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Government's plan to battle Israel boycott set to be launched

    Cabinet Minister Matt Hancock (Photo: GOVUK)
    Cabinet Minister Matt Hancock (Photo: GOVUK)

    A senior minister is due to announce more details this week of the government’s intention to stop local authorities boycotting Israeli goods.

    Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock is expected to visit Israel to issue guidance which will be applied to councils, NHS trusts, universities and other British public bodies.

    The new legislation would make it easier for the government to legally challenge organisations which boycott Israel.

    The Board of Deputies welcomed the move. President Jonathan Arkush said: "We welcome the announcement that legislative steps are to be taken against boycotts of Israel.

    "Boycotts are objectionable, counter-productive and divisive on every level."

    A spokesman for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attacked the plan, calling it "an attack on local democracy".

    “People have the right to elect local representatives able to make decisions free of central government political control. That includes withdrawal of investments or procurement on ethical and human rights grounds," the spokesman said.

    "This government’s ban would have outlawed council action against apartheid South Africa. Ministers talk about devolution, but in practice they’re imposing Conservative Party policies on elected local councils across the board."

    Conservative Friends of Israel chairman Sir Eric Pickles said: "The Labour Party wants councils to pursue their own militant foreign policies at the expense of Britain’s economic and national security.

    "By defending these divisive town hall boycotts, they are not only risking damage to Britain’s international relations, but weakening integration here at home and fuelling antisemitism.

    "Counter-productive local foreign policies that promote hate have no place in British politics."

    The plans were first announced last October ahead of the Conservatives’ annual conference.

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

    The Tories are aiming to stop councils running divesting campaigns against UK defence companies and Israeli interests.

    Ministers were said to be concerned about the actions of some Labour-led authorities which were threatening to “poison community relations and harm Britain’s economic and international interests”.

    With Parliament in recess, a number of high-profile ministers and shadow ministers are expected to visit Israel this week.

    There will also be delegations led by Conservative Friends of Israel, and what is thought to be the first ever group of cross-party Lords on such a visit – as revealed by the JC last month .

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