Britain’s newly elected Conservative government has confirmed it will proceed with banning “institutions across the public sector” including local councils from boycotting Israel, as promised in the party’s election manifesto.
During the debate on the post-election Queen’s Speech in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “One innovation this speech introduces is we will stop public bodies from taking it upon themselves to boycott goods from other countries to develop their own pseudo-foreign policy against a country which with nauseating frequency turns out to be Israel.”
The speech, which is traditionally delivered by the reigning monarch at the opening of parliament, did not specify the measure but stated that the government “will work closely with international partners to help solve the most complex international security issues and promote peace and security globally.”
The Government said the new measures: “Will stop public institutions from imposing their own approach or views about international relations, through preventing boycotts, divestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries and those who trade with them.”
It claimed the main benefits would be “preventing divisive behaviour that undermines community cohesion,” as there are “concerns that such boycotts have legitimised antisemitism, such as Jewish films being censored and Jewish university societies being threatened with bans.”
Johnson’s Conservative Party won a commanding majority in last week’s election, gaining 365 of the 650 seats in parliament.
It pledged to ban local councils from boycotting products from foreign countries, including Israel, in its election policy manifesto released last month.
The ban, which has been branded as anti-democratic by the opposition Labour Party, is primarily aimed at criminalising the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in solidarity with Palestine, which seeks to pressure Israel to abide by international law and respect Palestinian rights.
Its supporters demand equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and call for the rights of Palestinian refugees to be upheld.
Liberal Zionist group Yachad, meanwhile, criticised the move as “harming the right to free speech” and being counter-productive in tackling antisemitic anti-Zionism.
“We believe the tactics employed by the BDS movement are misguided and wrong. However, any proposal to ban public bodies from engaging with those who express support for BDS risks harming the right to free speech, whilst doing little to combat antisemitism or defend Israel.”
It adds: “We strongly believe that the basic right to nonviolent protest must be secured. We are worried that an outright ban of a broad range of nonviolent criticism will not combat BDS or make our community safer, nor will it make Israel more secure.”