UK Supreme Court boosts BDS

A 2019 Palestine Solidarity Campaign demonstration (Claire Doherty - SIPA USA)

Asa Winstanley

The Electronic Intifada /  April 29, 2020

The UK’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign won what it said was a historic legal victory for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement on Wednesday.

BDS campaigners celebrated as the Supreme Court in London struck out an anti-divestment rule imposed by the government in 2016.

As the ruling was made by the UK’s highest court, it cannot be appealed.

The Conservative government in September 2016 imposed a new guideline which stopped local authorities using their pension schemes to divest from Israel or any other country – regardless of human rights concerns.

The rule stated that councils must not use their pension policies “to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defense industries.”

But the Palestine Solidarity Campaign challenged the government, and in 2017 the High Court ruled in its favour.

That decision was overturned in 2018 by the Court of Appeal but has now been upheld by the Supreme Court.

“Historic victory”

Calling Wednesday’s decision a “historic victory,” Kamel Hawwash, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said that the ruling “sends a decisive message to the UK government that they should not be dictating how local government pension schemes choose to invest their funds.”

Hawwash promised to continue fighting government anti-BDS measures.

Instead of attacking activists, said Hawwash, the government should be acting to uphold international law and defend human rights.

Jamie Potter, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s lawyer, said the ruling means that local authority workers “now have the freedom to pursue their own principles in respect of the role of the arms trade and foreign countries in violations of human rights around the world, when determining how their pension monies are invested.”

The anti-BDS rule was imposed by the Conservative government in 2016, as part of a wave of measures targeting the Palestine solidarity movement. The measures were announced in Jerusalem at a press conference that Matt Hancock, a British government minister, held with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But related rules on procurement intended to outlaw BDS turned out to have no legal teeth and failed their first test in court. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday represents the last defeat of that wave of the government’s anti-BDS measures.

New law ?

But the Conservative government – which has done its best to support Israel – seems unlikely to stop efforts to outlaw BDS.

The court ruling strikes out 2016’s government regulations, but does not speak to any future anti-BDS law the government may bring in.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s director Ben Jamal told The Electronic Intifada that the court victory is a “shot across the bows” for the government’s likely forthcoming anti-boycott legislation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to bring in a new law to ban public bodies from using “boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries.” That pledge was contained in the manifesto on which the Conservative Party fought a general election in December last year.

The intention was confirmed in the “queen’s speech.” Delivered by the reigning monarch, that speech traditionally outlines the legislation a government plans to introduce over the course of a parliamentary term.

On the same day that the speech was delivered, Johnson condemned public bodies who “develop their own pseudo-foreign policy against countries that, with nauseating frequency, turn out to be Israel.”

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada