Belfast (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – On January 10, the UK parliament passed the third and final reading of the anti-boycott bill proposed by pro-Israel Conservative hawk Michael Gove, who serves as Secretary of State for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Governmental Relations. The House of Lords still needs to approve it before it becomes a law. The bill makes it illegal for public institutions such as councils and universities to adopt policies and campaigns that involve boycotting Israel or engage in any Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) directed at Israel — which in effect makes Israel a state above the law.
In this article I’m going to outline why it is wrong for the British government to pursue such dangerous policy and why supporting the BDS is important for peace and democracy for Palestinians and westerns alike.
The BDS movement is a Palestinian-led global campaign for freedom, justice and equality. It upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. It was established in 2005 in response to the failure of the international community to hold Israel to account especially after the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice which declared the wall being built around the West Bank by Israel as violation of the International Law. The BDS movement includes unions, academic associations, churches and grassroots movements across the world. It uses non-violent pressure on Israel to end its occupation of all Arabs land and dismantle the wall, to recognize the rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and to respect the rights of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes according to UN resolution 194.
Some of the notable supporters of the BDS movement include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pink floyd musician Roger Watters and the renowned physicist the late professor Stephen Hawking who joined the academic boycott of Israel when in 2013 he famously puled out of a conference hosted by former president of Israel the late Shimon Peres in protest against Israel treatment of the Palestinian.
I find the British government move to prevent public bodies from engaging with the BDS disgraceful for several reasons. To start with, by its peaceful nature, the BDS movement allows larger public participation in politics and humanitarian issues where ordinary people and institutions can express their objection to Israeli policies, especially the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Putting increasing pressure on Israel peacefully including through cultural, economic and academic boycotts, is more likely to make Israeli politicians reconsider their inhumane treatment of the Palestinians. This has the potentials to prevent or at the least reduce bloodshed and save lives.
For any government to outlaw such harmless methods of protest and resistance means to push them in the opposite direction and to encourage more violence and bloodshed. This stance is astonishing, especially for the British government, considering Britain’s moral and historic responsibility in creating the suffering of the Palestinians. London accomplished this through the infamous 1917 Balfour Declaration in which it gave Palestine to the Zionist movement and allowed it to ethnically cleanse most of the Palestinians and turn them into refugees in order create Israel in 1948 based on ideas of supremacy, racism and bloodshed.
Inasmuch as it outlaws civil protest, the British government’s bill gives a green light to extremist Israeli politicians such as the Israeli Heritage Minister Amichai Elyahu, who said that “one of Israel’s options in the war in Gaza is to drop the nuclear bomb.”
The legislation is also a threat to British democracy as it seems to be the case that supporting Israel oppression of the Palestinians by western governments is increasingly becoming a threat to free speech and therefore to democracy. Denying public sector organizations the right to decide their own policies in relation to ethical procurement of services and goods is an attack on their basic right to make their own decisions to reject dealings with governments and businesses involved in human rights violations.
For us as Palestinians, boycotting Israeli goods has been a method of non-violent resistance for many decades, wielded against illegal occupation, colonization, ethnic cleansing, land theft, killing, persecution and apartheid. Now, defending the right to boycott Israel and to stand for justice for the Palestinians is becoming a new battle ground in defending democracy and free speech in the west.