Israel hailed a tough British move against boycotts announced on Wednesday as a welcome step in the fight against discrimination of the Jewish state, while the Palestine Liberation Organization said it perpetuated the tragedy that began when Britain issued the Balfour Declaration a century ago.
Visiting UK Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock, during a photo opportunity with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced that “we are publishing new guidance for public authorities in the UK that makes clear that discriminating against members of the WTO (World Trade Organization), including Israel, is wrong and it is illegal and it must stop.”
The British government issued the guidance on Wednesday making clear that “procurement boycotts by public authorities are inappropriate.”
According to a statement put out by Hancock’s office, “Town hall boycotts undermine good community relations, poisoning and polarizing debate, weakening integration and fueling anti-Semitism. Locally imposed boycotts can roll back integration as well as hinder Britain’s export trade and harm international relationship.”
The new regulations follow a December 2014 decision by councilors in Leicester, one of Britain’s largest local authorities, condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza and voting to boycott goods from the settlements.
Despite those moves and other BDS efforts in Britain, trade between Israel and the UK stands at some $7 billion, a record amount.
According to the statement, any public bodies “found to be in breach of the regulations could be subject to severe penalties.”
The statement said that the guidance is in line with the British government’s “existing policy support for clear and transparent labeling of settlement products to ensure that individual consumers are able to make informed choices before they buy.”
According to Hancock, the move will prevent local authorities from taking steps that have ramifications on Britain’s foreign policy and national security.
Netanyahu welcomed Hancock and a large parliamentary delegation by saying that anti-Semitism is the world’s most enduring hatred.
He said that while for centuries “the worst slanders were leveled at the Jews” – from being the source of all instability, to poisoning wells and drinking the blood of children – in modern times the attacks are not on individual Jews, but rather against the collective Jewish state.
“We are once again being accused of being the source of all this tremendous instability around us that is plaguing the entire world; we’re accused of being deliberate murderers of children and so many other slanders,” he said. “So it is in this context that I want to commend the British government for refusing to discriminate against Israel and Israelis, and I commend you for standing up for the one and only true democracy in the Middle East.”
The PLO Executive Committee, meanwhile, slammed the move, saying that it prevented public bodies from “exercising their democratic right and freedom of choice not to be complicit in the Israeli settlement project and to take a positive, moral and legal stand in the face of such a war crime.”
The statement said this “represents a serious regression in British policy and it would empower the Israeli occupation by sending a message of impunity.”
Next year marks the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the statement noted, calling the issuing of that declaration “a tragedy that continues to victimize the Palestinian people, both under occupation and in exile.”
“The United Kingdom bears the primary responsibility for such a historical injustice in Palestine,” the statement continued. “It is called upon to begin the process of rectification and redemption rather than to insist on perpetuating the injustice.”