Hundreds of prosecutors gathered outside the UK Parliament on Wednesday to express their strong opposition to a contentious “anti-boycott bill” that aims to restrict public bodies from conducting financial campaigns against foreign countries and territories, Anadolu Agency reports.
The protest coincided with the parliamentary debate on the bill’s third reading, during which campaigners criticised both the Conservative and Labour parties for their perceived failure to advocate for a ceasefire in Gaza, despite the escalating death toll of Palestinians.
Protesters chanted anti-Israel slogans while waving Palestinian flags and holding signs that said “No ceasefire, no vote,” “We choose life over death” and “Rishi Sunak, you can’t hide, we will charge you with genocide”.
UK government ‘use politics to disrupt solidarity with Palestine’
Em Hilton, a co-founder of the British Jewish group, Na’amod, expressed concern over the government’s attempts to “use politics to disrupt solidarity with Palestine”.
In her speech to the crowd, she emphasised the need to protect the right to protest and ensure that standing up for Palestinian human rights is not criminalised or repressed.
“It is shocking that the government has chosen to bring back a bill that seeks not only to restrict our collective rights to protest, but it’s clearly a direct attack on the Palestine Solidarity movement,” she said.
“I am shocked and appalled by how this is being promoted by the government as a way to combat anti-Semitism. I know that many in my community are worried about their safety right now. And to be clear, everyone deserves to feel safe wherever they live, but you do not fight anti-Semitism by suppressing Palestine Solidarity,” she added.
‘Their judgment day coming’
Scottish National Party (SNP) MP, Tommy Sheppard, who also addressed the crowd, strongly denounced the legislation, saying it prevents people from engaging in non-violent protest.
He described the timing of the bill as “particularly grotesque” amid the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
Sheppard vowed that all SNP MPs would vote against the bill.
“For the first time in our history, legislation prevents people from taking out non-violent protest about something they believe in. It will prevent elected representatives throughout this country from discharging and respecting the views of the people who elected them, and it will elevate Israel uniquely above all other countries to be a place that we are not allowed to criticise,” he said.
“It is a shoddy piece of legislation … This bill ought to be defeated. And I say to you on behalf of my party, the Scottish National Party, every one of our MPs over there tonight will be voting against this bill, as we have done consistently,” he pledged.
“We need to make sure that what people are doing now and what they are doing now becomes an election issue. You should make sure that the people you vote for are assessed and judged against a metric of what they have done over the last three months To try and curtail the slaughter that is happening in the Middle East as you promote the rights of the Palestinian people and defend basic human rights and their judgment day is coming.”
The bill successfully advanced from the House of Commons after passing in a 282 – 235 vote, and has been forwarded to the House of Lords for further consideration.
The Anti-Boycott Bill received widespread support from 279 members of the Conservative Party, as well as endorsements from two independent members and one representative of the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland.
But not everyone in Parliament was in favour. Members from the Labour Party, numbering 162, along with 40 from the SNP, 13 from the Liberal Democrat Party and eight from the Conservative Party voted against the proposed legislation.
The next step involves deliberation in the House of Lords. If approved in that chamber, the bill will be subject to the approval of King Charles III.
The House of Lords retains the authority to return the bill to the House of Commons for further review.
Amnesty International’s UK Chief Executive, Sacha Deshmukh, labelled the bill as “draconian” and warned that it would stifle free speech among public body members.
Deshmukh expressed concern that the bill’s true intention is to make people afraid to share their views on issues such as the human rights crisis in Gaza.
The bill’s third reading occurs amid widespread public debate about the UK government’s position on the Gaza crisis, with growing opposition to its failure to unequivocally call for an immediate ceasefire.
Amnesty International called on ministers to address the Gaza blockade, halt arms transfers to Israel and support the International Criminal Court’s investigation into human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Campaigners argue that the anti-boycott bill would hinder public bodies from leveraging procurement and investment policies to deter companies from doing business with Israel’s illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, raising questions about penalising efforts to address this issue.