The Palestinian organisation that leads the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement currently under attack by new British government rules says that Prime Minister David Cameron is making a grave mistake similar to Margaret Thatcher’s unwavering support of apartheid South Africa.
New rules set to be announced during a visit to Israel this week by Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock will make it harder for local councils and other public bodies including universities to make ethical procurement or investment decisions. The government says the changes are designed counter the growing BDS movement.
Rafeef Ziadah, a UK spokesperson for the Palestinian BDS National Committee, says:
“Rather than working to hold Israel to account for its ongoing human rights violations, UK ministers continue the arms trade with Israel and attack local democracy in order to shield it from any criticism.”
“What sort of message does this send to UK companies like G4S and JCB that aid and abet Israel’s violations of international law?”
Security company G4S helps Israel run prisons where Palestinians are tortured and JCB supplies bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes.
“By undermining local democracy in service of Israel, David Cameron is standing on the wrong side of history just as Margaret Thatcher did with her support for apartheid South Africa.”
David Cameron himself crossed the South African boycott picket line as late as 1989, when international public opinion had already shifted in favor of democracy, by taking an all-expenses paid trip to South Africa to build the case against sanctions of the racist regime. International isolation was crucial in bringing down apartheid in South Africa.
“The BDS movement in the UK has achieved wide support precisely because of the failure of successive UK governments to take action in response to Israel’s war crimes.”
“Far from thwarting the growing public support for the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, these measures simply shine a spotlight on the UK’s deepening support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and underline the need for solidarity campaigning.”
French multinational Veolia ended its role in illegal Israeli settlements after local councils in the UK and beyond dropped it from contracts worth more than £10bn.
Councils in Tower Hamlets, Leicester, Swansea and Bristol are among those that have passed resolutions in support of BDS or condemning companies involved in illegal Israeli settlements.
The potentially far-reaching limits to council powers regarding investments and procurement have been criticised by Amnesty International, elected councillors, local government experts and the Labour Party.
A coalition of campaign groups – including climate campaigners who are working with local councils that have divested from fossil fuel companies – are campaigning against the moves to restrict the ability of local councils to make ethical investment decisions.
Campaigners have cast doubt on the idea that the new rules could impact student unions, which are registered charities and not bound by the same legal frameworks as local councils and universities.
In addition to ministers hindering the work of public bodies in support of Palestine, the government’s Prevent Framework appears to have identified legitimate discussions of Palestine as a marker of potential “extremism” and a schoolboy has been questioned by anti-terrorism police because he wore a “Free Palestine” badge to school.
“This assault on basic free speech and local democracy comes in the context of major ideological public spending cuts and government attacks on the Muslim community, trade unions and the right to protest.”
“We stand in support of all groups and communities bearing the brunt of the conservative government’s neoliberal agenda and it’s all out attacks on democracy and basic rights.”