The British government’s plan to introduce legislation which would discourage participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has come under heavy fire from leftists and pro-Palestinian activists in the UK.
British Minister of the Cabinet Office Matthew Hancock is expected to announce legislation during his visit to Israel this week that would allow the government to prosecute universities, local government, councils, and student unions that back BDS.
A spokesman for Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn accused Hancock of imposing Conservative Party policies and restricting local democracy and freedom of expression.
“The Government’s decision to ban councils and other public bodies from divesting from trade or investments they regard as unethical is an attack on local democracy.”
Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) chair Hugh Lanning described the proposal as an effort to restrict ethical decision-making and a “profoundly undemocratic way of undermining UK foreign policy and international law.”
Lanning added that “forcing councils to put big business interests ahead of ethics and international law is not only risky and bad business practice, it is a gross interference in local democracy and entirely unjust.”
In a statement released by the Palestinian BDS National Committee, UK spokesperson Rafeef Ziadah claimed that “rather than working to hold Israel to account for its ongoing human rights violations, UK ministers continue the arms trade with Israel and attack local democracy in order to shield it from any criticism.”
Designed to counter the BDS movement, the reported legislation places the British government at the center of the battle between Israeli and Palestinian advocates.
Israel’s supporters have characterized the move as ‘welcome’, with MP Eric Pickles, the head of Conservative Friends of Israel, declaring “the attempt by the irresponsible left to demonize Israel is bad for British business, bad for the local taxpayer, and deeply damaging to community relations.”
“It encourages anti-Semitism and strives to make a municipal foreign policy contrary to the interests of the UK.”
Hancock’s proposal is the most recent in governments’ actions to block the boycott of Israeli goods. Previous measures included a provision in the American Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act that requires non-cooperation with entities that participate in the BDS movement against Israel.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.