Boris Johnson’s BDS bill

JVL Introduction

Douglas Gerrard in The Independent follows Boris Johnson’s attack on the BDS movement, promising to make it illegal for public bodies (universities, local authorities and more) to engage in boycott activities of Israel.

It follows extensive interventions of this kind in the US and elsewhere, slandering BDS activists as antisemitic and more.

Not simply an assault on free speech, Gerrard argues, Johnson’s anti-BDS law effectively bolsters the occupation with international legitimacy as well as financial support.

“It’s now brutally clear,” he says “that the Trump administration is following a post-two-state strategy, of which anti-BDS laws are a central part.” Johnson and the Tories are following in his wake.

Plus a short video on what the BDS movement is actually about.

This article was originally published by The Independent on Fri 3 Jan 2020. Read the original here.

Boris Johnson's BDS bill brings Britain closer to America and Israel further from peace

Johnson is following Trump in kowtowing to an aggressively expansionist Israeli regime

One of the more surprising elements of last month’s the Queen’s speech was the announcement of a new law essentially criminalising the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Despite mentioning neither Israel nor BDS by name, the wording of the speech made clear the target of proposed legislation. Under threat of prosecution, public bodies like universities and local councils will be prohibited from “imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries.”

The proposed law signals Boris Johnson hitching his foreign policy to America’s, which under Trump is increasingly hostile to BDS. This was evidenced a few weeks ago, when Trump signed an executive order officially labelling Jews an ethnic minority (rather than an exclusively religious one). The order, putatively aimed at combatting antisemitism, is, in reality, a weapon with which to fight BDS on college campuses, by designating boycotts a form of racial discrimination.

This is the culmination of a long-brewing storm: laws punishing BDS are now on the books in over two dozen US states, and a federal bill, which would allow states to force businesses to sign pledges forswearing the movement, is currently lying dormant in the Senate.

The debate around anti-BDS laws is commonly had on the level of freedom of expression. Opponents of such laws argue that they constitute censorship. The laws’ supporters counter that (usually) only public bodies are prohibited from supporting boycotts; private individuals are free to do so.

Yet such debates often preclude a deeper consideration of the rightness or wrongness of BDS itself. What is the principled justification for an anti-BDS law? The government’s line, as reiterated by Eric Pickles, special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, is that BDS should be prohibited on anti-racist grounds. “BDS is just a thin disguise for anti-Semitism,” he remarked at a recent conference in Jerusalem. “[It is] one of the worst wink wink, nudge nudge, pieces of racialism that we know.”

The implicit argument is not just that BDS covers for antisemites under the guise of Palestinian solidarity. It’s that BDS is inherently antisemitic because, rather than limiting its scope to the occupied territories, it makes the whole of Israel its target (it’s for this reason that liberal Zionists who oppose BDS will often favour boycotting only goods produced in Israeli settlements). In so doing, goes the argument, BDS rejects Jewish self-determination as such, rather than insofar as it impinges upon that of Palestinians.

The anti-racist case against BDS appears to make sense. But upon contact with reality, it crumbles. “Israel good, occupation bad” isn’t a useful maxim, because there’s no longer a clear way of distinguishing Israeli settlements from the Israeli state.

The Green Line – the border dividing Israel and the West Bank – was always somewhat blurred, but it is increasingly so, both by law as well as by facts on the ground. For instance, one recently-ratified Israeli law prohibits companies from refusing to sell their services in the occupied territories, rendering the distinction between Israeli and settlement-produced goods largely meaningless. Another law transfers control of higher education in the West Bank from a special council to the Israeli government, meaning that a law banning academic boycott in the UK could in effect force British universities to associate with those in the occupied territories.

Laws like this are not aberrations: they reflect the inextricable entanglement of the Israeli state with the settlement project. There is a one-state reality in Israel-Palestine, where a single government rules over roughly seven million Jewish citizens and five million disenfranchised Arabs.

Johnson’s anti-BDS law effectively endorses this reality, bolstering the occupation with international legitimacy as well as financial support. As for where this all might lead, we can look again to the US, where a Texan speech pathologist recently lost her job after refusing to sign an anti-BDS pledge.

It’s now brutally clear that the Trump administration is following a post-two-state strategy, of which anti-BDS laws are a central part. Where American support for Israel was once at least nominally conditional on the peace process, Trump’s presidency has given Netanyahu – and his allies to the right – free reign in the occupied territories, green-lighting the impending annexation of parts of the West Bank. By placing us in alignment with America, this new law presages a similar future for the UK’s Israel-Palestine policy. Perhaps we will soon see our own embassy moved to Jerusalem or UK recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights. The Conservatives might even ape the Republican Party by ceasing to mention a Palestinian state at all.

The prospects of a future Palestinian state are already dismal. If this new law is any indication, Johnson’s Conservatives may do it irreparable damage.

Watch Boris Johnson and Donald Trump’s Anti-BDS War on News 24 10 days ago

Comments (6)

  • Gerry Glyde says:

    Just think if the likes of some of the Labour Right and the Jewish Labour Movement had not spent the last four years campaigning against the party majority and spreading the myth of a ‘crisis’ of antisemitism we might not be in this position. We could soon be in a situation where even the discussion of the issue would be illegal at the same time as the govt is supposedly promoting free speech

  • Kath Shaw says:

    This is viscerally upsetting as there seems no hope , no way to tackle the increasing powers of this administration. What can be done?

  • Philip Ward says:

    This is an excellent article, especially as it appears on an MSM site. And yes, there is now a post-2-state situation and the left needs to acknowledge this quickly and develop an understanding commensurate with it. In fact, as a medium term aim, one state is easier to argue for: no leftist should ever support the establishment of exclusivist entities. We can now return to thecera of the “democratic secular state”.

    On another note, the article again makes the error that you have to be religious to be Jewish. That is false. There are many atheist Jews: we have Jewish antecedants (some of whom could also have been atheists).

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    I agree with all the criticism in the article – but I want to propose a bit of optimism. Until the bill outlawing BDS support is introduced, we won’t know exactly what its scope is. However, from the description provided so far, the prohibition is on boycotting a country – Israel – not institutions e.g. universities within the Occupied Territories. Boycott of ‘the occupation’ need not be limited to boycotting of occupation goods. It can include boycotting institutions in Israel (or, indeed, anywhere) that service or cooperate with the Occupation. If such occupation-specific boycotting is outlawed, I would have thought we would be in breach of international law, so I am guessing the new law will be concerned with ‘Israel’ per se. Of course, boycotting institutions wont be as newsworthy as boycotting a country, but universities refusing to collaborate with, say, the university in the settlement of Ariel, would still garner some coverage.

  • Stephen Mitchell says:

    Jewish organisations are now attempting to further prevent the Labour Party from giving the Palestinians any support at all under cover of reconciliation between the Jewish community and the Party. Sooner or Labour will have to fight back and defend ourselves from the terrible lie that we are antisemitic. Rolling over as we have done will only make things worse. I said before the election that antisemitism will increase in our country. Many people will come to believe their hopes for the future have been dashed by this campaign. The Jewish right will find it has neutered its strongest defender.

  • Michael Levine says:

    Many liberal minded people are horrified by the sight of Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed child demonstrators on the Gaza border. To imply that all Jews support this is actually calculated to create prejudice against Jews as such. That is anti-Semitic by any definition..

Comments are now closed.