Queen’s Speech: Government to outlaw public bodies boycotting Israel
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Queen’s Speech: Government to outlaw public bodies boycotting Israel

Prime minister said move prevents local authorities from boycotting goods from Israel with "nauseating frequency".

Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales sit in the chamber, alongside them is The Imperial State Crown, ahead of the State Opening of Parliament by the Queen, in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday December 19, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Speech. Photo credit should read: Leon Neal/PA Wire
Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales sit in the chamber, alongside them is The Imperial State Crown, ahead of the State Opening of Parliament by the Queen, in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday December 19, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Speech. Photo credit should read: Leon Neal/PA Wire

The new Conservative government will make it illegal for public bodies to boycott Israel.

The policy was unveiled on Thursday in the “most radical Queen’s Speech in a generation”, which also included measures to toughen up criminal justice, invest in the NHS and deliver on the “people’s priorities”.

Speaking in the Commons, Johnson said: “One innovation that this Queen’s Speech introduces, is that we will stop public bodies from taking it upon themselves to boycott goods from other countries, to develop their own pseudo foreign policy against countries, which with nauseating frequency turns out to be Israel.”

In recent years, some local authorities in the UK have voted to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement by opposing settlement products, notably Leicester City Council’s decision in 2014.

Other councils doing so have included West Dumbartonshire, Gwynnedd, City of Swansea, Highland, Newry and Mourne, and Stirling and Clackmannanshire.

Boycotts have 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.

A still from a Lord Sacks animation on opposition to Israel.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office, Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden said: “Our public institutions should focus on their day job, not try to set foreign policy by making rules on which countries they will and won’t do business with.”

By stopping this unsanctioned activity we can get better value for taxpayers and put an end to boycotts that divide communities and sow hatred.”

The commitment will prevent public institutions from creating independent sanctions and boycotts against:

Luke Akehurst, director of We Believe in Israel, said: “We welcome the Government’s proposal to stop public institutions supporting boycotts against foreign countries and share the Government’s concern that the boycott movement against Israel has legitimised antisemitism and undermined community cohesion in the UK.

“We would urge people who want to see peace between Israel and the Palestinians to seek out the many productive and positive ways to pursue their activism and abandon the toxic prejudice of boycotts against Israel.”

Board of Deputies President Marie van Der Zyl said they have ” long called for action on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in public bodies. This divisive activity intimidates Jewish communities in the Diaspora and does nothing to build peace in the Middle East. We welcome the Government’s pledge today to take action.

“As Brexit goes ahead, we will continue to be in contact with Ministers to ensure that Britain’s anti-terror measures remain robust as we leave the EU’s umbrella on such matters. We also welcome the Government’s cross-party approach to social care helping to build a durable solution to this crisis.”

Yachad, a left-wing Zionist group which campaigns against settlements, criticised the move as “harming the right to free speech” and being counter-productive in tackling antisemitic anti-Zionism.

“We believe the tactics employed by the BDS movement are misguided and wrong. However, any proposal to ban public bodies from engaging with those who express support for BDS risks harming the right to free speech, whilst doing little to combat antisemitism or defend Israel.

It adds, “we strongly believe that the basic right to nonviolent protest must be secured. We are worried that an outright ban of a broad range of nonviolent criticism will not combat BDS or make our community safer, nor will it make Israel more secure.”

The government’s move has been branded anti-democratic by the Labour Party, but given last week’s thumping election win the prime minister is now free to go ahead with the plan as part of his legislative programme.

The speech also confirmed plans for the “deepest review” of Britain’s security defence, and foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.

Led by the prime minister, it will cover the armed forces, the intelligence agencies and counter-terrorism as well as the future development of foreign policy.

 

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