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
t (Press) 020 7984 8121
t (Broadcast) 020 7984 8180
f 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.”
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 East, link) 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 divestment, link). 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 sheet, link).
- 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).
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.
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