The High Court has reserved judgment on the legality of local council “boycotts” on Israeli goods produced on the West Bank.
A Jewish rights organisation is asking two judges to rule the councils, in passing the boycott resolutions, breached equality law duties and failed to have regard “to the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment of Jewish people”, or the need to foster good relations between Jewish and non-Jewish people.
The organisation is seeking judicial review against three authorities – Leicester City Council, Swansea City Council and Gwynedd Council.
Lawyers for the councils say the case is “misconceived” and has been brought because Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW) “wants to stop local authorities debating Israel’s actions”.
The case was heard by Lord Justice Simon and Mr Justice Flaux, sitting in London, over one-and-a-half days and they will give their decision at a later date.
A number of councils across the country began boycotting Israeli goods around 2009 in response to Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
Lawyers for the three authorities in court stressed that the boycotts under challenge were in reality not affecting the procurement of goods and services and were no more than “symbolic expressions of concern” over Israeli actions, including the continuing blockade of Gaza and the illegal appropriation of land in the West Bank.
Andrew Sharland, representing the councils, said the council members were exercising their right to freedom of expression protected by both the common law and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
But lawyers for JHRW, set up by Jewish and non-Jewish professionals to combat anti-Semitism in the UK, argued the boycott resolutions represented unlawful policies that breached the Local Government Act 1988 and the Equality Act 2010
Their counsel, Robert Palmer, told the court the case was not about freedom of expression or “the lawfulness or otherwise – or even the moral rights and wrongs – of any Israeli action in the West Bank, Gaza, or East Jerusalem as the case may be”.
But it was about the lawfulness of the way the councils in the case were discharging their local authority functions “and the failure of these local authorities to have due regard to the impact of their actions upon the Jewish community”.