Under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom plans to pass a law banning participation in “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions”, a political movement intended to pressure Israel into ending the occupation of Palestine. The law is part of a global movement spearheaded by Israel to suppress the BDS campaign.
Self-described “passionate Zionist” Boris Johnson intends to make the boycotting of Israeli goods illegal. According to the Times of Israel, in the Queen’s Speech on December 19th, Queen Elizabeth announced the United Kingdom’s plans to create a law that will ban public institutions, notably universities and local councils, from boycotting products from foreign countries, Israel among them. The ban will also disallow public bodies from working with institutions that support or partake in boycotting. This is widely received as an anti-BDS law by politicians and laymen alike. Lord Eric Pickles, U.K. Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, as well as chairman to U.K.’s Conservative Friends of Israel, announced the anti-BDS law plans in a speech in Jerusalem on December 15th, stating: “BDS is antisemitic and should be treated as such.” He went on to say that BDS is an organization committed to blocking investment to Israel, and that the UK is “going to ensure that public sector, places like councils and health authorities, can’t work against Israel, can’t prejudice Israel.” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulated Johnson, saying his win was a “crushing victory in the fight against anti-Semitism.” The announcement has not been well received by pro-Palestine activists or proponents of free speech. Dr. Hilary Aked noted to Al Jazeera reporters that, “the Conservative government’s renewed talk of outlawing BDS is the result of having lost the moral argument and, like supporters of Israel everywhere, needing to resort to repression and smears to stop ethical boycott and divestment initiatives.”
The BDS movement was formed in 2005 with three goals; ending the Israeli occupation of segmentation of Palestine, giving Palestinian citizens in Israel full equality, and affording Palestinian refugees their rights as designated by the UNHCR. Israel has launched an anti-BDS campaign internationally, and supporting Israel was one of the principles that the Conservative Party ran on in the recent election; an anti-BDS law was announced in Boris Johnson’s manifesto. The Labour Party, headed at the time by Jeremy Corbyn, was accused multiple times of antisemitism, which some believe contributed to their defeat. This move against alleged antisemitism is not specific to Great Britain; United States President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order which will extend Title IX protections to Jewish students on college campuses. This executive order will give the Trump White House the ability to deny funding to institutions partaking in the BDS movement. Furthermore, 27 states in America have passed anti-BDS legislation. While at face value, the intention to protect the rights of Jewish students and citizens in Great Britain and the United States is a noble one, the anti-BDS moves have a political motivation: to strengthen the ties with the right-wing Israeli government under Netanyahu. Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign Ben Jamal told Al Jazeera that: “Israel has tried to persuade its allies to introduce anti-BDS legislation.” This is a part of a global campaign to delegitimize the concerns of the BDS organization and of Palestine.
While BDS is not entirely without fault – its proponents have in the past employed anti-semitic rhetoric in their fight against Israel — the movement is a legitimate boycotting initiative to fight for the rights, both civil and human, of Palestinians. Many world leaders are of the opinion that anti-Zionism and anti-semitism are one and the same. That is simply not the case, given that Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinians include forced displacement, unlawful killings, restriction of movement, and abusive detention. With continued support from world powers such as Great Britain and the United States, Israel will have little accountability on their treatment of Palestinians. The anti-BDS laws are not only an affront to free speech, but they run the risk of worsening and continuing the Israel-Palestine conflict. Furthermore, the fight between Israel and Palestine coupled with the continued support of world leaders plays into a dangerous world trend in which Muslims have been subjected to mistreatment, violence, and the deterioration of their rights. This we have seen played out in China, with the detainment of Uighur Muslims as well as India, in which non-Muslim identities are preferred in a new citizenship law.
Johnson’s planned law is anti-Palestine legislation. If allowed to continue, the anti-BDS laws will only perpetuate a trend of turning a blind eye to Israel’s human rights abuses. The laws indicate to Palestinians that their voices are heard but not listened to. Moreover, they disarm international supporters of Palestine, rendering them powerless.
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