designed to tackle” and confirmed her long-standing opposition to BDS.

“I feel strongly that BDS offers no meaningful route to peace either for the Palestinians or for the Israelis,” she told MPs.  

“I can assure him that when BDS is used as an argument for the total economic, social and cultural isolation of the world’s only Jewish state, not only will I speak out but I have spoken out time and time again. ”

She added:”There is at least one example of a publicly funded body that has taken a stance against the state of Israel that has effectively cancelled Jewish culture here in the UK. We will always stand against that. ”

But Nandy then outlined a series of objections Labour had to the bill, as outlined in her interview with Jewish News last week.

Many chimed with those raised by senior Conservative MPs in the debate – most notably chair of the foreign affairs select committee Alicia Kearns.

She argued the bill’s conflation between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT)  was a “departure from our foreign policy” that “undermines our commitments as a UN security council member”.

Kearns said she had been contacted also by human rights groups in Israel and communal organisations in this country who did not support the bill.

Later, she told the Commons that even the foreign office’s “own legal advice” was that this conflation between Israel and the OPT was a breach of a United Nations security council resolution.

She said: “The UK recognises the Golan Heights is annexed, and the West Bank and east Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian territories.

“This is a departure from our foreign policy.”

Kearns later claimed the bill “essentially gives exceptional impunity to Israel”, adding: “This is something we should not give to any country and I would be standing here making the same request if any country was named.

“There is significant unhappiness among colleagues in the House and in our party. To enable him (Gove) to still deliver on our manifesto commitment can I urge him to please remove clause 3.7, which is unnecessary to deliver our commitment? We can still do this with just small compromise from the frontbench.”

Former education secretary Kit Malthouse also took issue with the bill’s intention to stop local authorities deciding on divestment strategies.

He argued that as an investor in a local authority pension himself, it was his right and not the government’s to decide where it was invested.

His Conservative colleague Desmond Swayne said the bill impacted on freedom of expression introducing what he described as “thought crime”.
Other Tory and Labour MPs such the bill would hurt attempts to stand up to China over Uyghur rights.Further Conservatives noted that the party’s 2019 manifesto had not specifically named Israel in the promise to tackle boycotts.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was among the MPs to support BDS, while former chancellor John McDonnell launched a scathing attack on claims that support for the boycott movement equated with antisemitism.

Amongst those to strongly back the bill was Andrew Percy, vice-chair of all party parliamentary group on antisemitism. He said BDS singled out Israel.

Percy added:”The BDS campaign is an antisemitic racist campaign, there is no doubt about that.”

Labour Friends of Israel’s parliamentary chair Steve McCabe said: “I had been looking forward to this legislation. As the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, I am against efforts to destabilise, delegitimise and destroy Israel, the world’s only Jewish state.”

The Labour MP added:” The purpose of the BDS movement, with its talk of apartheid, genocide and ghettos, is to demonise and, ultimately, destroy Israel. I had hoped we might see a simple Bill designed to restrain the ambitions of BDS, with its single target, the state of Israel.”

Tory MP Bob Blackman said the bill was “long-awaited” and “takes on the BDS movement directly.”

Labour had attempted to halt the bill’s progress without further changes being made after tabling a reasoned amendment.

They pointed out the party’s earlier attempt to act when Wirral Council attempted to divest from nine Israeli companies was not supported by the government in the House of Lords.

The amendment was defeated 212-272.On the vote on the second reading of the bill itself Labour abstained allowing the measure to pass by 268 votes to 70, with 84 of the party’s MPs not voting, although it was unclear how many of these were paired with opposition MPs not able to vote on the night.

Labour sources said 10 of their MPs had rebelled.  Two Tory MPs, William Wragg and Crispin Blunt voted against the bill.

Conservative sources suggested there would have to be changes made to the bill as it progressed further in parliament, in order to stave off further rebellions. 

Earlier Gove had suggested he would listen to reasoned suggestions to amend the bill.Labour will be forced to vote against the Bill if it is not subject to sweeping changes, Nandy added.

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: