UK to advance legislation to block Israel boycotts — report

Top British minister said set to announce intiative to allow government to prosecute BDS-supporting public institutions

Illustrative photo of signs calling for the boycott of Israel at an anti-Israel protest in San Francisco, April 2011. (CC BY-dignidadrebelde, Flickr)
Illustrative photo of signs calling for the boycott of Israel at an anti-Israel protest in San Francisco, April 2011. (CC BY-dignidadrebelde, Flickr)

The British government is reportedly set to advance legislation that would block all public institutions in the United Kingdom from participating in a boycott against Israel.

According to the International Business Times, Cabinet Officer Minister Matthew Hancock will announce the new proposed regulations this week during a trip to Israel. The bill will allow the government to prosecute universities, local government, councils, and student unions that back the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The report did not mention whether the proposal distinguishes between Israel and the settlements.

“This move is very welcome,” said MP Eric Pickles, the head of Conservative Friends of Israel. “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.”

Matthew Hancock (Courtesy)
Matthew Hancock (Courtesy)

Last year, the European Union, over strenuous Israeli objections, adopted a policy requiring the labeling of goods manufactured in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a practice that would facilitate the targeting of settlement businesses. The Obama administration last summer said it would not object to the policy.

The White House announced Thursday that President Barack Obama will sign a trade bill despite it containing a provision that lumps together Israel and “Israeli-controlled territories.”

The language, making the bill applicable to Israel and the settlements, “contravenes long-standing US policy towards Israel and the occupied territories, including with regard to Israeli settlement activity,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement, hours after the measure was approved in the Senate by a vote of 75-20.

Nonetheless, while the president objects to that particular facet of the legislation, Earnest suggested his accepting it, and signing the bill, was part of the nature of bipartisan compromise. “As with any bipartisan compromise legislation, there are provisions in this bill that we do not support,” Earnest said.

The legislation — The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 — is part of a package that was presented to the US Congress last summer. It is designed to strengthen enforcement rules, to address currency manipulation and to bolster efforts to block evasions of trade laws.

But the bill also includes a clause that addresses politically motivated acts to limit or prohibit economic relations with Israel — targeting corporate entities or state-affiliated financial institutions from engaging in the BDS campaign against Israel.

JTA and Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.

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