London Mayor's West Bank Meetings Fall Apart Over anti-BDS Comments

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Mayor of London Boris Johnson, seen from his right side, touching the Western Wall with his right hand, November 11, 2015.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson touching the Western Wall, November 11, 2015.Credit: AP

Palestinians canceled a number of appointments with London Mayor Boris Johnson in protest over pro-Israel marks he has made during his visit to Israel, according to the British press.

Social media has picked up and spread Johnson's verbal attacks on the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, leading to security concerns, the Guardian reported.

Johnson, on a trade mission to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to bolster economic ties with both sides, called the movement "completely crazy."

"Why would you – of all the countries in the region – why would you boycott the one which is actually a functioning democracy and a pluralist, open society and all the rest of it?” the mayor, on a three-day trade mission to Israel and the Palestinian territories, said to reporters during his visit, the alphr website reported. “I think the movement for a boycott is not very well supported. A few lefty academics probably." 

A Palestinian youth group called the Sharek Youth Forum rescinded its invitation to Johnson, asserting that his remarks about the BDS movement were “inaccurate, misinformed and disrespectful,” according to the Guardian. The forum also accused him of "failing to acknowledge our very existence as Palestinians.”

Other canceled visits include a meeting with the Palestine Women’s Business Forum and an affordable housing event, although he is still set to meet Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

The forum created a row earlier in the day after it barred one of the reporters covering the mayor's visit from attending the planned meeting in Ramallah before it was canceled because she is Israeli, ITV reported.

Noga Tarnopolsky, who was writing about Johnson's trip for the London-based Jewish Chronicle, was told she was not welcome, according to ITV.

"Forget the lies about it targeting institutions rather than people, commented Stephen Pollard, editor of the Chronicle. "As this outrageous ban on a journalist for no reason other than her nationality shows, it is about singling out individual Israelis and telling them that they are banned as people."

Johnson responded to the cancelations by saying that his comments had been “very much whipped up” on social media, the Guardian reported. While pleased to be back in the West Bank, he observed: “It seems as though there’s some anxiety about some meetings – they’re worried about some of the safety aspects. There’s some stuff going on on social media apparently, so rather depressingly we can’t do the youth forum and one other meeting.”

The mayor of London protested that he had been misunderstood, and asserted that the cancelations were made by organizers in light of security concerns expressed by Prime Minister Hamdallah.

 “I think that some people have obviously taken remarks I made about the boycott – which is, after all, British government policy – they’ve taken offense of that and that’s been very much whipped up on social media," he said. "So we had a message from the office of the prime minister that the security with us was going to be perhaps at risk and so we’ve had to think about those meetings.”

He added, “If it’s true people are making threats or whatever, that’s very sad.”

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