Conservatives vow to outlaw Israel boycotts ‘by end of the year’

Sources close to Michael Gove reveal that legislation is expected to be approved with no ‘fundamental changes’


The Government is planning to push through proposed legislation to outlaw boycotts of Israel without any “fundamental changes” before the end of the year, the JC has learned.

A source close to the Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove, who introduced the bill in the Commons in June, said that he was prepared to “listen and engage with critics” of the bill as its current, committee stage continues.

But he added that he was “not proposing to make any fundamental changes”, such as removing a clause that would ban boycotts of Israel in perpetuity, although boycotts of other countries could be allowed if they were found to be engaged in slavery or devastating the environment.

Speaking to the JC at the Conservative conference in Manchester this week, other friends of Gove said he hoped the bill would be become law by the end of this year.

Gove singled out the bill in a list of government achievements in the speech he gave to the Tory conference in Manchester on Tuesday.

He said: “I am blessed to have a superb team of ministers and officials alongside me” who were “tackling antisemitism with our bill to end the stigmatisation of the world’s only Jewish state by the far left.”

The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill would prohibit spending and investment decisions by publicly funded bodies such as local authorities taken on the basis of political boycott campaigns.

It fulfils a 2019 manifesto pledge to outlaw support for the Boycott, Sanctions, Divestment (BDS) movement, whose leadership includes senior figures in Palestinian terror groups. Its co-founder Omar Barghouti has made clear that its ultimate goal is the destruction of the state of Israel.

Labour sources have indicated that the party is likely to oppose the bill in its current form.

When its committee stage began last month, Britain’s two main Jewish organisations, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, told MPs they strongly supported it, a fact that sources close to Gove described as “highly significant”.

However, the left-wing Yachad group claimed it amounted to an attack on free speech, which would encourage, rather than dampen, antisemitism. A government source responded: “We don’t think the bill limits free speech.”

The Manchester conference, which may be the last major Tory gathering before the next general election, was marked by several statements of support from ministers for both Israel and Britain’s Jewish community.

Addressing a packed evening reception attended by many hundreds of conference delegates and organised by Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) on Monday, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly spoke warmly of his recent visit to the Jewish state, where he attended a Shabbat dinner at the home of Israel’s UK ambassador Tzipi Hotovely.

“I had the privilege of joining her and her family at dinner, a Friday night dinner, and it was genuinely one of the most moving experiences that I can remember,” Cleverly said.

“This room is packed full of Conservative friends of Israel and it is wonderful,” he went on. “The fact that this is the hot ticket every year at the conference shows clearly, visibly, unambiguously, that the Conservative party was, is and will always be a staunch friend of Israel.”

He went on to attack the smear that Israel is an “apartheid state”, describing how he heard the Muslim call to prayer on the beach at Tel Aviv at sunset. “[I sat] looking at Arab Israelis, and just next to them, bikini-clad Israelis,” he said, who were co-existing “in perfect peace and harmony”.

Israel was a Jewish state, but one where Christians, Muslims and others also thrived, the Foreign Secretary said.

Britain, he went on, wanted to “share, enhance and develop technology that keeps Israel safe”, such as the Iron Dome anti-missile system. “This is one of our standout bilateral relationships because… Israel’s security is our security,” he said.

“You should know and Israel should know that our support for Israel’s security will always be unwavering.”

In his speech, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, who is Jewish, said: “We understand that Israel always has and always will have the right to defend itself from terrorism from extremism.

“I am acutely aware that I am the most senior Jewish member in the Cabinet and I am enormously proud to tell you this one simple fact… in all of my years in the Conservative party, not once have I experienced antisemitism.”

Also among the speakers was Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt, who railed against “conspiracy theories and misinformation directed towards Israel and the Jewish community”.

She told the 500-strong audience: “We need to get much more sophisticated on how we combat those lies.”

Among other ministers and MPs who addressed the meeting was Health Secretary Steve Barclay.

He said: “The partnership with Israel is one that runs across Cabinet and across the Government as a whole, and when I look at my sector, the life sciences sector, is key to our partnership with Israel… One in seven medicines that we use in our NHS are from Israel.”

A number of fringe events at the conference concerned the Jewish community. The Holocaust Educational Trust convened a packed meeting at the Midland Hotel, where its Chief Executive, Karen Pollock, introduced Shoah survivor Hannah Lewis.

Standing for the duration of her speech despite her 87 years, Mrs Lewis recounted the moving story of the arrival of the Nazis in her home town in eastern Poland, and held her audience spellbound as she described trying to hide from them in a barn, then being detained.

As a young child, she witnessed her mother being shot in front of her. The only members of her large and prosperous extended family to survive were Hannah and her father.

“I remember the day I lost my mother as if it were yesterday”, she said.

JC editor Jake Wallis Simons appeared on a CfI panel alongside former Jerusalem Post editor Yaakov Katz to discuss “Israel at 75”. It was chaired by former defence secretary Liam Fox, who reiterated his call to proscribe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation, a demand supported by the JC.

Asked about this at a Conservative Home question-and-answer session, Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said that although the IRGC had not yet been blacklisted, anyone supporting it in Britain would face severe penalties.

“If you associate with the IRGC, if you side with any of its agents, we will come after you,” he warned.

Tugendhat also reminded his audience that organised criminal gangs with no ideological link to the Iranian regime have been acting as IRGC “mercenaries”, and have carried out surveillance of prominent British Jews, while MI5 has thwarted at least 15 recent Iranian assassination plots.

However, politicians attending the conference suggested that there was no immediate prospect that proscription of the IRGC will take place, due mainly to opposition from the Foreign Office.

Another fringe meeting held by the Board of Deputies discussed whether the sale of Nazi memorabilia should be banned. JC columnist Daniel Finkelstein said that it was a matter that had to be addressed.

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