Author Archives: jews4big

CHIEF RABBI CALLED OUT FOR MAKING ZIONISM ‘A RELIGION BEYOND QUESTION’

Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, ‘attacks the Labour party by launching a defence of Zionism which turns it from a political ideology (that can be supported or opposed) into a religion that is beyond question. We British Jews reject this categorically.’

This letter was submitted to the Guardian after a earlier version was rejected by the Daily Telegraph, despite multiple signatures including those of Mike Leigh, Michael Rosen and Miriam Margolyes. It is one of the first public initiatives of a new network supported by J-BIG and members of other pro-Palestinian Jewish organisations – Free Speech on Israel.)

Anti-Zionism does not equate to antisemitism

Guardian, 10 May 2016

In his Daily Telegraph article on which you report (Chief rabbi: Labour has severe problem with antisemitism, theguardian.com, 4 May), Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said the antisemitism crisis engulfing Labour had “lifted the lid” on bigotry.

He joins in the sensationalist allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party, where the headlines’ decibel level is in inverse proportion to the evidence supporting them. Ignoring the more serious anti-Muslim racism in electoral politics, Rabbi Mirvis attacks the Labour party by launching a defence of Zionism which turns it from a political ideology (that can be supported or opposed) into a religion that is beyond question. We British Jews reject this categorically.

Mirvis attacks as “antisemitic” those who separate Judaism from Zionism. Yet most Jews who perished in the Holocaust were indifferent to Zionism and many opposed it. In the last municipal elections in Europe’s largest Jewish community, in Poland, just before the second world war, Poland’s Jews voted overwhelmingly for the secular, anti-Zionist, socialists of the Bund, while Zionist parties got derisory votes. Is Rabbi Mirvis recasting those victims of the Holocaust posthumously as enemies of Judaism and therefore as antisemites?
George Abendstern
Seymour Alexander
Julia Bard
Sue Bard
Graham Bash
Craig Berman
Rica Bird
Haim Bresheeth
Elizabeth Carola
Linda Clair
Jim Cohen
Norman Crane
Wendy Crane
Judith Cravitz
Mike Cushman
Ivor Dembina
Stephen Deutsch
Mark Elf
Thomas Eisner
Nancy Elan
Liz Elkind
Pia Feig
Deborah Fink
Kenny Fryde
Carolyn Gelenter
Claire Glasman
Sarah Glynn
David Gordon
Helen Gordon
May Gordon
Tony Greenstein
Jan Hardy
Abe Hayeem
Rosamine Hayeem
Marion Hersh
Lorraine Huddle
Selma James
Riva Joffe
Michael Kalmanovitz
Roisin Kalmanovitz
Richard Kuper
Pam Laurance
Leah Levane
Mike Leigh
Rachel Lever
Rosalind Levy
Les Levidow
Susanne Levin
Barrie Levine
Sue Lieberman
Yosefa Loshitzky
Ruth London
Catherine Lyons
Moshe Machover
Henry Maitles
Beryl Maizels
Miriam Margolyes
Helen Marks
John McArdle
Martine Miel
Mica Nava
Diana Neslen
Esther Neslen
Susan Pashkoff
Juliet Peston
Roland Rance
Frances Rifkin
Leon Rosselson
Michael Rosen
David Rosenberg
Jonathan Rosenhead
Maureen Rothstein
Ian Saville
Alexei Sayle
Amanda Sebesteyn
Glyn Secker
Suzanne Senior
Roger Silverman
Vanessa Stilwell
Inbar Tamari
David Turner
Philip Wadler
Jackie Walker
Naomi Wayne
Sam Weinstein
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
Ben Young
Aliya Yule

 

 

LABOUR JEWS ASSERT – THE PARTY DOES NOT HAVE A “PROBLEM WITH JEWS”

Jewish labour and trade union activists, members of a range of groups campaigning in solidarity with the people of Palestine, have produced a statement intended for use in the fightback against the witch hunt targeting the pro-Palestinian Left in the Labour Party. 

Labour movement and human rights organisations, including PSC branches, can use it to generate informed debate and send a message to the political establishment that we will not allow campaigners for justice for Palestine to be smeared with allegations of antisemitism.

As the Jewish Socialist Group has stated on its website:

“A very small number of such cases seem to be real instances of antisemitism. Others represent genuine criticism of Israeli policy and support for Palestinian rights, but expressed in clumsy and ambiguous language, which may unknowingly cross a line into antisemitism. Further cases are simply forthright expressions of support for Palestinian rights, which condemn Israeli government policy and aspects of Zionist ideology, and have nothing whatsoever to do with antisemitism. “                            

LABOUR DOES NOT HAVE A “PROBLEM WITH JEWS”

We are witnessing a wave of hysteria over claims that the Labour Party is rife with antisemitism and has a “problem with Jews.” We know this is not true. But there is indeed a problem.  It is a problem with people – Jewish and otherwise, inside and outside the party –  who wield antisemitism allegations as a stick to beat the Corbyn leadership, regardless of the damage caused.

Jeremy Corbyn and others have done their best to respond, rightly asserting their impeccable anti-racist credentials, treating specific allegations of antisemitism seriously, investigating them and taking appropriate measures. This is no more and no less than should happen with allegations of racism or discrimination of any kind.

But this has not satisfied those sections of the pro-Israel lobby orchestrating the attacks.

They have targeted Malia Bouattia, the first Muslim woman to be elected president of the National Union of Students, on the thinnest of pretexts and despite her consistently principled stance. Another victim has been Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) founder member and lifelong anti-racist Tony Greenstein, suspended from the Labour Party without even being informed of the charges against him. Now Naz Shah MP has been suspended on the basis of a few inappropriate social media posts which she evidently regrets – swiftly followed by Ken Livingstone because of his ill-chosen remarks in defending her.

Make no mistake – this campaign of vilification is intended to undermine Labour’s new leaders, because of their commendable record of supporting justice for Palestine. The wider aim is to crush support for the solidarity movement which is working to achieve for Palestinians basic rights that are endorsed by international legal bodies.

As Labour and Trade Union activists, we need to resist this witch hunt and assert the right to campaign in solidarity with all oppressed people, including Palestinians.

We urge labour movement organisations to:

 – Reiterate our strong commitment to combating all forms of racism and to defending those who are subjected to it. We actively oppose Islamophobia, prejudice against migrants and racism against ethnic and religious minorities, including anti-Jewish racism.

 – Reject the suggestion that questioning the Zionist ideology of the Israeli state and its supporters – both Jews and non-Jews – entails antisemitic prejudice. On the contrary, campaigning to end the injustices inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian people is in the very best traditions of the British Labour movement.

– Urge the Labour Party establishment to

  • listen to the many Jews who are outraged by the lie that Jews are not safe in the Labour Party;
  • cease victimising those who work for justice for Palestine;
  • adhere to fair practice and transparency when investigating charges against members;
  • call to order Labour Party members who bring the party into disrepute by spreading calumnies about widespread antisemitism in the party.

Antisemitism smear campaign – our fightback begins

Jewish groups in solidarity with Palestine are getting together with other activists to fight back against the Zionist-led smear campaign alleging that questioning the state of Israel is antisemitic.

One result has been publication in the Independent Online of a letter with mainly Jewish signatories under the following headline:

First Muslim woman to lead UK’s students welcomed by Jewish community

Why has the new National Union of Students (NUS) President been targeted by “anti-Semitism” accusations, without any evidence? As a consistent opponent of all forms of racism including anti-Semitism, Malia Bouattia opposes Israel’s racist, illegal occupation of Palestine and supports effective campaigns to end it.

Her accusers have cited her negative comment about the University of Birmingham as “a Zionist outpost”, which is a political category like any other – and so irrelevant to religion or anti-Semitism. Indeed, the false equation ‘Jewish = Zionist’ comes from Israel’s supporters, not from the Palestine solidarity movement.

Malia Bouattia’s election as the first Muslim woman to head the NUS should be celebrated for bringing together resistance to class, racial, religious, gender and neocolonial oppression. Instead, she has been subjected to attacks that mirror those made against the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader.

Israel is no longer believed when denying responsibility for its crimes against Palestinians, so now its supporters resort to silencing opposition to those crimes with blanket allegations of anti-Semitism. In both the NUS and Labour Party, the right wing loses its control over an organisation and then attempts to destabilise it, regardless of the damage done.

As mainly Jewish signatories, we congratulate Malia on her election.

Mike Cushman, Tony Greenstein, Deborah Fink, Les Levidow, Jenny Hardacre, Eleanor Kilroy, Richard Kuper, Leah Levane, Rachel Lever, Helen Marks, Jonathan Rosenhead, Ian Saville, Amanda Sebestyen, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi 

Two further letters from members of J-BIG appeared in the Guardian.

The comment by the president of Birmingham University Jewish Society that “when someone attacks Zionism they’re indirectly attacking Judaism as a religion, because the two go hand in hand” (Jewish students call for apology from head of NUS for ‘past rhetoric’, 22 April) makes a totally invalid equation. Zionism is a political project that indeed has the support of many Jews and some, particularly evangelical, Christians. But it has to be recognised as a political project and therefore must be open to criticism and opposition by both Jews and others. It cannot be regarded as beyond reproach. Such an approach would place it in a position similar to Communism within China: a state shibboleth that you risk prison to criticise.

It is also a mistake to believe that we cannot criticise Judaism as a religion. All religions must be open to scrutiny if they buttress patriarchy, homophobia, gross inequality, child exploitation or racism – as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and all others have been known to do.

Mike Cushman
Convenor, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods

The election of the first black woman as president of the NUS should be a matter for celebration, not recrimination. The fact that she is a secular, anti-racist Muslim should be an extra cause for joy.

It is a matter of regret that some Jewish students have put themselves alongside the tabloid press in their attacks on Malia Bouattia. I say some Jewish students, because those who are not Zionists or supporters of the Israeli state will not have signed their open letter.

Newspapers like the Mail and Express, which campaigned against the admittance of Jewish refugees in the 1930s, are now to the fore in attacking Malia. Their reasons are just as specious as when they were attacking the Jewish radicals of the East End in the last century. Malia stands, though she may not realise it, in the tradition of Rudolph Rocker, Aron Lieberman and the Jewish anarchists.

Malia has nothing to apologise for. Zionism is a political not a racial or ethnic category. That is why Jews have always been in the forefront of opposing this racist ideology. Her reference to Birmingham University being a “Zionist outpost” is no different than if someone was to refer to Sussex University as a radical or socialist outpost.

Let us hope that the Guardian can find it in it to welcome her election rather than joining in with the tabloid hue and cry.
Tony Greenstein

Antisemitism – The weapon of choice in the war on Labour’s Left

The last few months have seen the British establishment waging an hysterical witch hunt against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership and the pro-Palestinian movement. Their weapon of choice has been the charge that antisemitism – and support for terrorism – are rife on the Left, that Labour “has a problem with Jews,” that Jewish LP members are  frequently subjected to racist abuse and that the new Labour leadership has allowed intolerant Jew-haters to flood into the party.

The response from Corbyn’s team has been defensive and apologetic. They rightly assert their own anti-racist credentials, insist that antisemitism is a vile prejudice that is not permitted in the Labour Party and pledge to expel anyone found guilty of it. So far so good. But they have not hit back at the pro-Zionist lobby – Jewish and non-Jewish – which deliberately and maliciously seeks to associate Jew-hatred with criticism of Israel in the public mind. This feeble approach has to change.

Tony G

 J-BIG stalwart Tony Greenstein, Brighton-based socialist, anti-racist and anti-Zionist, has won an apology (they call it a “clarification”) from the Daily Telegraph for “implying” that he was an antisemite. Labour’s Compliance Unit has suspended him from membership without giving any reason, but apparently shared the information with the Telegraph. Tony explores the charges against him on his blog.

 

Jewish pro-Palestinian groups in London are currently working on a strategy to help stem the tide. Both at grass roots level and within the Labour hierarchy, there is a huge need for political education to communicate the following key points.

Genuine antisemitism exists and must be condemned, as we would any form of racism.

Zionists have worked so hard to damn any criticism of Israel as antisemitic, it’s tempting to reject such charges out of hand. But amidst the crazed pillorying of Corbyn’s team in the Mail Online, for example, there are some instances of actual expressions of racism against Jews by Labour supporters. These must be tackled with as much vigour as hatred of Blacks, migrants or Muslims – so comprehensively ignored by the pro-Israel lobby.

When the complainant is committed Zionist Louise Ellman MP, one can sympathise with Piers Corbyn (brother of Jeremy) who reportedly tweeted: “#Zionists cant cope with any-one supporting rights for #Palestine.” Never a truer word! But it gave ammunition for the Evening Standard to use in publicising charges from Labour’s conflicted candidate for Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. From a Muslim family, with a record of supporting causes such as the campaign to release Shaker Amer from detention in Guantanamo, and having been supported by Corbyn and leftwing former Mayor Ken Livingstone in his campaign for the candidacy, Khan now says he wears “a badge of shame” about antisemitism in the party and the leadership needs to be “trained on what antisemitism is.”

cityam.com sadiq khan

Credit: cityam.com

Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate in next month’s vote for Mayor of London, has publicly taken the side of pro-Israel Tories in alleging antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party.

 

 

 

The Palestine solidarity movement has learned to its cost that it must be vigilant against antisemitism among its members. In a recent story in Haaretz about a defender of Holocaust deniers who has been  rejected by her local Labour Party, the paper referred to her as “the former secretary of the Camden branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.” Haaretz neglected to say that the person in question was dismissed from that position precisely because her views were incompatible with PSC’s anti-racist ethos.

Charges of antisemitism are very often designed to protect Israel from criticism, harm legitimate campaigns for Palestinian rights, especially Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and undermine Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party under his leadership

Jonathan Arkush of the Board of Deputies (BoD) of British Jews has been vocal in accusing Corbyn of tolerating antisemitism, referring to “a stream of clear cut cases of antisemitism in the Labour party, which can’t just be fobbed off as differences over Israel.”

The stream is actually more of a trickle of cases, many referring to events in the distant past and many being far from clear cut. Most cases have attitudes to Israel and Zionism at their heart.

The Mail Online piece mixes some apparently nasty instances of genuine antisemitism with the staging in York of Caryl Churchill’s play Seven Jewish Children (“horrifically anti-Israel” according to the BoD), a Facebook post complaining that ‘leading Zionists’ were trying to take over a student Union and links with the website of Friends of Al-Aqsa – a respected part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

 

The increasingly high-profile, non-violent BDS campaign is a major priority for antisemitic branding by those determined to defend Israel. Jonathan Neumann of the so-called Jewish Human Rights Watch, writing in the Daily Telegraph in February, alleged that BDS is just a precursor to ISIS-style beheadings: “The anti-Semitic campaign to shun Israeli goods embodies the radicalism that threatens everyone .”

Then there is the oft-quoted example of the Oxford University Labour Club where co-chairman Alex Chalmers, who is not Jewish, resigned in February claiming that a ‘large proportion’ of the party’s undergraduate members have ‘some kind of problem with Jews’.

The most comprehensive statement of the club’s “problem with Jews” appeared after Chalmers resignation on the Twitter feed of the Oxford Jewish Society (JSoc).

Oxford JSoc antisemitism

If the statement is true, it does indicate there may have been some questionable behaviour and some ham-fisted attempts by pro-Palestine supporters to explain what they thought was, or was not, antisemitic. But the JSoc clearly doesn’t know what antisemitism is either, claiming that the word ‘Zio’ – frequently tossed around between Jewish anti-Zionist activists – belongs on neo-nazi websites and that Jenny Tonge – kicked off the Liberal Democrat front bench for expressing understanding for Palestinian militants – was expelled for antisemitism. This is a circular argument in which people conflating antisemitism with anti-Zionism denounce supporters of Palestine for having been previously denounced for antisemitism! It all goes back to Arkush’s “differences over Israel”.

There is substantial opposition among Jews to this cynical campaign. 

Jews are not an undifferentiated mass of pro-Israel supporters, nor have they ever been. Today they are certainly not united behind the witch-hunt again the pro-Palestinian Labour Left and the BDS movement.

Clear evidence for this appeared on the Guardian letters page after  Jonathan Freedland published a long piece retelling the story of a British Left riddled with anti-Jewish racism.

Leading Jewish pro-Palestine campaigners queued up to refute his allegations.

As one said: “…it is a betrayal of every Jew in history who fought for human rights and against oppression, and every Jew ever persecuted for being a Jew, to sling allegations of antisemitism every time anyone tries to stand up for Palestinian rights.”

Zionist beliefs are not the preserve of Jews alone.

There is a whole other story to tell about the origins of the Jewish Zionist movement in the second half of the 19th century, the attachment of many leading Christian intellectuals and politicians to the idea of Zionism and the relationship of both to antisemitism.

Today’s most vocal British Zionists include Justice Secretary Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles and Business Secretary Sajid Javid. Not a Jew among them.

In the USA the most ardent supporters of Israel are to be found not among the Democrat-voting Jews of the East Coast but among the millions of evangelical Christians in the South who believe all Jews must gather in Zion to usher in the Second Coming of Christ.

See elsewhere on this website for a briefing about Zionism and Antisemitism.

There is treasure trove of valuable background information on the website of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

 

 

GUARDIAN LETTERS ASK – Antisemitic? Or just against the Israeli government’s oppressive actions?

Among several letters challenging allegations of antisemitism at the Oxford University Labour Club, published by the Guardian online, is this one from Jewish supporters of justice for Palestine.

Antisemitism is conspicuous by its absence in your article on “antisemitism” at Oxford University Labour Club.

Antisemitism is abuse, discrimination and hatred of Jews as Jews. Examples of such abuse might be the description of the US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, as “a little Jew boy” by former Netanyahu aide Aviv Bushinsky.

If someone had suggested that people should follow the suggestion of the chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, that Jews should not rent rooms to Arabs but instead applied an equivalent policy to Oxford’s Jewish students, we could understand and would share the concern.

Perhaps MPs John Mann and Louise Ellman prefer another description for the situation on the West Bank whereby two systems of law operate – one for Palestinians and the other for Jewish settlers? Or why half of Israel’s Arab villages are “unrecognised” and liable to instant demolition, whereas Jewish villages and towns are always recognised?

Whether Israel is an apartheid state or not is a perfectly legitimate political debate. Jewish students can be found on both sides of this debate. It is not, however, antisemitic.

Those who deliberately confuse antisemitism and anti-Zionism give comfort and aid to the real antisemites in our society. Like the boy who cried wolf, they ensure that if antisemitism does rear its ugly head, people will assume that this is just another false accusation.
Tony Greenstein
Professor Haim Bresheeth
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead
Professor Steven Rose
Miriam Margolyes
Tamar Steinitz
Merav Pinchassoff
Amanda Sebestyen
Deborah Fink
Craig Berman
Susanne Levin
Leah Levane
Ben Young
Richard Kuper
Miriam Yagud
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
Beryl Maizels
Brian Robinson
Mike Cushman
Les Levidow

Jewish groups combine to condemn government attack on BDS

Members of five Jewish organisations in the UK worked together to produce a statement condemning  government plans to punish local councils and other bodies if they took procurement or investment decisions in line with the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions call.

The version published by  the Independent online on Wednesday was not the final, agreed wording. J-BIG’s name was missing while that of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) was erroneously included.

To put the record straight we publish here the statement as intended by the participants, representing JfJfP, J-BIG, Independent Jewish Voices, the International Jewish anti-Zionist Network and the Jewish Socialist Group.

ANTISEMITISM AND BANNING BOYCOTTS

We find it incompatible with democratic freedom, and counterproductive, that the government intends to block ethical investment and procurement decisions by public bodies lest they “poison and polarise debate and fuel antisemitism” [Boycotting of Israeli goods to be criminal offence, February 15]

Opposition to the State of Israel’s continued occupation, crimes against the Palestinian people and violation of international law, has nothing whatever to do with antisemitism. What smacks of antisemitism is to think that all Jews uncritically support Israel’s actions.

The truth is that growing numbers of Jews in this country and abroad see the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for what it is – a weapon of moral persuasion, deploying a tactic frequently used by powerless people in their opposition to racism, slavery and oppression.

History shows us boycotts against slave grown sugar in the West Indies, the movement of Irish tenant farmers against the eponymous Captain Boycott, Gandhi’s Indian boycott of British sales of salt and the global movement which helped end apartheid in South Africa.

In every case the Tories of the day opposed the boycott, siding with the oppressor against the oppressed.

If Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock goes ahead and announces the ban during a visit to Israel, claiming without a shred of evidence that “local foreign policies” are “undermining our national security”, he will demonstrate his government’s continuation of an ignoble tradition.

 

 

 

 

PRO-ISRAEL TORIES AIM TO BAN ETHICAL DIVESTMENT BY LOCAL AUTHORITIES

This analysis first appeared on the website of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP). It is a response to a blatant attack by the Conservative government on local councils, trade unions and pension funds which attempt to implement an ethical procurement or divestment policy in solidarity with the Palestinian people.  

The full text of the email outlining the Conservative attack appears at the bottom of this post.

TORY ATTACK ON LOCAL AUTHORITY INDEPENDENCE

Britain’s Conservative government has announced a new policy to block local councils from choosing to boycott or divest from companies complicit in the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. A statement on October 3 said the government would change procurement guidelines affecting local authorities in England and pension regulations in England and Wales in order to “stop the growing spread of militant divestment campaigns against UK defence and Israeli firms.”

It says that “foreign nations” may only be targeted for boycott if the government has imposed “formal legal sanctions”.

The announcement brands Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, a number of local authorities in England, “Labour-affiliated” unions UNISON and GMB, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as part of a “hard left”, “politically motivated” “radical fringe” guilty of “poisoning community relations” by supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement called for by Palestinians.

The government statement retails baseless allegations that the boycott movement targets Kosher products and Jewish films. It suggests that British Jews depend for their identity on supporting the state of Israel – a wrongheaded idea far more poisonous to community relations than a justice-based BDS campaign for human rights and respect for international law.

The Conservatives have, to all intents and purposes, adopted wholesale the agenda of “politically motivated radical fringe” Zionist groups intent on outlawing boycott actions which they define as antisemitic.

Whatever one’s attitude to BDS, the new government policy is alarming for all those concerned about the wider government agenda of curtailing freedoms in other areas of society, from trade union rights, to lobbying by charities, to imposing a surveillance role on teachers and lecturers under the Prevent strategy. The latter, with its focus on identifying individuals “vulnerable to radicalisation,” primarily among Muslims, is genuinely damaging to community relations.

Although Scotland is not covered by the threatened restrictions on democratically elected local authorities, the Scottish National Party also comes under attack in the government statement for “strongly discouraging trade and investment from illegal settlements.”

PSC has noted that this contradicts warnings to business from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) about the financial, legal and reputational risks of working with or in Israel’s illegal settlements.

The government statement is at least honest in expressing fears about the “threat” that human rights campaigners can cause to the UK military and defence industry, and its close relationship with Israel through the arms trade and military and security cooperation.

This is the Tory response to growing support for campaigns uniting ethically concerned citizens who are opposed to both the international trade in instruments of mass killing and the Israeli state which buys them, sells them and uses them against Palestinians with impunity.

BRICUP will be working with other concerned organisations to defend the right of dissent from the policies of an increasingly repressive Westminster government.

CONSERVATIVE PRESS RELEASE ON PLAN TO BAN “TOWN HALL BOYCOTTS AND SANCTIONS”

From: “Jackson, Richard N.” <Richard.N.Jackson@Conservatives.com>

To: “Jackson, Richard N.” <Richard.N.Jackson@Conservatives.com>

Subject: Government to stop ‘divisive’ town hall boycotts & sanctions

 

Press Release

(Press) 020 7984 8121

(Broadcast) 020 7984 8180

020 7222 1135

3 October 2015

 

Government to stop ‘divisive’ town hall boycotts & sanctions

 

Action to curtail ‘municipal foreign and defence policies’

  • Growing spread of militant divestment campaigns against UK defence and Israeli firms.
  • Conservatives warn economic and national security from municipal militancy.
  • Government to change pension and procurement rules to protect taxpayers’ interests.

 

Government Ministers announced today new rules to stop politically-motivated boycott and divestment campaigns by town halls against UK defence companies and against Israel. There is growing concern over the militant actions of left-wing councils, spurred on by trade unions and the Labour leadership, which threaten to poison community relations and harm Britain’s economic and international interests.

 

Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, alongside Labour-affiliated trade unions, are urging councils to use their procurement and pension policies to punish both Israel and the UK defence industry. Faith leaders have expressed alarm at such policies fuelling anti-Semitism – and worryingly encouraging further protests such as kosher food being taken from supermarket shelves and Jewish films being banned. Separate hard-left campaigns against British defence companies threaten to harm Britain’s £10 billion export trade, destroying British jobs, and hinder joint working with Israel to protect Britain from foreign cyber-attacks and terrorism.

 

The Government will amend pension legislation to make clear using pensions and procurement policies to pursuit boycotts, divestments and sanctions campaigns against foreign nations and the UK defence industry are inappropriate, other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government. The Government will similarly issue new Procurement Policy guidance to implement the same approach in procurement law.

 

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:

 

“Divisive policies undermine good community relations, and harm the economic security of families by pushing up council tax. We need to challenge and prevent the politics of division. Conservatives will provide the stable, competent and sensible Government that working people want to see.”

 

Matthew Hancock, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said:

 

“Conservatives are on the common ground. We will take steps to stop such outdated policies being pursued through procurement and pension policies. We will safeguard the security of families at home and prevent such playground politics undermining our international security.”

 

ENDS

 

For further information, please contact the press office on 020 7984 8121.

 

Notes to Editors

 

HARD-LEFT FOREIGN AND DEFENCE POLICIES ON THE RISE

 

  • In November 2014, Labour-run Leicester City Council passed a policy to boycott goods produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank (link). Jewish groups have recently launched a judicial review against the council’s decision, warning ‘this amounts to a get-of-out-town order to Leicester Jews’ (Daily Express, 25 August 2015, link).

 

  • In January 2015, Labour councillors on Nottingham City Council debated a boycott against Israel (link) – the council resolved to consider the issue further and ‘work with the Nottingham Palestine Solidarity Campaign’ (link). Jewish faith leaders warned: ‘local authorities need to be guardians of good community relations and not go down the route of setting one community against the other by adopting partisan campaigns’ (Jewish News, 26 January 2015, link).

 

  • Jeremy Corbyn is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign radical fringe group (link). In August 2015, whilst running for Labour leader, he endorsed the boycott of Israeli settlement goods and was receptive of academic boycotts of Israeli universities involved with the arms trade (link). He asserted: ‘I fully support the call to end all trade and investments with the illegal settlements’ (Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle Eastlink) and ‘I think the boycott campaign, divestment campaign, is part and parcel of a legal process that has to be adopted’ (link).

 

  • Corbyn has also called for the removal of Israel’s right to trade with the UK and the EU: ‘It’s time, indeed past time, to demand the immediate suspension of the trade agreements between the EU and Israel’ (Morning Star, 2 June 2010) and cutting all off commercial and diplomatic ties: ‘no arms, no money, no recognition and no support for Israel’ (Haaretz, 13 April 2002, link). Corbyn was even heckled at the Labour Party Conference’s Labour Friends of Israel event for refusing to refer to Israel by name in his speech (Daily Telegraph, 29 September 2015, link).

 

  • Labour MPs such as Shabana Mahmood have personally taken part in supermarkets protests against Israeli goods (Daily Mail, 19 August 2014, link).

 

  • Both Corbyn and John McDonnell have sponsored a Commons motion urging the boycotting of Israeli goods, including demanding that all supermarkets boycott such goods (EDM 57, 14 May 2012). John McDonnell has told shops in his constituency of Hayes ‘to boycott Israeli goods… and find alternative suppliers’ (Get West London, 1 August 2014).

 

  • In August 2014, the SNP-led Scottish Government published a procurement notice to Scottish councils which ‘strongly discourages trade and investment from illegal settlements’, though conceding that ‘decisions need to be taken on a case by case basis’ (Scottish Procurement Policy Note 4/2014,link). Four Scottish councils have resolved to boycott Israeli goods: Clackmannanshire, Midlothian, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire (link).

 

  • In June 2015, Labour-affiliated UNISON launched a campaign to lobby councils to divest their Local Government Pension Schemes from companies linked with Israel (A UNISON guide to pension fund engagement and divestmentlink). In July 2014, Labour-affiliated Unite resolve to campaign for boycott of goods produced by Israeli settlements and divest from any financial holdings in any companies or funds linked to the settlements (Unite press release, 11 July 2014, link). In July 2013, the Labour-affiliated GMB voted to support boycott and divestment initiatives against Israeli settlements, and banned its members from visiting Israel on delegations organised by the Trade Union Friends of Israel (link).

 

  • By contrast, the last Labour leader, Ed Miliband, opposed such ‘BDS’ policies: ‘I think the boycotts of Israel are totally wrong. We should have no tolerance for boycotts. I would say that to any trade union leaders’ (Jewish Chronicle, 7 March 2013, link) and ‘boycotts of Israel will never be a way of advancing the cause of peace. They are the wrong response and I will never support them. Labour will continue to resolutely oppose the isolation of Israel. The answer has to be greater dialogue and greater engagement rather than disengagement and boycotts’ (Jewish News, 1 May 2015, link).

 

  • The hard-left Campaign Against the Arms Trade has been lobbying for Local Government Pension Schemes to divest funds in British manufacturers such as BAe (link). Jeremy Corbyn has endorsed their campaign: ‘The Campaign Against the Arms Trade… has a long and honourable tradition… The scale of British arms sales is truly astounding… we need a clear lead for arms conversion. Let the brilliance and skill of those in the arms industry be converted for peaceful purposes’ (Corbyn website).

 

  • Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has similarly called for ‘the end of the arms trade’ (Guardian, 1 April 2009).

 

DANGEROUS CONSEQUENCES OF HARD-LEFT POLICIES

 

  • Local government pensions are a funded scheme. Councils’ goals should be to ensure that their pension funds investments deliver the best rate of return. Councils receive £3.1 billion a year from their pension investment returns; in addition, town hall pensions cost taxpayers a further £6.0 billion a year in employer contributions – equivalent to over £300 a year on a Band D council tax bill. Twisting investment decisions on political grounds risks reducing investment returns, requiring larger employer contributions to compensate: in turn, such higher costs would force cuts to services and/or hikes in council tax.

 

  • It is not for local government to pursue its own municipal foreign or defence policies – as rightly, that matter is reserved to the UK Government. The Government has to take into account the international implications of such policies, and the broader need to maintain stability and security in international relations. Rather than encouraging legitimate debate, such boycotts are counter-productive – they widen gaps in understanding, poison and polarise debate, and block opportunities for co-operation and collaboration.

 

  • The call for municipal boycotts against Israel threatens to inflame tensions in local communities, undermining integration and fuelling broader anti-Semitism. Such militant boycotts have already led to hard-left groups pressuring supermarkets to take Kosher products off their shelves (link), and Jewish films being banned as part of such boycotts (link).

 

  • The campaign against British defence companies risk harming Britain’s export trade and would destroy British jobs across the country. The UK defence sector has a £22 billion turnover a year and contributes £10 billion to UK exports (ADS fact sheetlink).

 

  • This Government wants to enhance the growing economic ties between the UK and Israel, particular in areas like technology and science, as well as working together to strengthen security against cyber-attacks and tackle Islamist extremism (No10 press release, 10 September 2015).

 

  • The UK Government has put in place formal legal sanctions and restrictions at a national level, when justified as in the national interest (link).

 

GOVERNMENT ACTION

 

The Government will take action to curtail such municipal foreign and defence policies:

 

  • The Local Government Pension Scheme (Management and Investment of Funds) Regulations 2009 requires local authorities to publish and follow a Statement of Investment Principles (link). These statements must also comply with guidance issued by the Secretary of State. The government propose to amend the secondary legislation to make clear that such boycott, divestment and sanctions (‘BDS’) campaigns are inappropriate – other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government.  There is a statutory requirement to consult on the pension law changes.

 

  • The Cabinet Office will issue a revised Procurement Policy Note to public authorities to make clear that boycotts in procurement policy are inappropriate, outside where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government. Indeed, the WTO Government Procurement Agreement – an international market access agreement – requires all those countries that have signed up to the Agreement to treat suppliers equally. This includes the EU and Israel. Any discrimination against Israeli suppliers involving procurements covered by the Agreement would therefore be in breach of these treaty obligations.

 

Procurement guidance relates to England. Local government pension regulations relate to England and Wales.

 

This email and any attachments to it (the ‘Email’) are intended for a specific recipient(s) and its contents may be confidential, privileged and/or otherwise protected by law. If you are not the intended recipient or have received this Email in error, please notify the sender immediately by telephone or email, and delete it from your records. You must not disclose, distribute, copy or otherwise use this Email. Please note that email is not a secure form of communication and that the Conservative Party (‘the Party’) is not responsible for loss arising from viruses contained in this Email nor any loss arising from its receipt or use. Any opinion expressed in this Email is not necessarily that of the Party and may be personal to the sender.

 

Join the Conservatives today and help secure a brighter future for Britain: https://www.conservatives.com/join

 

Leave a gift in your Will – be proud to protect your Party: http://www.conservativefoundation.co.uk/

 

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ