Michael Gove to introduce anti-BDS Bill to parliament

The communities secretary said the anti-Israel movement leads to ‘appalling’ antisemitism


Michael Gove has said that “disruptive” campaigns to boycott Israel lead to “appalling” antisemitic rhetoric and abuse.

The levelling up, housing and communities secretary is set to unveil legislation on Monday that will block local councils from divesting from the Jewish state.

The bill will prevent public bodies from boycotting any foreign government or territory.

Any offenders would face “significant” fines, while ministers will be given powers to launch investigations into suspected breaches of the ban.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is an international campaign that calls for organisations and individuals to pressure Israel by cutting off its economic and cultural ties to the rest of the world.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Gove - who will introduce the legislation to parliament - said: “It is simply wrong that public bodies have been wasting taxpayers’ time and money pursuing their own foreign policy agenda. 

“The UK must have a consistent approach to foreign policy, set by [the] UK Government. These campaigns not only undermine the UK’s foreign policy but lead to appalling antisemitic rhetoric and abuse. 

“That is why we have taken this decisive action to stop these disruptive policies once and for all. My message to these organisations is to get on with your job and focus on delivering for the public.”

At an event held this week by the Israeli embassy to celebrate the Jewish state’s 75th anniversary, trade secretary Kemi Badenoch also emphasised the government’s commitment to the Bill. 

“This government will ban public bodies from pursuing boycott, divestment and sanctions activities,” she said. 

“We will ban those activities, including at universities and local authorities.”

The BDS policy was announced by a 2019 Conservative Party manifesto commitment to prevent local authorities from "adopting their own approach to international relations".

Leicester, Swansea and Gwynedd councils have all previously passed motions to boycott produce from “illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, until such time as Israel complies with international law and withdraws from Palestinian-occupied territories”.

In February of last year, then communities minister Robert Jenrick said: “You don’t have to look very hard to find a pattern of antisemitic behaviour in connection with campaigns promoting a boycott of Israel. 

“Successive studies have shown the single best statistical predictor of anti-Jewish hostility is the amount of BDS activity.”

The chief rabbi has previously spoken out against BDS, stating that it does not "in any way advance the cause of peace".

A Board of Deputies spokesman said: "We are pleased to support the Government's endeavours in the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters Bill) which will directly hinder the unnecessary and inappropriate targeting of Israel by local authorities and other public institutions. 

“We appreciate how the Government is working to prevent these organisations from setting their own foreign policy, which all too often creates a deeply divisive local situation as well as being deeply unsettling to local Jewish communities.“

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