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UK bill granting Israel immunity from BDS faces challenge from rebel MPs

July 3, 2023 at 3:38 pm

Michael Gove in London, United Kingdom on August 31, 2022 [Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency]

The UK government is facing a rebellion against its plan to grant special protection to Israel in a new anti-boycott bill. Details of the bill proposed by Tory Minister Michael Gove, includes a special anti-democratic clause that blocks public bodies in Britain from sanctioning Israel while allowing for exceptions specified by the government.

According to the Guardian, as many as 50 Conservative MPs are threatening to rebel against the measure which is due to be debated in parliament today. The proposed legislation is said to have caused divisions in both main parties. The Tory rebels are expected to abstain during the vote rather than back what they regard as a reasoned Labour amendment.

If that amendment is agreed, it could prove to be a fatal blow to Gove’s effort to provide special protection to Israel. Gove is a staunch advocate of Zionism and is a supporter of the apartheid state. Cracking down on critics of Israel through the anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) bill, was introduced as part of a Conservative manifesto commitment.

READ: OIC condemns Israel military operation in Jenin

A reasoned amendment is a parliamentary procedure by which an MP can object to the provisions of a proposed bill without setting amendments to it. MPs are expected to warn ministers that they will have to completely rework the bill associated with banning public bodies from taking moral and ethical stances on human rights abuse by a foreign state or see it rejected outright in later stages of the bill’s passage.

Apparently, the Labour Party under Keir Starmer was pushed to explain to British Jewish organisations backing the anti-democratic bill why it has tabled a reasoned amendment. The anti-Palestinian Board of Deputies of British Jews is one of several groups backing the authoritarian crackdown on local councils. The Guardian reported Labour explaining to pro-Israel groups that the bill has been poorly drafted and that it may not only provoke anti-Semitism, but also undermine free speech.

“The bill has been drawn very widely,” Labour’s shadow communities secretary, Lisa Nandy, is reported as saying. “It gives far-reaching powers to the secretary of state, and has a number of far-reaching implications, none of which appear to have anything to do with tackling BDS, the issue the government says it wants to solve, which we share.”

Other parties have also criticised the bill. The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson, Layla Moran, is reported as saying that the bill was largely designed to wrongfoot Labour with the Jewish community.

According to Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, “It is absolutely appropriate and right for councils and universities to be able to express a view about where they want their money invested, whether they want it invested with companies that commit crimes under international law. That is a basic tenet of our freedom.”

If passed, “The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) bill” will prohibit procurement and investment decisions made by public bodies that it says are “influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct”. It states that the government can “specify a country or territory” for which the bill “does not apply”, meaning that the bill allows for exceptions specified by the government. However, the exception clause will not extend to Israel, which will be granted complete immunity if the bill becomes law.

READ: British ministers to advance UK anti-BDS Bill to prevent boycotts against Israel