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Pro-Israel group loses High Court ruling over councils’ boycott resolutions

Image of protesters supporting the BDS movement outside Downing Street during Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to the UK on September 9 2016
Protesters supporting the BDS movement outside Downing Street during Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to the UK on September 9 2016 [File photo]

A pro-Israel group has lost its legal action against three local authorities who passed resolutions in support of the Palestinians.

The High Court in London handed down its ruling on Tuesday morning, and dismissed all claims made by Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW) against Leicester City Council, Swansea City Council and Gwynedd Council.

JHRW had alleged that the councils’ resolutions in support of a boycott of Israeli goods breached equality law duties, and “failed to have regard “to the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment of Jewish people.”

Lord Justice Simon, however, said that the councils had nothing unlawful.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the councils said the case had been “misconceived”, and was brought because JHRW “wants to stop local authorities debating Israel’s actions.”

Andrew Sharland, representing the councils, had previously said his clients “were exercising their right to freedom of expression protected by both the common law and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Rob Stewart, Leader of Swansea Council described the decision as “a victory for freedom of expression and the rights of elected councillors to debate and speak about issues of public interest through notices of motion.”

Stewart added: “It was a difficult decision to go to court on this matter. However, given that this was an issue about the democratic rights of councillors to speak on matters of public interest, we believed there was no other option than to defend that fundamental right in court.”

According to the Swansea Council leader, “as part of the court’s judgment costs have been awarded to the Council and, on behalf of the council taxpayers of Swansea, we will now be seeking to recover them from the applicants.”

Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, meanwhile, said: “This judgement confirms that councillors have the right to shine a spotlight on a legitimate area of public debate and to discuss issues that are of concern to their electorate.” Labour councillor Mohammed Dawood, who proposed the motion, said: “I understand the organisation has the right to appeal but I am very pleased with the result. As a council we have a right to express an opinion and I feel that is what was being questioned.”

Responding to the ruling, War on Want said it was “pleased that the court has rejected attacks on local councils standing up for Palestinians.”

Ryvka Barnard, Senior Campaigner on Militarism and Security at the charity, added that “attempts to stifle grassroots solidarity with Palestinians will not work. We are confident that this ruling will give confidence to more councils to stand up for justice.”

In a statement, JHRW said it plans to appeal.

Jewish Human Rights Watch emerged in 2015, and was started by commodities trading advisor Manny Weiss. Another key figure is Robert Henry Festenstein, Sole Practitioner at the Manchester-based insolvency specialists RHF Solicitors, and former committee member of North West Friends of Israel (for more on JHRW see this article for Middle East Monitor by Ben White in March).

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