The UK government has sparked controversy and criticism over its plan to introduce a bill that would ban public bodies from participating in boycott campaigns against foreign countries, especially Israel.
The bill, titled the Economic Activity of Public Bodies, was announced in the Queen’s Speech last week and is expected to be brought forward in the next parliamentary session. The UK government claims that the bill aims to “promote community cohesion” and “prevent divisive behavior” by public bodies.
However, critics of the bill argue that it is a blatant attempt to undermine the right to free expression and protest, and to shield the Israeli occupation from accountability for its violations of human rights and international law against the Palestinians.
The bill targets the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for non-violent pressure on the Israeli occupation to end its occupation, grant equal rights to all citizens, and respect the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The movement has gained support from various civil society groups, trade unions, academic institutions, local councils, and celebrities around the world.
The bill would prevent public bodies such as local authorities, universities, schools, health trusts, and pension funds from adopting any policies or actions that could be seen as boycotting or divesting from foreign countries or their products. It would also empower the secretary of state to intervene and impose sanctions on any public body that breaches the ban.
The bill has been condemned by human rights groups, legal experts, MPs, and campaigners as an attack on democracy, freedom of speech, and solidarity with oppressed peoples.
Amnesty International UK said that the bill was “an appalling assault on basic democratic freedoms” and “a cynical attempt to silence those who stand up for human rights around the world”.
Liberty said that the bill was “a dangerous overreach of executive power” and “a threat to the rule of law”.
Palestine Solidarity Campaign said that the bill was “a pernicious piece of legislation” and “a desperate attempt to shield Israel from growing global condemnation”.
Labour MP Richard Burgon said that the bill was “a disgraceful attack on local democracy” and “a shameful attempt to silence criticism of Israel’s brutal oppression of the Palestinian people”.
The bill also contradicts the UK’s own stated position on Israel-Palestine, which supports a two-state solution based on international law and opposes illegal settlements, annexation, and human rights abuses.
The bill comes amid a recent escalation of violence and repression by the Israeli occupation, which has seen Israeli occupation forces kill dozens of Palestinians in raids, airstrikes, and shootings across the occupied territories. The international community has called for an end to the hostilities and a revival of peace talks.