The Palestinian leadership committee of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has raised a stark warning, claiming that the proposed legislation aimed at banning British public bodies from supporting their campaign could severely harm the United Kingdom’s standing in the Arab world.
In a compelling testimony to a parliamentary committee currently examining the anti-boycott bill, the BDS National Committee did not mince words, accusing the government of “doubling down” on its complicity in “Israel’s grave violations of Palestinian human rights.” This legislation, they contend, is “an anti-democratic, anti-Palestinian attempt to suppress peaceful solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian rights.” Furthermore, the BDS leadership suggested that if the bill is enforced, it could further erode the UK’s standing and relations within the Arab region.
Criticism was also directed towards the parliamentary committee for failing to invite a representative from either BDS or the UK’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign to provide in-person testimony, a move described as “disappearing the Palestinians.”
Bill Under Scrutiny
The bill under discussion, titled the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, seeks to prohibit institutions such as local authorities, public pension funds, and universities from making investment and procurement decisions influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct.
A key point of contention is the clause within the legislation that singles out lands the occupied Palestinian territories and the occupied Golan Heights for special protection. The Conservative-majority committee has already rejected proposed amendments to remove this clause, arguing that it appears to contradict the UK’s own foreign policy position recognizing the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the Golan Heights as illegal under international law.
Despite opposition to BDS, some Labour MPs have expressed willingness to collaborate with the government to find a balanced solution. Wayne David, a Labour MP, stated, “We are more than willing to work with the government to find something that works in both principle and substance.”
While the bill has garnered mixed support, members of the Scottish National Party (SNP) have been particularly vocal in their opposition. SNP’s Chris Stephens labeled the bill a “dog’s breakfast” and accused the government of pursuing “dog-whistle policies.” He likened a clause banning public officials from expressing support for boycott or divestment campaigns to “the thought police clause,” raising concerns about restricting moral and political freedom of expression.
Stephens questioned the government’s motivations, asking, “Is it because this is the red meat that the Tory party is throwing to people – a policy that actively restricts moral and political freedom of expression on human rights, environmental protections, and workers’ rights?”
Global Impact of BDS
The BDS National Committee, a coalition of Palestinian civil society organizations representing Palestinians in various circumstances, used its testimony to refute the government’s case against BDS as “premised on falsehoods and easily refutable fabrications.” They highlighted the movement’s commitment to a non-violent human rights agenda and its increasing support among Jewish Americans and “anti-colonial Jewish Israeli BDS supporters.”
Furthermore, they said that “the Palestinian Nakba has been ongoing, enabled by military, economic, diplomatic, academic, and cultural support from states, including the UK, corporations, and institutions.”
The anti-boycott bill faces further readings in the House of Commons and additional scrutiny in the House of Lords, the UK parliament’s upper house, before it can become law. As debates continue, the BDS movement’s warnings resonate, highlighting the potential consequences for the UK’s relationships in the Arab world and its commitment to democratic principles.