Britain Bars Public Tax-supported Bodies From Boycotting Israel

Netanyahu congratulates Britain for 'taking the side of the one and only democracy in the Middle East.'

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Netanyahu and British Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock shaking hands in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu and British Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock in Jerusalem, February 17, 2016.Credit: GPO
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The British government issued guidelines on Wednesday that will prevent local councils and other publicly funded bodies from boycotting goods from Israel or any other country.

According to the guidelines, any boycott decision by a public body in the U.K. must be in line with the foreign policy of the British government.

The new, mandatory instructions, which forbid local boycotts in procurement and the issuing or awarding of tenders, apply to all countries belonging to the World Trade Organization, including Israel.

They were issued on Wednesday afternoon to all bodies and organizations in Britain that sign agreements publish tenders or make purchases using public funds. They apply primarily to government offices and agencies, local councils and other public bodies.

"Public procurement should never be used as a tool to boycott tenders from suppliers based in other countries, except where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the UK Government," according to the new guidelines.

"There are wider national and international consequences from imposing such local level boycotts. They can hinder Britain’s export trade, and harm foreign relations to the detriment of Britain’s economic and international security."

The government stressed in a statement that the guidance "complements" the guidance issued to businesspeople about 18 months ago, in which it cautioned against doing business with settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights or the purchase of real estate in settlements, which, it said, could expose them to legal claims or financial damage.

It also stressed that the new guidelines were "in line with the government’s existing policy of support for clear and transparent labelling of settlement products" sold in British stores.

British Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock, who is currently on a visit to Israel, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and updated him on the new guidelines. Netanyahu said that boycotts against Israel were the result on anti-Semitism.

"I congratulate the government of Britain on its refusal to discriminate against Israel and Israelis," Netanyahu said. "I congratulate you for taking the side of the one and only democracy in the Middle East."

Hancock told the prime minister that sanctions against Israel and other members of the World Trade Organization are misguided and illegal. "We believe that discrimination is unacceptable and has to be opposed," he said.

The British government's new guidelines are aimed primarily at preventing boycotts by local councils or municipalities in response to local pressure. Such boycotts have been imposed by several British cities against Israeli produce and Israeli companies participating in tenders.

That said, the guidelines have also been promoted by Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative government for wider reasons tied to internal political struggles with the country's Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn.

Both Corbyn and his advisers support boycotts of foreign countries – including Israel, due to the occupation, China, for its human rights violations, and Russia, due to its invasion of Ukraine.

Cameron, his government and the Conservative Party are also promoting additional legislation on the issue to prevent the Labour Party from promoting boycotts of foreign countries in local councils in which it has a majority – and thus effectively influencing the government's foreign policy.

The Palestinian Authority reacted to the publication of the new guidelines with anger. Fatah Secretary-General Saeb Erekat stressed that the PA had protested the move in a meeting on Wednesday with Tobias Ellwood, the British Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

"In practical terms this means that such bodies are forbidden from exercising their democratic right and freedom of choice not to be complicit in the Israeli settlement project and from taking a positive, moral and legal stand in the face of such a war crime," Erekat told Ellwodd.

He told Ellwood that the Palestinians wanted the British government to review and cancel the new guidelines. "This represents a serious regression in British policy and it would empower the Israeli occupation," he said.

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