Creating new perspectives since 2009

Third hearing of bill granting Israel special legal protection in UK law passes

January 11, 2024 at 1:49 pm

Pro-Palestinian protesters gather outside Houses of Parliament to demonstrate against the anti-boycott bill on its third reading that if passed by MPs would make it unlawful for public bodies to boycott Israeli companies on the grounds of ethical and human rights issues in procurement and investment decisions in London, United Kingdom on January 10, 2024 [Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu via Getty Images]

The UK government’s anti-boycott bill, which grants special legal protection to Israel, passed its third reading following a debate in the House of Commons yesterday. Titled the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters), the bill was backed with 282 votes for and 235 votes against. The bill now makes its way to the House of Lords.

The bill seeks to block public bodies, such as local councils, from conducting their own financial campaigns, and specifically focuses on banning boycotts against Israel, the occupied Palestinian Territories, and the occupied Golan Heights. It effectively makes Israel the only country out of 193 UN member states to enjoy special protection under UK law.

It has garnered widespread criticism from rights groups who have campaigned against the bill since its introduction into parliament, with protests against the bill being held outside parliament during the vote.

READ: Anti-BDS bill shielding Israel will have ‘profound detrimental’ impact on UK, says top lawyer

Senior Conservative MP, Alicia Kearns, is reported to have launched a scathing attack on a controversial bill, as eight Tories voted against the proposed legislation. Kearns, the Conservative chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, told the Guardian that the bill undermined free speech, went against international law and risked leaving the UK isolated on the global stage.

“This bill is flawed in four key areas: it breaks with our foreign policy; undermines freedom of speech; goes against international law; and promotes an odd exceptionalism in UK primary legislation,” Kearns is reported saying.

“We rely on the rules-based system to protect ourselves and to protect our allies and yet we are at risk of breaching UN security council resolution 2334, a resolution the UK was instrumental in drafting,” Kearns added. “Legislation created by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities must not depart from our foreign policy, let alone undermine it or leave us ostracised internationally.”

Kearns, one of the most prominent centrists within the Tory Party, grilled UK Foreign Secretary, David Cameron, yesterday during a committee hearing. Pushing back against the former prime minister’s answers on the status of Gaza under UK law, she stressed that the besieged enclave is part of the occupied Palestinian territories under international and UK law.

The exchange has major significance because a country that is an occupying power does not have the right to self-defence under international law.

READ: David Cameron failed miserably trying to make Israel’s case in parliament