MP, activists slam exclusion of Palestinians from UK anti-boycott bill hearing

MP, activists slam exclusion of Palestinians from UK anti-boycott bill hearing
British lawmakers and Palestinian advocacy groups have criticised a decision by a parliamentary committee not to listen to Palestinian witnesses over the controversial anti-boycott bill.
3 min read
14 September, 2023
The anti-boycott bill is currently at the committee stage in the parliament’s House of Commons [Getty]

A British lawmaker has voiced regret that no Palestinians were called to give oral evidence to a parliamentary committee examining a controversial anti-Israel boycott bill.

Labour MP Kim Leadbeater said only written evidence against the bill was sent to the committee by organisations.

"If we take notice of only one objection that they raised, although that would be a mistake because they raised a number of really valuable points, it should be this: the Bill should not treat Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the occupied Golan Heights on an equal basis," Leadbeater said in comments made during a Tuesday debate.

The lawmaker questioned London’s seriousness in finding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis by not calling Palestinians to give verbal evidence to the committee.

"The exclusion raises serious questions about the UK’s commitment to a just two-state solution and its alignment with established international law principles governing the status of the territories, which—as noted in international law, norms and consensus—are illegally occupied territories," she said.

The proposed law, officially called the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, seeks to prevent local councils and other public bodies from engaging in the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

The cross-party committee of MPs heard oral evidence from lawyers, human rights organisations, Jewish community bodies, and pro-Israel groups on Tuesday and Thursday – without one Palestinian witness present.

Scotting National Party MP Chris Stephens said it was unfortunate that no evidence was given by a Palestinian support group but ruled out deviousness.

"I do not believe there was a conspiracy on that. I think it was perhaps more cock-up than conspiracy, but I hope it is something we will all learn from. We should have all views heard, and we might all want to take that point away and reflect on it," he said at the committee.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has urged the committee to reverse its exclusion of Palestinian voices.

In a press release on Thursday, the PSC said that it, along with 23 other civil society organisations, "has made a formal submission to the committee asking them to listen to those who are most directly targeted by the anti-boycott bill—Palestinians and the solidarity movement responding to their call for BDS."

"They condemn the exclusion of Palestinian voices and BDS groups from giving evidence to the committee, despite much of the debate around the bill being focussed on the use of boycotts as a method of international solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice," the PSC said.

"The committee still has time to rectify this extraordinary omission and the statement from the civil society groups has been accompanied by a write-in campaign to individual MPs on the committee to demand Palestinian witnesses and BDS groups are called," it added.

It revealed that 3,000 members of the public have written to the MPs so far.

The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians also slammed the exclusion of Palestinians.

"It is totally unacceptable that the committee stage for the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill [otherwise known as the Anti-Boycott Bill] has excluded Palestinian individuals and organisations from providing oral evidence," the ICJP said in a statement.

"Proper and all-encompassing scrutiny would require addressing anti-Palestinian racism, which is glaringly lacking," it added.

It warned that the failure to invite Palestinian organisations to give evidence was a "dangerous and discriminatory decision."

The anti-boycott bill is currently at the committee stage in the parliament’s House of Commons. It will then proceed to the report stage and crucial third reading vote.

After clearing the UK parliament's lower house, it will need to pass the House of Lords before it can become law.