Boris bows to Bibi: UK obeys Israel’s demand to remove pro-BDS posters from London Tube

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu © Emil Salman
Posters promoting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that criticized the policies and actions of Israel’s right-wing government are being removed from London’s tube stations after pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Observing Israeli Apartheid week, the posters created by the London Palestine Action group were designed to look like real advertisements and feature facts about the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel.

Netanyahu condemned the posters, directing his foreign ministry to demand that the UK remove them.

Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, described the ads as “anti-semitic, anti-Israel signs calling us an apartheid state, accusing us of torturing children, or murder, of terrible things.”

He reportedly phoned London Mayor Boris Johnson to tell him that the ad campaign would not tolerated by the Israeli government. Johnson assured Lapid that the signs would be taken down. He apparently complied late Tuesday afternoon and the posters have being removed.

London Palestine said, “The fact that MKs are calling the London mayor to talk about some posters makes it clear just how scared Israel are of being delegitimized. They’re scared of BDS, and terrified people will see their regime for what it is: occupation and apartheid.”

There were four posters in the campaign. The first accused the UK of complicity in Israeli violations of international law through arms sales. “Apartheid is Great” it read. “British made arms were used by Israel to massacre Palestinians in Gaza in 2014. Over 100 UK companies continue to supply military equipment to Israel. They directly profit from Israeli apartheid and contribute to the militarized collective punishment of Palestinians.”

Another accused the UK’s state-funded media outlet, the BBC, of bias. “Why is the BBC reporting biased in favor of Israel?” It featured a quote from Tim Llewellyn, a former BBC Middle East correspondent, who said “We have become used to the fact that, in a BBC newsroom, an Israeli life is worth the lives of an infinite number of Palestinians.”

One poster targeted G4S, a controversial British security firm that runs a number of prisons in Israel. “Over 500 Palestinian children are held without trial at G4S equipped Israeli prisons every year,” it read.

The fourth focused on the demolition of Palestinian homes, a punitive measure carried out by Israeli security forces. ”Israel demolished 1,177 Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 2016,” it said.

“Our actions aim to shine a spotlight on the support that Israel receives from the UK government and arms industry, and UK companies like G4S,” London Palestine Action said. “At a time when the government is undermining local democracy in order to protect Israel and attack the idea of support for Palestinians, it was important to show that we’ll continue to take action in solidarity with Palestinian popular resistance.”

Transport for London (TfL) told the Evening Standard on Monday that the posters would be taken down.

“It is flyposting and therefore an act of vandalism, which we take extremely seriously,” a TfL spokesman said.

“Our staff and contractors are working to immediately remove any found on our network,” the spokesman added.

Some right-wing Jewish community groups said that the posters amounted to “smears” against Israel.

“These posters are awful smears that do nothing to contribute to peace and dialogue, placing significant strains on inter-community relations across London,” a London Jewish Forum spokesman told Haaretz.

“They are an act of vandalism, seeking to undermine the UK’s relationship with Israel and designed to foster discomfort. We welcome Transport for London’s commitment to quickly remove them.”

The British government’s latest apparent cowing to Israeli pressure adds to a growing sentiment that the UK is beginning to crack down on human rights campaigners.

According to the Independent, all publicly funded institutions will soon be banned from taking part in BDS movements, and will face “severe penalties” if they do.

A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn described the decision as “an attack on local democracy.”

“People have the right to elect local representatives able to make decisions free of central government political control. That includes withdrawal of investments or procurement on ethical and human rights grounds,” he said.