Around 200 European lawyers and academics have said steps by Britain and other countries to discourage support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement may violate fundamental human rights.
According to The Independent newspaper, a recent open letter signed by legal experts from Britain and 14 other European states said the boycott of Israeli companies and goods manufactured in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was “a lawful exercise of freedom of expression.”
“France, the United Kingdom, Canada and certain state legislatures in the US, have adopted laws and taken executive action to suppress, outlaw and in some instances, criminalize the advocacy of BDS,” the letter stated.
“Such measures aim to punish individuals, companies and private and public institutions that adopt ethically and legally responsible business, investment and procurement decisions.”
The letter has also warned that the states that outlaw BDS are undermining freedoms and threatening the credibility of their respect for human rights by exempting a particular country.
Signatories to the letter include Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, chair of the British Institute of Human Rights, Alain Pellet, Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur in France, Guy Goodwin-Gill, a former legal adviser to the UN and Lauri Hannikainen, a member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.
Last February, the British cabinet office issued diktat slamming procurement boycotts by public authorities as “inappropriate,” and threatened to take punitive measures against any authority in Britain boycotting Israel.
In a statement, the cabinet office claimed such boycotts “undermine good community relations, poisoning and polarizing debate, weakening integration and fueling anti-Semitism.”
“Any public body found to be in breach of the regulations could be subject to severe penalties,” it threatened.
Leicester City Council is among those public authorities which have boycotted products produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank with a law passed in 2014.
But it was cleared of anti-Semitism alongside two other councils at the High Court of Justice in England last June after a Jewish charity lodged a complaint.
Anti-boycott measures were signed into the US Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) by Barack Obama last year, while BDS activists have been found guilty of inciting discrimination in France, and the Canadian parliament passed an anti-boycott motion in February.
Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal under international law. The UN high commissioner for human rights recently reiterated serious concern over Israel’s settlement expansion plans.
At least 570,000 Jewish settlers live in around 130 illegal settlements and 100 outposts in the West Bank, according to UN statistics.
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