Anti-BDS bill: UK Labour Party 'to challenge Tory-proposed law banning Israel boycott'

Anti-BDS bill: UK Labour Party 'to challenge Tory-proposed law banning Israel boycott'
The UK Labour Party under the leadership of Keir Starmer decides to challenge a bill proposed by Conservative MP aiming to crack down on boycotts and criticism of Israel
3 min read
29 June, 2023
Lisa Nandy said BDS is an obstacle to any 'meaningful route to peace for the Palestinians or for Israel' [Nicola Tree/Getty]

The UK Labour Party will object to aspects of a proposed bill introduced into parliament last week that will clamp down on boycott and criticism of Israel, Lisa Nandy, Labour MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has said.

Nandy told Jewish News in an interview published Wednesday that Labour "was not in the business of supporting bad law" after the party sought legal advice over the bill.

An anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions clause in a bill introduced last Monday bans any boycott or criticism by public bodies of Israel and its conduct in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the illegally annexed Syrian territory of the Golan Heights.

In the interview, Nandy confirmed her support for the anti-BDS nature of the bill, describing the Palestinian movement as an obstacle to any "meaningful route to peace for the Palestinians or for Israel".

She also claimed without evidence that BDS was used to "stir up hatred towards the Jewish community here in the UK".

Under Labour leader Keir Starmer, the centre-left party has moved away from the pro-Palestinian streaks of former leader Jeremy Corbyn, and undertook a controversial campaign to root out 'anti-Semitism' in the ranks of the party. Critics say the term was sometimes used by the new Labour leadership to target crisitm of Israel as well as instances of bigotry against Jews.

Nandy said she had spoken with organisations on the need for legislation preventing BDS, noting that Labour had previously tabled an amendment to the public procurement bill seeking "to prevent councils in particular from singling out Israel for special treatment and standards that wouldn’t apply to others".

Nandy's comments come as claims emerge that a letter sent to members of Labour's more right-wing elements that proposed changes to the bill "would still leave space to crackdown on boycotts against Israel and even settlements".

According to Haaretz senior editor Jonathan Shamir, the letter runs counter to its briefing to the parliamentary party which states that the party "believe[s] it is right that public bodies are able to take ethical decisions".

Under clause 3 section 7 of the proposed law, Israel and the occupied territories would legally be treated in the same way, and the bill would be future-proofed against any exemption allowing public bodies to criticise or boycott Israel and Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

The bill has brought about a coalition under the name 'Right to Boycott' to coordinate efforts to combat the passing of the legislation. The bill has been heavily criticised by rights groups and MPs, who have noted it restricts freedom of speech, and there are fears that it would embolden Israeli settlement expansion. 

The bill, entitled the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, is set to have its second reading on 3 July.

Pro-Palestinian and free speech groups, as well as a number of Conservative MPs have vowed to work to challenge the bill.