The British government is preparing to follow the US in implementing legislation prohibiting public bodies from perusing discriminatory ‘boycotts’ of Israeli goods, services and cultural products.
Under provisions of the new law, the government will be able to prosecute publicly funded local councils, quangos and universities, which have taken it upon themselves to single out and discriminate against the Jewish state.
Many Student Unions and Muslim-led councils have begun in recent years to officially impose such boycotts, and some academics and universities have even signed up to a so-called “academic and cultural boycott”.
At the 2006 annual conference of the UK lecturers’ union (NATFHE), members voted to support a motion calling for a boycott of Israeli academics and universities. Then, just last year, over 300 British academics pledged to not accept invitations to visit Israeli institutions or take part in events organised or funded by them.
In 2014, the Muslim-dominated Leicester City Council passed a policy to boycott Israeli goods, while the Scottish Government published a procurement notice to Scottish councils, which “strongly discourages trade and investment from illegal settlements”.
Meanwhile, no British university or local council is currently boycotting Saudi Arabia, Iran or China for their human rights records.
However, public bodies which continue to discriminate against Israel in this way will soon face “severe penalties”, ministers have now said.
Speaking to the Independent, a senior government sources said they would be cracking down on local ‘boycotts’ because they “undermined good community relations, poisoned and polarised debate and fuelled anti-Semitism”.
Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock will formally announce the policy when he visits Israel this week. He said the current position where local authorities had the freedom to discriminate was “undermining” Britain’s national security.
“We need to challenge and prevent these divisive town-hall boycotts,” he stated.
Adding: “The new guidance on procurement combined with changes we are making to how pension pots can be invested will help prevent damaging and counter-productive local foreign policies undermining our national security.”
A spokeswoman for the National Union of Students (NUS) saw it differently. He said they were “concerned by any external pressure that could prevent student unions taking decisions on any issue that affects the students they represent.”
A spokesman for the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed with the students. He said: “The Government’s decision to ban councils and other public bodies from divesting from trade or investments they regard as unethical is an attack on local democracy.
“People have the right to elect local representatives able to make decisions free of central government political control. That includes withdrawal of investments or procurement on ethical and human rights grounds”, he said.