The UK government on Wednesday announced more details of its restrictions on public bodies regarding ethical procurement. According to BDS Movement, Palestinian boycott campaigners say the documents amount to an attempt to intimidate councils and universities but do not appear to introduce new legal obligations on public bodies.
Riya Hassan, Europe Campaigns Officer with the Palestinian BDS National Committee said: “We’re seeking further legal advice but it appears that it remains perfectly legal for councils and universities to take ethical stances that reflect the views of their communities and exclude companies that violate human rights from tender exercises.”
“The tone and language in the documents published by the government is intended as a gift to Israel and is clearly designed to intimidate councils into falsely thinking that they are no longer allowed to exclude companies that violate human rights from tender exercises, making this a particularly underhand attack on local democracy.”
Hassan added “This is the most pro-Israel UK government in a generation and this government is going further than the Margaret Thatcher ever went to defend South African apartheid.”
Caroline Day, Tower Hamlets PSC said: "They have deliberately misled everyone. They are relying on existing regulations that state councils cannot exclude companies based on their country of origin or where they carry out business activity, yet we focused on excluding companies such as G4S who were committing violations of international law connected with illegal settlement activity."
According to the Cabinet Office press release, the government’s reasoning for the new guidance is: “Town hall boycotts undermine good community relations, poisoning and polarizing the debate, weakening integration and fueling anti-Semitism, as well as hinder Britain’s export trade and harm international relationships and security.”
With this false and misleading rhetoric, the Conservative government are taking a very clear side with the oppressive policies of Israel and ignoring its responsibilities to act in accordance with international law and human rights. Clearly placing trade and a “good” relationship with Israel above human lives, and peace and justice in the region, yet again.
In addition, the new guidlines contradict the governments already existant advice on business with the Occupied Territories. The Foreign Office’s Overseas Business Risk guidelines for Israel state " “Financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements as well as other economic activities in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements, entail legal and economic risks stemming from the fact that the Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory.” This clearly highlights a contradiction in the governments position.
This is an attack on arguably the most effective movement activists use as a non violent means to oppose Israel’s continued occupation, crimes against the Palestinian people and violations of international law. The reasons behind the attack on BDS are clear- BDS is working and Israel has been taking a series of actions to counter the movement.
The authors of a UN report said that BDS was a key factor behind the 46% drop in foreign direct investment in Israel in 2014. The Israeli government and the Rand Corporation both published reports predicting that BDS will cost Israel billions of dollars. In 2015, French corporate giant Veolia sold off all of its businesses in Israel as a direct result of a 7-year BDS campaign against its role in infrastructure projects for illegal Israeli settlements that cost it more than $20 billion in lost tenders and contracts. French multinational Orange and Ireland’s biggest company CRH are among the other major companies to exit the Israeli market following high profile campaigns against their links to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.
According to War on Want, these guidelines are the latest in a sustained government assault on democratic rights and freedoms following the Lobbying Act, Trade Union Bill, Prevent and others. Ryvka Barnard from War on Want said:
“The real threat in what the government is planning is in regards to local authority pension investments. Their new plan (still under consultation for one more day) gives the central government power to veto decisions made by democratically elected local councils. That means if a local council votes to divest from fossil fuels, the arms trade or companies complicit on Israel's illegal occupation, the central government could override the decision.”
More than 15,000 people have written to the government urging it not to give central government veto power over local council investment decisions as part of a campaign organised by a coalition of climate, anti-arms trade and Palestine campaigners. For more info on the War on Want Protect Local Democracy campaign and Q&A on the changes, click here.
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