Michael Gove to oversee government’s fight against Israel boycotts
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Michael Gove to oversee government’s fight against Israel boycotts

Prime Minister announces that responsibility for stopping public bodies imposing BDS would transfer from the Cabinet Office to the Department for Levelling Up

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Communities Secretary Michael Gove giving his keynote address during the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Picture date: Monday October 4, 2021.
Communities Secretary Michael Gove giving his keynote address during the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Picture date: Monday October 4, 2021.

Michael Gove has been given responsibility for overseeing the government’s commitment to legislation preventing public bodies from imposing their own BDS campaigns against foreign states such as Israel.

Boris Johnson confirmed that responsibility for the issue would transfer from the Cabinet Office to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, headed by Gove in a written statement published on Thursday.

The move means Lisa Nandy, the former shadow foreign secretary, who was moved into the shadow Levelling Up role by Sir Keir Starmer in this week’s reshuffle, will now oversee Labour’s response.

In the past Gove has been outspoken in his attacks on BDS.

He has said: “Israel is dealing with a prejudiced, systematic attack against its existence. The BDS movement, which claims that it is working against apartheid, in retrospect is using methods of apartheid in that it calls for the shunning of Jewish academics, the boycott of Jewish goods, the de-legitimisation.

Lisa Nandy at a Jewish Labour-Jewish News hustings (Marc Morris Photography via Jewish News)

“It is up to us to show solidarity with the Jews and with their right to national sovereignty.”

Nandy has previously voiced her opposition to the use of BDS as a means of putting pressure on Israel – as has the Labour leader.

She said earlier this year: “We’re not in favour of boycotts or the BDS  movement- I never have been actually. I’ve always felt that the best way to advance the situation is to take people with you. BDS pushes people away instead of bringing people together.”

The Conservatives pledged at the 2019 general election to introduce new legislation making it illegal for public bodies to boycott Israel.

Former PM David Cameron had first introduced guidance to local councils on how they invest their pension funds, which stated that they may not institute policies of Boycotts, Divestments or Sanctions – known as BDS – “contrary to UK foreign or defense policy.”

Some local authorities in the UK have voted to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement by boycotting settlement products, most notably Leicester City Council’s decision in November 2014.

Boycotts have also been adopted by several unions, and had support from organisations such as War on Want and Palestine Solidarity Campaign, but Jewish groups have challenged their legality.

But in April 2020 a  three-to-two majority of the Supreme Court’s judges ruled
that the BDS  ban was against the law.

But the government is still planning to go ahead with legislation, and has placed its faith in Gove to make it happen.

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