Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L) greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Number 10 Downing Street in London, April 17, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel hailed a tough British move against boycotts announced on Wednesday as a welcome step in the fight against discrimination against the Jewish state.
The PLO said it perpetuated the “tragedy” that began when Britain issued the Balfour Declaration a century ago.
Visiting UK Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock, during a photo opportunity with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced that “we are publishing new guidance for public authorities in the UK that makes clear that discriminating against members of the WTO [World Trade Organization], including Israel, is wrong and it is illegal and it must stop.”
The British government issued the guidance on Wednesday making clear that “procurement boycotts by public authorities are inappropriate.”
According to a statement put out by Hancock’s office, “Town hall boycotts undermine good community relations, poisoning and polarizing debate, weakening integration and fueling anti-Semitism. Locally imposed boycotts can roll back integration as well as hinder Britain’s export trade and harm international relationship.”
The regulations follow a December 2014 decision by councilors in Leicester, one of Britain’s largest local authorities, condemning Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip earlier that year and voting to boycott goods from the settlements.
Despite those moves, and other BDS efforts in Britain, annual trade between Israel and the UK stands at some $7 billion, a record amount.
According to the statement, any public bodies “found to be in breach of the regulations could be subject to severe penalties.”
The statement said that the guidance is in line with the British government’s “existing policy support for clear and transparent labeling of settlement products to ensure that individual consumers are able to make informed choices before they buy.”
According to Hancock, the move will prevent local authorities in the UK from taking steps that have ramifications for Britain’s foreign policy and national security.
Netanyahu welcomed Hancock and a large parliamentarian delegation to his office by saying that anti-Semitism is the world’s most enduring hatred.
While for centuries “the worst slanders were leveled at the Jews” – from being the source of all instability, to poisoning wells, to drinking the blood of children – in modern times the attacks are not on individual Jews, but rather against the collective Jewish state, the prime minister said.
“We are once again being accused of being the source of all this tremendous instability around us that is plaguing the entire world; we’re accused of being deliberate murderers of children and so many other slanders,” Netanyahu said.
“So it is in this context that I want to commend the British government for refusing to discriminate against Israel and Israelis, and I commend you for standing up for the one and only true democracy in the Middle East.”
The PLO Executive Committee, meanwhile, slammed the move, saying that it prevented public bodies from “exercising their democratic right and freedom of choice not to be complicit in the Israeli settlement project and to take a positive, moral and legal stand in the face of such a war crime.”
The statement said this “represents a serious regression in British policy and it would empower the Israeli occupation by sending a message of impunity.”
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the PLO Executive Committee noted, calling the issuing of that declaration in favor of the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, “a tragedy that continues to victimize the Palestinian people, both under occupation and in exile.
“The United Kingdom bears the primary responsibility for such a historical injustice in Palestine,” the statement continued.
“It is called upon to begin the process of rectification and redemption rather than to insist on perpetuating the injustice.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomed the step, with its Chief Executive Gillian Merron saying that “boycotts are divisive – they increase feelings of vulnerability in the Jewish community and do nothing to further the cause for peace in the region. Local government has a crucial role in enhancing relationships and cooperation between different communities.”