Ministers press ahead with ban on councils boycotting Israel

Councils and universities will be banned from targeting Israel with product boycotts and pulling investments under King’s Speech crackdown – as ministers issue warning over surge in antisemitism in wake of Hamas terror attacks

Rishi Sunak today confirmed he is pressing ahead with new laws to ban public bodies from targeting Israel with boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns.

The Prime Minister vowed to prevent local councils from imposing ‘their own politically motivated boycotts of foreign countries’.

As part of the King’s Speech, which sets out the Government’s fresh legislative agenda, Mr Sunak also promised to push forward with the construction of a new Holocaust memorial in central London.

He pledged his Government would ‘do everything we can to protect the diverse nature of our communities and drive out sickening and divisive hatred, including antisemitism’.

Ministers issued a warning that the ‘barbaric’ terror attacks by Hamas on Israel last month had seen a ‘huge rise’ in antisemitic incidents in Britain. 

The Prime Minister vowed to prevent local councils from imposing ‘their own politically motivated boycotts of foreign countries’

Supporters of Israel recently gathered in Trafalgar Square to protest against Hamas’s hostage-taking

There are plans to build a new Holocaust memorial centre in Victoria Tower Gardens, situated next to the Houses of Parliament

The King’s Speech included the return of two pieces of legislation, the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill and the Holocaust Memorial Bill, which were carried over from the last parliamentary session.

Both bills failed to complete their passage through Parliament prior to last month’s prorogation, but will now be allowed to resume their progress in the House of Commons and House of Lords.

The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill aims to deliver a Tory manifesto commitment to ban public bodies from imposing their own boycotts, divestment, or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries.

Ministers have said the legislation will ensure Britain has a consistent foreign policy and speaks with one voice internationally, while it will also ensure public bodies don’t waste taxpayers’ cash on pursuing their own foreign policy agendas.

They have warned how Israel is ‘overwhelmingly and disproportionately’ targeted by public bodies, including through the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

There are fears the ‘divisive’ campaign undermines community cohesion.

Ministers pointed to how Kosher food has been removed from supermarket shelves, Jewish films have been banned from a film festival, and how a student union held a vote on blocking the formation of a Jewish student society.

They also highlighted how BDS motions have been passed in recent years by local councils in Lancaster, Leicester, Swansea and Gwynedd.

The Government is concerned that BDS campaigns are linked to rising antisemitism in the UK, which has surged in the wake of the Hamas terror attacks on Israel last month.

They have warned that when public bodies decide to boycott or divest from Israel, they ‘legitimise and drive antisemitism’.

The Holocaust Memorial Bill is also being brought back by ministers in the new parliamentary session.

It was introduced after plans to build a memorial centre in Victoria Tower Gardens, situated next to the Houses of Parliament, ran into difficulties over a 1900 law requiring the land to be used as a public park.

The Bill intends to update the legislation, removing the legal obstacle that has prevented the project from going ahead.

It would also give the Government powers to use public funding to build and operate the centre.

Ministers promised to do ‘everything we can to ensure the Holocaust is never forgotten and antisemitisim is driven out of our society’.

They pointed to the ‘barbaric’ Hamas attacks on Israel on 7 October and a recent rise in antisemitism as ‘a reminder that we must never give up doing so’.

The Metropolitan Police have recorded a more than 1000 per cent rise in antisemitic incidents compared to last year.

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