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UK tries to curb BDS as Israel’s apartheid status become impossible to dispute

May 12, 2021 at 1:39 pm

Palestinians walk past a sign painted on a wall in the West Bank biblical town of Bethlehem on June 5, 2015 [THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images]

The UK government has announced measures to disrupt the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the state of Israel by banning public bodies from launching their own boycotting campaigns.

The planned reform would seek to “ensure a coherent approach to foreign relations” by stopping public bodies from “imposing their own approach or views via boycott, divestment or sanctions campaigns.”

The measures were included in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech – an address read by the monarch ahead of a new session in Parliament to set out the legislative programme for the coming year – and just over a year following a high court defeat which ruled that government efforts to curb BDS were not legal.

“To ensure a coherent approach to foreign relations, we will stop public bodies from imposing their own approach or views via boycott, divestment, or sanctions campaigns,” said Number 10 in the Bill.

This means that local councils will be banned from “taking a different approach” to the national government on sanctions or boycotts – including the BDS movement against Israel.

In a paragraph explaining its decision and indicating that the government was following guidelines set out in the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, favoured by staunch advocates of the state of Israel, Number 10 said that it wanted to prevent “divisive behaviour that undermines community cohesion” and that it was concerned that “such boycotts may legitimise antisemitism.”

The IHRA conflates criticism and boycott of Israel with anti-Semitism. It has been sharply criticised by rights groups, lawyers, and academics. In a recent campaign to push back against suppression of free speech, a group of over 200 academics and experts created a new anti-Semitism definition which excludes the BDS movement, and several other examples included within the IHRA that conflates criticism of Israel with hatred towards Jewish people.

READ: The Guardian’s support for creation of Israel was one of its ‘worst errors’ in 200 years

The UK’s effort to suppress BDS comes as Israel’s status as a deeply racist country that practices a system of apartheid has become impossible to dispute. Last month, the pre-eminent human rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW), joined a host of other prominent groups to declare that Israel is committing the crimes of apartheid and persecution.

Prior to HRW’s report, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem branded Israel as an “apartheid” state that “promotes and perpetuates Jewish supremacy between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.” Echoing the UN’s 2017 report which concluded that Israel was practising apartheid, B’Tselem dismissed the popular misconception that it is a democracy within the Green (1949 Armistice) Line.

It also follows days of intense violence that saw Israeli forces brutally targeting Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and the besieged Gaza Strip.