London Mayor Boris Johnson’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories hit a glitch Wednesday as meetings with Palestinians were called off following the mayor’s comments opposing a boycott of the Jewish state, which offended some supporters of the boycott movement.
The mayor on Tuesday dismissed those who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, known by its BDS initials, as “corduroy-jacketed lefty academics,” comments which caused anger on Palestinian social media.
“I cannot think of anything more foolish” than to boycott “a country that when all is said and done is the only democracy in the region, the only place that has in my view a pluralist open society,” Johnson said.
A number of Palestinian groups then refused to meet him while he was also informed his comments had led to additional security risks if he were to visit the West Bank, Johnson’s office said.
His meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, however, went ahead as planned.
Inas Abu Shirbi of the Sharek Youth Forum, an organization Johnson was due to visit, told LBC Radio in the UK they withdrew the invitation as his statement showed “he did not recognize the existence of Palestinians.”
Johnson, who is on a week-long trade tour to the region, said the comments were taken “out of context.”
“The mayor is disappointed that comments he made opposing calls for a boycott of Israel have been taken out of context on social media, and then cited by organizers of events he was due to attend in Ramallah as a reason for cancellation,” a statement from his office said.
“He was looking forward to hearing first hand from Palestinians and discussing their relationship with London.”
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the failure to visit Palestinian communities would mean he would not have the chance to learn about the effects of Israel’s occupation.
“I think it is deeply unfortunate where it has come to a situation where he is not able to visit Palestinians in the West Bank apart from the prime minister,” he told AFP. “He would have had a chance to visit young Palestinians living under occupation.”
Johnson, who is also a Conservative MP, is due to step down as mayor next summer after eight years and is seen as a potential candidate to become leader of Britain’s Conservative party after Prime Minister David Cameron steps down.