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Israel boycott restrictions thrown out by UK’s High Court

Asa Winstanley Activism and BDS Beat 22 June 2017

The High Court in London ruled on Thursday that the Conservative government acted unlawfully in trying to prevent local councils in the United Kingdom from divesting from firms involved in Israel’s military occupation.

The successful legal challenge for the right to boycott was brought by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in March, and was supported by War on Want, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and the Quakers.

”We couldn’t be happier that this right has been upheld by the court,” said PSC Director Ben Jamal.

Recent UK polling showed that two in five people consider BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – a reasonable Palestinian response to Israel’s crimes.

“Today is a victory for Palestine, for local democracy and for the rule of law,” PSC Chair Hugh Lanning, said. “Absolutely everyone has a right to peacefully protest Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights.”

In a judicial review published on Thursday, judge Ross Cranston overturned part of a guidance document issued in September by local government minister Sajid Javid.

The court ruled that the government had acted improperly by seeking to use pension law to pursue its own foreign and arms industry policy.

Freedom to protest

Jamie Potter, one of PSC’s lawyers, said, “this outcome is a reminder to the government that it cannot improperly interfere in the exercise of freedom of conscience and protest in order to pursue its own agenda.”

The full ruling can be read below.

The minister’s guidance had stated that local authorities must not use “pension policies to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defense industries … other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the government.”

Although the document did not specifically name Israel, it was part of a series of measures, launched at a press conference in Jerusalem, explicitly intended to target BDS campaigners.

Although the government trailed it to the media as a “BDS ban”, legal analysis of the new documents showed there was nothing new in them “aside from some overblown rhetoric clearly intended to scare campaigners.”

BDS gets the goods

Local government bodies in the UK have for years been urged by Palestine solidarity campaigners to divest from companies that are involved in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

French multinational Veolia withdrew from most Israeli businesses in 2015 after being the focus of a years-long BDS campaign.

Municipalities around the world had dropped it from contracts worth more than $14 billion, according to the BDS National Committee.

Veolia lost contracts with public bodies in London, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Canterbury, East Sussex and Winchester as a result of BDS campaigns.

Councils in Tower Hamlets, Leicester, Swansea and Bristol are among those that have passed resolutions in support of BDS or condemning companies involved in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal under international law.

Irish academics’ union votes to “cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel”

At its annual congress today, an Irish lecturers’ union voted to for a comprehensive academic boycott of Israel, described by activists as the first such move of its kind in Europe.

In a unanimous vote, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland called on members to “cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel, including the exchange of scientists, students and academic personalities, as well as all cooperation in research programs.”

Asa Winstanley submitted on Thu, 04/04/2013:

The motion also called for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to “step up its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the apartheid state of Israel.”

David Landy, sociology lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, welcomed the motion in an Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign press release, explaining: “Undoubtedly apologists for Israeli apartheid will complain that such motions stifle academic freedom, but this is nonsense. The Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel is an institutional boycott, not a boycott of individuals.” And  “We congratulate the TUI and call on all Irish, British and European academic unions to move similar motions.”

As The Electronic Intifada’s David Cronin has written elsewhere, some Irish universities are involved in multi-million-euro European Union “defense” projects that also involve Israel, so the motion could have significant implications.

Perfect timing?

The vote comes at a time when anti-BDS, pro-Israel lobbying groups are still reeling from a major setback in their campaign against academic boycotts of Israel. Only last week, a landmark ruling in a British tribunal comprehensively dismissed a Zionist legal attack on the University and College Union for merely discussing boycotts of Israel.

The fallout of that total defeat was still ongoing today.

The Jewish Chronicle today carried one story calling the case an “act of epic folly,” quoting one pro-Israel lawyer. (Incidentally, the paper’s chairman happens to be Anthony Julius, the high-profile lawyer who took on Ronnie Fraser’s defeated case against the UCU pro bono, which might help explain why its coverage of the case was totally uncritical until it failed.)

UCU activist Sue Blackwell cautiously welcomed to the news, speaking to me on the phone today: “it will be interesting to see what happens, especially in light of the recent Ronnie Fraser ruling. I would be surprised if the Zionist lobby doesn’t try to find an angle of legal attack” against the Irish union too.

Blackwell has been a leading Palestine solidarity activist in her union, so has long experience with such anti-Palestinian “lawfare” campaigns.

She pointed out that the one of the UCU’s predecessor unions, the Association of University Teachers did briefly pass an academic boycott motion in 2005. However, that motion calling for a boycott of two specific Israeli universities was rescinded after enormous pressure. It was part of AUT policy for only two months.

But this new Irish motion is far more comprehensive. It “may be the first [in Europe] to do so explicitly,” Blackwell said.

Full motion

241 . Executive Committee/Dublin Colleges(x4)

TUI demand that ICTU step up its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the apartheid state of Israel until it lifts its illegal siege of Gaza and its illegal occupation of the West Bank, and agrees to abide by International law and all UN Resolutions against it. Congress instructs the Executive Committee to:

(a) Conduct an awareness campaign amongst TUI members on the need for BDS

(b) Request all members to cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel, including the exchange of scientists, students and academic personalities, as well as all cooperation in research programs. (ENDS)

Update

RTE Radio 1’s program Drivetime yesterday spoke to Landy on the boycott decision: you can listen back to the short segment on their website, and it’s well worth doing so (click Listen and then skip to time code 2:13:50).


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