Jewish Human Rights Watch loses appeal against Leciester City Council's anti-Israel motion

The council passed a resolution four years ago to boycott goods from 'illegal Israeli settlements' in the West Bank


A human rights group has losts its appeal against a council over a motion to boycott goods from the West Bank.

Campaign group Jewish Human Rights Watch tried to convince the Court of Appeal that the Leicester City Council’s anti-Israel motion discriminated against the Jewish community.

But on Tuesday, judges ruled that the councillors who voted on the resolution to boycott Israel showed regard for the Jewish community by tabling an amendment that highlighted the importance of good community relationships.

Leicester City Council passed the resolution four years ago calling on it to boycott goods from “illegal Israeli settlements” in the West Bank.

The High Court rejected an earlier JHRW’s case for a judicial review in 2016 but the group mounted a fresh effort at the one-day hearing at the Court of Appeal last week.

JHRW insisted the court’s ruling also meant that “in future councils will not be able to hide behind the unpleasant excuse that because a motion is non-binding that there is no need to consider its statutory equality duty to work to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation."

Robert Palmer, counsel for JHRW, told the court that the council failed to adhere to its public sector equality duty (PSED) to consider the impact of any boycott on the Jewish community.

JHRW argued the motion was “wholly alienating” for many Jews.

It said that the resolution came after of the conflict in Gaza that summer, which had led to a “marked increase” in antisemitic incidents in the UK.

It said that the council should have taken into account that the announcement of a boycott would have a “damaging effect on integration and community cohesion”.

But the Court of Appeal ruled the resolution “referred in substance to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation in relation to any community and to the need to foster good relations between persons from different faith and ethnic groups.

“Councillors voting on the resolution clearly did have regard to those matters.”

The council's barrister argued in court that in some contexts it should be permissible to have no regard to the matters set out in PSED because of infringement of rights of political free speech.

However the court rejected this argument.

It ruled that in the context of Leicester Council, “councillors were rightly well aware that adoption of the resolution might have an impact on community relations, so they were not entitled to leave the PSED out of account.”

JHRW called this part of the ruling concerning.

It said: “The argument that Leicester Council showed appropriate regard for all minorities just because the councilor bringing the resolution tabled an amendment that highlighted the importance of good community relationships is worrying.

“It allows people to think that discriminatory behaviour or resolutions are acceptable, as long as they pay lip service to the importance of equality and harmony in the community.”

The fact the court rejected the council's argument on the grounds of free speech meant it was "clear that councillors now have to fully understand the duty on the Council before making statements in any future debate,” said JHRW.

The government has taken steps to counter local boycotts over the past two years, making clear to councils they could not divest pension fund money, for example, for political reasons unless it was in line with government policy.

Last month, the Court of Appeal upheld the government’s right to introduce such restrictions following a legal challenge from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

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