After UK High Court Rules in Favor of BDS, Expert Says British Government Needs ‘Primary Legislation’ to Counter Israel Boycotts
British Jews have reacted with disappointment to a High Court ruling on Thursday that the UK government acted unlawfully in restricting boycotts of the State of Israel.
“If primary legislation is required, the government must act now,” David Berens — a London-based lawyer who represents the Jewish National Fund on the Board of Deputies of British Jews — told The Algemeiner.
A case brought to the court by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) — a pro-BDS group whose main goal is to oppose “the apartheid and Zionist nature of the Israeli state” — challenged guidance on pension fund investment that was issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government in September last year. The PSC objected to a provision which prevents pension funds set up under a local government scheme from engaging in boycotts and the “ethical divestment” of companies accused of being “complicit” in Israel’s “occupation” of “Palestine.”
The judge in the case, Sir Ross Cranston, said this aspect of the guidance exceeded the powers of the Communities and Local Government Secretary.
Cranston noted that the British government was “concerned that local government pension funds should not be involved in such political issues because of the mixed messages it might give abroad; because it might undermine community cohesion at home by legitimizing antisemitic or racist attitudes and attacks — although it accepts that anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian campaigning is not in itself antisemitic.”
“None of these matters are at issue in this judicial review,” he emphasized. “The political merits of the respective arguments have no relevance.”
Nonetheless, the PSC claimed the decision as a political win. “Today is a victory for Palestine, for local democracy, and for the rule of law,” the group’s chairman, Hugh Lanning, said.
Berens called the court’s decision “disappointing.”
“BDS is clearly antisemitic within the meaning of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism which the Government has adopted,” Berens pointed out. That definition, adopted by the IHRA — an inter-governmental body — in June 2016, states that “[d]enying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” is a manifestation of antisemitism.
Berens urged the British government to appeal the court’s decision and to consider introducing “primary legislation” if necessary.
The PSC itself has been persistently dogged by accusations of antisemitism, both among its members and in terms of its political aims. A recent study of 17 of its branches by David Collier, a British policy analyst, revealed numerous instances of antisemitism in the statements and social media postings of the campaign’s supporters.
Examples of what Collier called “hardcore” antisemitism — that is, antisemitic expression not directly related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — included the allegation that “Freemason Jews” instigated the Kristallnacht pogrom in Nazi Germany and the conspiracy theory that ISIS is controlled by “Zionists.”
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, is among the official patrons of the PSC.
American campaigners for legislation to counter the BDS campaign said that the UK decision would have no impact upon their efforts in the US. Twenty-one states have already passed anti-BDS legislation.
“American states have a successful history of passing legislation restricting pension funds and contracts based on a company’s behavior and interactions with bad actors,” Jacob Millner — a senior policy analyst at The Israel Project (TIP) – told The Algemeiner.
“In recent years we have seen state legislation divesting from Iran and Sudan,” Millner continued. “Additionally, on a federal level the United States Congress has passed language regarding trade and BDS and is currently considering an anti-BDS bill. This precedent, along with expert legal authorities, has worked to ensure anti-BDS measures passed at the state-level hold up to potential challenges.”