UK 'anti-boycott' bill undermines commitment to peace, says Palestinian envoy

The long-expected bill could provide 'a cloak of impunity' to Israeli settlements, described as illegal by the UN.

Opponents of the bill march in protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London. Photo: PA
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A Palestinian diplomat has cautioned against a new bill outlawing boycotts against Israeli goods, saying it undermined the UK’s commitment to supporting peace and a two-state solution.

The long-expected bill, which is being tabled today by Communities Secretary Michael Gove, would prevent local councils and other public bodies from adopting boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) policies against foreign states.

It has been described by critics as the “anti-boycott” bill, as it is believed to be specifically targeting councils engaged in the BDS movement against Israeli goods.

Mr Gove told The Telegraph that boycotts of Israeli goods had led to “appalling anti-Semitic rhetoric and abuse” and accused councils sympathetic to the BDS movement of “undermining” UK foreign policy. “That is why we have taken this decisive action to stop these disruptive policies once and for all,” he said.

“My message to these organisations is to get on with your job and focus on delivering for the public.”

The Palestinian Mission to the UK’s Ambassador Husam Zomlot said the bill “encourages more violations of international law” and reminded the UK of its “historic responsibility” towards the Palestinian people.

“By providing a cloak of impunity, this bill encourages more violations of international law, including the acquisition of territory by force, the moving of civilian settler populations to occupied territory – a war crime – or land confiscations and home demolitions,” he said.

“We are deeply concerned that this has broader implications for Britain’s supposed commitment to the global rule-of-law-based order. We view the proposed legislation as yet another sign that the UK is abdicating its historic responsibility for and direct role in creating the plight of the Palestinian people,” he added.

The Palestinian Mission to the UK said the bill’s specific mention of the Occupied Palestinian Territory risked erasing the distinction between Israeli-occupied territory and Israel.

The bill was first promised in the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto, after local councils backed the BDS movement.

The Queen’s Speech in 2022 said that a proposed bill would “prevent public bodies engaging in boycotts that undermine community cohesion undermine community cohesion.”

Yet the Union of Jewish Students, which is critical of the BDS movement, condemned the proposed regulation in February, describing it as “a risk to British Jewish communities and a setback to Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Updated: June 20, 2023, 5:50 AM