Government set to make it illegal for public bodies to back BDS
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Government set to make it illegal for public bodies to back BDS

Former Communities Secretary Lord Eric Pickles suggests Boris Johnson may press forward with the anti-boycott move

An example of a local authority's debating chamber. (Bradford Council Chamber)
An example of a local authority's debating chamber. (Bradford Council Chamber)

The new Conservative government is set to make it illegal for public bodies to boycott Israel, according to a former minister.

News of the move came from Lord Eric Pickles, the UK’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, who was speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Dialogue’s conference in Jerusalem on Sunday.

In recent years, 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.

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.

The Conservatives vowed to pass laws banning councils from choosing not to buy products from Israel, a move opposed as anti-democratic by the Labour Party, but given last week’s thumping election win the Conservatives are set to go ahead, introducing it in The Queen’s Speech on Thursday.

“BDS is antisemitic and should be treated as such,” said Pickles, adding that public bodies will soon not be able to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel in any way.

Several individual US states have legislated on BDS beyond public bodies, passing laws that sanction companies that choose to boycott, sanction or divest from Israel. However two senior Jewish politicians in the US – Dianne Feinstein and Bernie Sanders – have attacked the anti-BDS laws, calling them an attack on free speech.

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