A seminar held in the UK Parliament on Wednesday warned of the dangers of the UK Government’s impending anti-boycott legislation particularly in facing Israeli apartheid policies.
The seminar, organised by EuroPal Forum and sponsored by Mickey Brady MP, saw the directors of four leading civil society groups – the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Human Rights Watch UK, the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP), and the British Palestinian Committee (BPC) – come together to discuss the bill and its impact.
PSC Director Ben Jamal said the bill will prohibit public bodies – which include local councils and universities – in the UK from engaging in any boycott, divestment, or sanctions that are not in line with the UK Government’s foreign, economic, or trade policies.
This, he added, can be seen through the series of repressive legislative measures being pursued by the government, as well as through the systematic campaign by Israel and its allies to silence Palestinian voices and repress support for the 2005 Palestinian call for an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
HRW’s Yasmine Ahmed said the human rights group has identified two or three main concerns with the proposed legislation. Foremost amongst these concerns is the idea that the bill will apply to a vast range of public bodies, including universities, potentially health providers and anyone else that is acting as a public body, noting that this will serve to “impede public bodies from carrying out their due diligence responsibilities which they have under international law.”
The bill, she added, is “likely to be worded in a broad and ambiguous way” so public bodies will be more inclined to be increasingly reticent in considering whether investment, divestment, or procurement decisions have human rights implications.
Tayab Ali of the ICJP also stressed the importance of understanding the dangers of the bill, adding that it is “primarily designed to target and curtail Palestinian-led BDS Movement which works to hold the Israeli Government to account for evidence-based serious human rights and international law violations.”
Tayab went on to add that the impunity granted to Israel means that the Israeli Government has zero incentive to enter any realistic peace agreement or to comply with international law; it is in this context, according to Tayab, that the anti-BDS Bill compounds this asymmetric relationship.
Dr. Sara Husseini from the BPC said the proposed legislation “needs to be viewed as part of the broader attempts by the UK Government to shield Israel from accountability while cutting down spaces for Palestinians to speak about their history, about their daily lived experiences of oppression, and advocate for their individual and collective rights here in the UK.”
Such draconian measures by the UK, according to Sara, cannot be divorced from the UK’s other positions that pertain to the selective application of international law. Using the example of the UK’s relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC), Sara highlighted the difference in the UK’s relationship with the Court vis-à-vis the situation in Ukraine, and the long-standing position of the UK to oppose the ICC’s investigation into the war crimes committed in Palestine.