Tories pledge to ban boycotts

Conservative Manifesto

Asa Winstanley

The Electronic Intifada  /  November 26, 2019

The UK’s ruling Conservative Party has promised to ban public bodies from using “boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries.”

The pledge – contained in the party’s election manifesto – does not name any particular state but is clearly aimed at protecting Israel from the growing BDS movement.

BDS campaigns “undermine community cohesion,” the manifesto, published on Sunday, claims. The Tories say they would enact the new ban if they win the general election on 12 December.

If enacted, the new ban would be the second such Tory attempt to restrict BDS.

In February 2016 Matt Hancock, now a senior minister, went to Jerusalem to announce new measures to stop British public bodies from boycotting Israel, at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But the new UK government rules on local authority procurement had no teeth, and did not involve any new legislation.

The first case to rely on the new rules – launched by an Israel lobby group against local governments that had boycotted Israel – failed in the High Court in June 2016.

BDS ban again ?

But there was a second set of guidelines which also flowed from the “ban.” Those guidelines sought to prevent public bodies that administer pension schemes from excluding firms complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses.

The new manifesto pledge comes as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign is challenging the anti-BDS rules in the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest legal authority.

A hearing took place last week, and a ruling is expected probably sometime in January. A PSC source said they were cautiously optimistic about the result.

Unlike the previous “ban,” the new manifesto pledge appears to be a promise to bring in new anti-BDS law, or at least decree the boycott of Israel to be “anti-Semitic.”

The manifesto’s claim that BDS campaigns “undermine community cohesion” is almost certainly a reference to that false claim.

In fact, the BDS movement has always been clear that it is an anti-racist campaign demanding equal rights for all.

Tory government ministers have this year smeared boycotts of Israel as anti-Semitic.


In May, Jeremy Hunt, then the UK’s foreign minister, expressed support for the German parliament’s non-binding declaration that “the pattern of argument and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic.”

The German motion also smeared the BDS movement as akin to Nazis.

The new Conservative manifesto stands in stark contrast to the opposition Labour Party’s manifesto, which actually boosted the BDS movement.

A Labour government would “immediately” suspend arms sales to Israel and to Saudi Arabia, the party announced last week.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada; he lives in London