Council unites to block Israel boycott group

By Marcus Dysch, November 29, 2012

Anti-Israel activists were stopped from voicing objections about a company’s links to Israel during a local council meeting after the three main political parties united to block the delegation.

Campaigners wanted to speak against Veolia’s attempts to secure a contract to manage water and fuel services for the North London Waste Authority because of the company’s involvement in the Jerusalem light railway project and in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The activists followed Hackney Council’s procedures on hearing deputations, but councillors unanimously voted to veto their plans to speak because the complaints related to “an international political issue”.

Having taken legal advice from the UK Lawyers for Israel group, the councillors based their decision on a belief that boycotts contravene procurement laws.

Pro-Israel supporters had also attended the meeting to support Veolia’s attempt to win the contract.

The authority covers seven boroughs and has named Veolia as one of the shortlisted companies for the contract, which is reportedly worth up to £4 billion over 25 years. The winning bidder is not expected to be named before summer 2013.

Hackney has 49 Labour councillors, five Conservatives and three Liberal Democrats.

Following the meeting, the parties released a joint statement in which councillors said they felt that “to receive the deputation could give the incorrect appearance that we were open to lobbying on procurement issues and would in turn be prepared to lobby an external organisation about its procurement”.

Caroline Day, who led the anti-Veolia group, had planned to tell the authority that she believed the company was guilty of “grave misconduct” and business activities that “violate international law”.

In a blog, she wrote: “I regard this as a clear act of political censorship. I was forced to leave the chamber without having uttered a single word, despite having submitted a delegation that was approved at every level of council procedure.”

A Veolia spokesman said the company had no current plans to work in the Palestinian Territories or to take on further work within Israeli settlements.

- A Holocaust memorial plaque has been stolen, reportedly for a third time, from outside Hackney Town Hall.

Last updated: 10:45pm, November 29 2012