Government acts to stop local councils boycotting Israel

By Marcus Dysch, October 3, 2015
Communities and Local Government Secretary Greg Clark

Communities and Local Government Secretary Greg Clark

The government has announced plans to amend legislation in order to stop local councils launching politically-motivated boycotts of Israel.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Greg Clark said the move would be a challenge to “the politics of division”.

It will aim to stop councils running divesting campaigns against UK defence companies and Israeli interests.

The Conservatives said ministers had taken note of concerns about the actions of some Labour-led authorities which were threatening to “poison community relations and harm Britain’s economic and international interests”.

Details of the new measures were announced today, ahead of the Tories’ annual conference in Manchester which opens on Sunday.

The party said it was acting after listening to faith leaders who were worried about policies which fuel antisemitism.

It cited the case of kosher food being removed from supermarket shelves during last year’s Gaza conflict and the controversy over the Tricycle Theatre’s call for the UK Jewish Film Festival to return funding from the Israeli embassy.

A Conservative spokesman said: “Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, alongside Labour-affiliated trade unions, are urging councils to use their procurement and pension policies to punish both Israel and the UK defence industry.

“Hard-left campaigns against British defence companies threaten to harm Britain’s £10 billion export trade, destroying British jobs, and hinder joint working with Israel to protect Britain from foreign cyber-attacks and terrorism.”

The government intends to amend legislation to stop the use of pension and procurement policies for the pursuit of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Mr Clark said: “Divisive policies undermine good community relations, and harm the economic security of families by pushing up council tax.

“We need to challenge and prevent the politics of division. Conservatives will provide the stable, competent and sensible government that working people want to see.”

Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock said: “Conservatives are on the common ground. We will take steps to stop such outdated policies being pursued through procurement and pension policies.

“We will safeguard the security of families at home and prevent such playground politics undermining our international security.”

In the past year, Leicester City Council has adopted an Israel boycott policy, and the authority in Nottingham discussed a similar motion.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said ahead of his election that he would support a boycott of Israeli settlement goods. During the Gaza conflict, Labour MP Shabana Mahmood took part in a protest against Israeli goods which temporarily closed a supermarket in her constituency.

Conservative Friends of Israel chairman Sir Eric Pickles MP said: "This move is very welcome. The attempt by the irresponsible left to demonise Israel is bad for British business, bad for the local taxpayer, and deeply damaging to community relations.

"It encourages antisemitism and strives to make a municipal foreign policy contrary to the interests of the UK.

“The boycotts also fail to understand the close integration between our two economies in medicine, biotech and high-tech software. One in six generic prescription drugs used in the NHS come from Israel.

“In the battle against cyber-terrorism Israel is a vital partner. Cooperation with Israel makes Britain a safer place."

Last updated: 9:37am, October 7 2015