After an election dogged by the weaponization of anti-Semitism, the victorious UK conservative party has announced a new legislative push that would prevent the public sector from working with any individual or organization that supports a boycott of Israel’s government.
By Whitney Webb,
JERUSALEM — Following the results of the recent UK election, the victorious Conservative party has now declared their intention to make it illegal for public institutions in the country to support non-violent boycotts of the state of Israel in any capacity.
On Sunday, the UK Special Envoy for post-Holocaust matters, Lord Eric Pickles, gave a speech in Jerusalem at the International Institute for Strategic Dialogue conference, where he made the Conservatives’ motives clear. Pickles, whose speech garnered “rapturous applause” from conference attendees, stated that the public sector would soon be banned from associating in any way with the Boycott Divest Sanctions (BDS) movement, which uses non-violent means to pressure Israel to follow international law with regards to its military occupation of Palestine and blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The coming ban, as described by Pickles, is set to prohibit government bodies and organizations from supporting BDS in any fashion, which would also prevent them from employing or working with anyone who supports boycotting the Israeli state. Pickles went on to say the reason for the ban is that BDS itself is anti-Semitic (despite BDS having numerous Jewish supporters), stating:
BDS is anti-Semitic, and should be treated as such. Anti-Semitism is an attack on the British way of life and British identity. Without our Jewish citizens, we would be a lesser nation.”
Notably, Pickles is also the parliamentary chairman of the U.K. pro-Israel lobby group, Conservative Friends of Israel.
LATEST: To rapturous applause in Jerusalem , @EricPickles expresses pride that new incoming @Conservatives Government under @BorisJohnson will make it illegal for any public body to engage in any way with BDS. “BDS is antisemitic and should be treated as such” pic.twitter.com/O8bXWsdhMK
— CFoI (@CFoI) December 15, 2019
Pickles also made it clear that he conflates Judaism with Zionism, a move that was recently made law in the United States through an executive order signed by President Trump that reclassifies Judaism as a race and nationality as opposed to a religion. Regarding his personal support for Israel, Pickles did not mention Judaism at all, instead championing Zionism and Israel’s ability to “defend its borders.” He referred to himself as “an unapologetic, unreformed Zionist,” before adding that “Israel exists because it can defend its borders, and its people. It is the only place in this region in which governments are elected. It is a civilized, decent place and I’m very proud it exists.” Pickles has previously called Israel a “bastion of democracy.”
LATEST: @EricPickles – “I am an unapologetic, unreformed Zionist…
Israel exists because it can defend its borders, and it’s people. It is the only place in this region in which governments are elected. It is a civilised, decent place and I’m very proud it exists” pic.twitter.com/UKmKRE19k3
— CFoI (@CFoI) December 15, 2019
The planned ban on BDS is only the latest attempt by the Conservative party to inhibit non-violent efforts aimed at pressuring Israel to comply with international law. The first such attempt took place in 2016 when Conservative MP Matthew Hancock traveled to Jerusalem and announced the Conservatives’ intention to ban boycotts of Israel at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, those attempts failed largely thanks to the U.K. Supreme Court, which prevented an attempted ban in 2016. Since that ruling, the fight to force a nationwide BDS ban has been the subject of ongoing court cases.
Yet, with the Conservatives now set to have a sizable Parliamentary majority, legislative changes that would enable such a ban and circumvent the ongoing court battles to do so appear to be just over the horizon. Indeed, in their manifesto for this past election, the Conservatives’ promised to ban “boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries” if elected, although the manifesto did not mention any foreign country by name.
In his speech, Pickles also attempted to justify the coming legislative push to outlaw BDS by claiming that it was what UK voters had sought by choosing the Conservatives over the Labour Party. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time activist for Palestinian rights, had been targeted by a massive and relentless smear campaign in the UK, Israel and U.S. media as anti-Semitic for his criticisms of Israel’s government. Pickles’ speech alluded to this effort by asserting that the recent election was essentially a national referendum on anti-Semitism. He specifically stated that, “at 10pm last Thursday, the British people said that you can be an anti-Semite but you will NOT be elected and you will NOT be in government,” before adding that “anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish concern, it is a concern for all of us.”
While Pickles implied that UK voters had abandoned Labour over charges related to alleged antisemitism in the party, most political analysts have noted that the reason for Labour’s resounding defeat was related to its position on Brexit, as opposed to its other policies and concern over bigotry within the Labour party. However, the smear campaign against Corbyn — even if it was not the deciding factor in the UK election — has now laid the foundation for what appears to be a litany of partisan, pro-Israel legislation that will soon be pushed through the coming Conservative-dominated Parliament. Indeed, Israeli media outlets have reported that the Conservatives’ post-Brexit policies will, among other things, involve stronger efforts by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “tighten trade ties with Israel” as well as cooperation with the Israeli state on other matters.
The post-election tone regarding coming legislation is remarkably similar to that which occurred after last year’s midterm elections in the United States. After Congress was sworn in following the midterms, the first bill introduced by the Republican-majority Senate was titled “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019” and was also aimed at inhibiting BDS on a national level. That bill specifically provided Israel with $38 billion from the U.S. in defense spending over ten years and authorized state and local governments to boycott companies that support a boycott of Israel.
Feature photo | British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, welcomes Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside Downing Street in London, Sept. 5, 2019. Alastair Grant | AP
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