Banning the Boycotts

This year the British Government aims to introduce a bill which will, if passed into law prevent local authorities from getting involved in foreign affairs. Specifically it will prevent councils from making any decisions which are based on issues outside the UK. It is aimed – amongst other things – at preventing councils from creating policies which ban goods or services from Israel.

This initiative – operative it is anticipated in England and Wales only – comes fast on the heels of the legal actions brought by a new activist group Jewish Human Rights Watch against the councils of Leicester, Gwynedd and Swansea. The legal actions are seeking orders from the Court by way of Judicial Review to have the boycott decisions declared unlawful and struck out.

The responses to the legal action and the proposed legislation have in some respects come as a surprise, not because of what has been said but the unashamed way in how it has been said. The councils have universally defended their position on the basis that the motions were “non-binding resolutions”. For those of you who don’t speak council double-speak this means that the decisions calling for boycotts were only that, a call for a boycott. There was no real decision and so it is incapable of challenge. In other words, leave us alone to demonise Israel and apply our double standards with impunity.

As for the legislation the usual suspects have rolled out to grumble about democracy and how terrible it is that councillors are going to be prevented from running their councils by having standards imposed upon them. The reality of the grumble is that this is not about democratic rights being removed, it is the belief in a self-granted right to delegitimise Israel that is being challenged.

Reading through the transcript of the Leicester City Council meeting of November 2014 I was struck by the one-sided and ill-informed nature of the speeches. There was no balance in the bulk of the speeches, no analysis of what happened to bring about Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, and only a fleeting mention of rockets being fired deliberately at a civilian population. There was only the usual biased BDS style hyperbole aimed at demonising Israel and above all, not bothering to get involved with any facts.

Antagonism towards Israel and Jews has become commonplace in local authorities. The motions – or “non binding resolutions” as the councils in question like to call them – are being passed because the anti-Semites have been getting their way. Their campaign against the Jews has largely run unabated. What the British Government has done is recognised this and are now doing something about it. The old adage on public speaking says when writing a speech make notes in the margin: argument strong shout loud, argument weak shout louder.

The voices screaming interference with local rights and democracy are shouting very loud indeed. Let us hope the British Government holds it nerve.

About the Author
Robert Festenstein is a solicitor based in Manchester with considerable experience in Court actions. He is active in representing groups opposing BDS and fighting the increase in anti-Semitism, particularly amongst the left-wing in the UK.
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