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11 Jan, 2024 19:34

UK MPs back bill banning Israeli goods boycott

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement incites anti-Semitic rhetoric, a UK government minister claimed
UK MPs back bill banning Israeli goods boycott

UK MPs voted on Wednesday to back a Conservative government bill that proposes a ban on public institutions from imposing boycotts on the importation of goods from Israel. A collection of lawmakers from the Labour opposition and some Tory rebels opposed the legislation.

The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill is the government’s effort to tackle the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The Palestinian-led movement seeks to encourage UK institutions to cease trade, or other forms of interaction, with Israel, to protest the state’s actions in its ongoing war with Hamas.

The proposed bill, which MPs voted in favor of by a margin of 282 to 235, would make it illegal for public bodies, such as councils or universities, to be “influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign states when taking certain economic decisions.” Israel is the only state explicitly mentioned in the text, in addition to Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Government minister Michael Gove, a staunch supporter of Israel and chief supporter of the bill, has warned that the BDS movement can “lead to appalling anti-Semitic rhetoric and abuse.”

The opposition Labour Party, which has battled its own accusations of anti-Semitism in the past, offered considered criticism of the bill. Shadow Middle East Minister Wayne David wrote on Wednesday that while “some people have used the cover of BDS to whip up hate towards Jewish people,” the proposed legislation is “riddled” with problems.

David added that the bill damages “the starting point for any two-state solution,” principally by treating the Occupied Palestinian Territories “as though they were in effect the same as the State of Israel.”

Senior Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, regarded as one of the party’s most prominent centrists, is among a small wave of Tories to have expressed opposition to the legislation, arguing that it is flawed in several key areas.

“It breaks with our foreign policy,” Kearns said, according to The Guardian, adding that it “undermines freedom of speech, goes against international law [and] promotes an odd exceptionalism in UK primary legislation.”

In addition to Kearns, The Guardian notes that several other Conservative MPs are unconvinced by the plan – due to it explicitly citing Israel as requiring special protection and appearing to frame the occupied territories as part of its definition of Israel.