The British government intends to ban public institutions in the country from themselves banning the purchase of goods from Israel, as it will unveil rules later this week that will make it harder for local town halls and public universities to enact boycotts on Israeli products.
Israeli officials have watched with dismay how the BDS movement (or “boycott divestment sanctions”) has gained a foothold in parts of Europe. Last November, the European Union ruled that products made in Yehuda and Shomron would be labeled as coming from occupied territories.
The new British rules will be announced by Matt Hancock, Britain’s cabinet office minister, on a visit to Israel this week.
“Locally imposed boycotts can roll back integration as well as hinder Britain’s export trade and harm international relationship,” read a statement released from the British Cabinet Office on Monday.
“Town hall boycotts undermine good community relations, poisoning and polarising debate, weakening integration and fuelling anti-Semitism,” it argued, warning that institutions that persisted with these boycotts would face “severe penalties.”
The move has evidently pleased the Israeli government. Hancock had met with Israel’s social opportunity minister, Gila Gamliel, last week in London.
“We welcome the decision taken by the British authorities not to allow anti-Israeli initiatives at local level,” an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman told AFP.
Numerous governments in Europe have formally recognized the state of Palestine, a symbolic yet highly charged act.
In 2014, the Leicester city council ruled to boycott goods made in Israeli settlements, while the government in Scotland circulated an advisory saying it “strongly discourages trade and investment from illegal settlements.”
A spokesman for opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn condemned the new rules: “The Government’s decision to ban councils and other public bodies from divesting from trade or investments they regard as unethical is an attack on local democracy,” he told the Independent.