Supporters of UK anti-boycott bill 'encouraging anti-Semitism', Conservative MP says

Supporters of UK anti-boycott bill 'encouraging anti-Semitism', Conservative MP says
The values of the UK government's anti-boycott bill are 'very, very un-Conservative', Tory MP Crispin Blunt has said.
4 min read
19 July, 2023
Crispin Blunt is one of two Conservative MPs to recently vote against advancing the UK government's anti-boycott bill [Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency/Getty-archive]

Supporters of the UK government's controversial anti-boycott bill are encouraging anti-Semitism, a Conservative lawmaker has warned.

If passed, the bill would stop public bodies like councils from implementing their own economic campaigns targeting foreign countries and territories, with the aim of thwarting the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in particular.

Crispin Blunt, the Tory MP for Reigate in England, said the bill's values were "very, very un-Conservative".

"The party I belong to doesn't legislate to give unique protection to a state that's in prolonged breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and making the position worse rather than better," he told The New Arab, referring to an international treaty that protects civilians in occupied territory.

The anti-boycott bill, officially named the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, contains a provision that explicitly mentions Israel, the occupied Palestinian territory and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The measure, which would not apply to any other location, would make it more difficult for future exemptions to be made allowing for campaigns targeting Israel.

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'Encouraging anti-Semitism'

Blunt also responded to a suggestion made during a recent debate by Communities Secretary and fellow Conservative Michael Gove that MPs not backing his bill weren't standing against anti-Semitism.

"If you support the bill, you are encouraging anti-Semitism," said Blunt, one of two MPs from his party to vote against advancing the proposed legislation following the debate.

Emily Hilton, UK director of Diaspora Alliance, a group that combats anti-Semitism, also raised concerns about the potential impact on the Jewish community.

"You do not fight anti-Semitism by oppressing Palestinians," she said.

"When you put out so many statements that say that this is about fighting anti-Semitism, you're suggesting that fighting anti-Semitism is dependent on the oppression of another group of people, which I think will breed… hostility against Jewish people for sure, because that's conflating Jews with Israel."

Hilton said conflating Israel and Jews around the world is problematic because it suggests Jewish people are responsible for what happens in the Middle Eastern state, despite this having nothing to do with the community in the UK.

"It's like an anti-Semitic idea that we are responsible or inherently may be more loyal to Israel than to where we live," she added.

However, Gove recently said the BDS movement "leads directly… to anti-Semitic incidents".

"We have seen an increase in anti-Semitic events following on from the activities of the BDS movement, including supermarkets removing kosher products from their shelves following specific protests," he added.

The New Arab has contacted the movement's leadership, the Palestinian BDS National Committee, for comment.

'Draconian bill'

The anti-boycott bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons earlier this month. It is not yet law.

The bill and its contents have been criticised by civil society organisations and leaders including Muslim Association of Britain chair Raghad Altikriti.

"The anti-boycott bill is a draconian bill that seeks to restrict our democratic freedoms and [is] a desperate attempt to avoid accountability," she said.

"The bill is a win for regimes committing human rights abuses, unfazed by international law, like Israel, China, Russia and others."

Communities Secretary Gove previously defended his proposals during the recent second reading debate.

"There is absolutely nothing in the bill that prevents the UK government or other public bodies from taking appropriate action against Myanmar, against China over the treatment of the Uyghurs or against Russia and Belarus over their aggression towards Ukraine," he said.

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But the bill may have the potential to harm the Tory party's prospects among some segments of society.

Blunt, the MP who spoke with The New Arab, said the "unfairness" in the proposed legislation is "not going to help the Conservative Party appeal to the British Arab community".

In response to a request for comment, a government spokesperson said the bill will ensure that actions taken by public bodies follow the government's foreign policy rather than "pursuing their own foreign policy agenda".

"The ban on boycotts does not apply to individuals, including publicly elected officials when carrying out private acts that are protected by the Human Rights Act," the spokesperson added.

The New Arab has contacted the Conservative Party for comment.