Another motion in support of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel has been approved by a local council in the UK. Councillors in Lancaster City Council passed a motion at the end of last month to "condemn Israel's breaches of international law and killing of Palestinian civilians" and urging for the adoption of policies to divest from Israeli firms active in illegal settlements.
The motion's adoption will mean that the council will write to Lancashire County Pension Fund and the Local Pensions Partnership – part of the Local Government Pension Scheme – "urging that they adopt policies requiring them to divest from all companies active in illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine and all arms companies which supply weapons to Israel".
It's reported that the county council currently has around £8 million ($11 million) invested in Israeli companies linked to illegal Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank. Lancashire County Pension Fund is said to have made investments in three companies that conduct business in illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine. According to research by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, those businesses are General Mills, Booking.com, and Bank Hapoalim BM.
Councillor O'Dwyer-Henry brought the motion forward following Israel's 11-day bombardment of Gaza which killed more than 250 Palestinians including women and children. "[Israel's] human rights abuses and breaches of international law are egregious and undeniable," O'Dwyer-Henry is reported saying in the Jewish Chronicle while addressing the council meeting. "By voting for this motion we can play our small part in a global movement of BDS in opposition to the daily death and destruction unleashed on Palestine."
O'Dwyer-Henry also mentioned the need to push back against the efforts of the UK Tory government to ban local councils from boycotting Israeli goods. "By voting for this motion we will be sending a message to the government, which is planning on introducing new laws banning councils from exercising our democratic rights to support BDS," O'Dwyer-Henry said.
A second council member supporting the motion spoke of the "reputational risk" of investing in Israeli firms. "[The fund has] choices and they have options and one of the purposes of this is to say there are reputational risks if we carry on investing in companies that are operating in illegally occupied Palestinian territories," Green councillor Gina Dowding said adding, "People.. want to know that their pension money isn't coming from any companies who are abusing the international system and doing things illegally."
Lancaster City Council becomes the second local authority institution in under a month to divest from Israeli firms. In June, Edinburgh's Lothian Pension Fund defied pressure to join the boycott of Bank Hapoalim. The Israeli bank is one of nine financial institutions listed in the UN's database of companies helping to develop, expand or maintain settlements and their activities by providing loans for housing and the development of businesses in those areas.
The motion also follows the publication of landmark reports which concluded that Israel is guilty of crimes against humanity for imposing an apartheid regime on Palestine. In April Human Rights Watch (HRW) joined a host of other prominent groups to declare that the occupation state was committing the crimes of apartheid and persecution. In January, Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said that Israel "promotes and perpetuates Jewish supremacy between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River." Both echoed the findings of the UN's 2017 report which concluded that Israel was indeed practising apartheid.