Government suffers defeat in court by Palestine campaigners over boycott, divestment and sanctions

BDS

22/6/2017

Press Release by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign

PSC logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Government suffers defeat in court by Palestine campaigners over boycott, divestment and sanctions.

The Government has acted unlawfully by attempting to restrict local councils from pursuing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel through their pension schemes.

Palestine campaigners hailed the triumph the ruling represented for the BDS movement, stating “Today is a victory for Palestine, for local democracy, and for the rule of law.”
Administrative Court judge Sir Ross Cranston granted the judicial review on 22 June, determining that the Government had acted for an improper purpose.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has won a key victory for the peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the UK government today. War on Want, Campaign Against Arms Trade and the Quakers supported the legal challenge with witness statements. PSC was represented in the proceedings by Bindmans LLP, Nigel Giffin QC and Zac Sammour.

The embattled minority Tory government suffered a new blow as parts of its Guidance governing investment by Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) were struck down as unlawful. The Guidance was announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government in September 2016 specifically to curtail divestment campaigns against Israeli and international firms implicated in Israel’s violations of international law, as well as to protect the UK defence industry.

This occurred despite a public consultation indicating that 98% of respondents thought this was the wrong thing to do. Pension holders would have been forced into investing in companies that are complicit in human rights abuses contrary to their conscience and beliefs.

The Administrative Court today held that the Government had acted for an improper purpose by seeking to use pension law to pursue its own foreign and defence policy. Accordingly the relevant parts of the Guidance were held to be unlawful and no longer restrict LGPS in their pension decisions.

In 2005 Palestinian civil society called for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions measures until Israel adheres to its obligations under international law. It is modelled on the successful South African anti-apartheid boycott of the 1980s. Various local councils responded to the Palestinian call by passing motions to boycott goods from illegal Israeli settlements. Campaigners have been calling for councils to consider divesting from companies complicit in human rights violations in the occupied West Bank, such as Hewlett Packard (HP).

Hugh Lanning, Chair of the PSC said: “Today is a victory for Palestine, for local democracy, and for the rule of law. Absolutely everyone has a right to peacefully protest Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights. This ruling upholds the right of local councils and their pension funds to invest ethically without political interference from the government of the day.

Ben Jamal, Director of PSC said: ”Our recent YouGov polling shows 43% of the public think BDS is reasonable. We couldn’t be happier that this right has been upheld by the Court in the month the illegal occupation of Palestine turns fifty years old. PSC will take forward its campaign for justice for the Palestinian people with renewed vigour.”

Jamie Potter, Partner in the Public Law and Human Rights team at Bindmans LLP said: “This outcome is a reminder to the Government that it cannot improperly interfere in the exercise of freedom of conscience and protest in order to pursue its own agenda.”
ENDS

Notes for Editors:

– The Department for Communities and Local Government issued guidance on LGPS in September 2016 declaring ‘divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defence industries are inappropriate, other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government.’

– This guidance came in despite a public consultation on the issue in which 98% of respondents vehemently disagreed with the plans.

– The Palestine Solidarity Campaign applied for judicial review of the new government measures for LGPS in December 2016.

– New YouGov polling on British public attitudes to Palestine shows that 43% of the public consider the BDS movement to be reasonable.
About the Palestine Solidarity Campaign:

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is the largest UK civil society organisation dedicated to securing Palestinian human rights established in 1982. With more than sixty branches across the country, we campaign against Israel’s flouting of international law, the continued military occupation of Palestine, and systematic discrimination against Palestinians. We work to build awareness amongst politicians and the public of the continual injustices and advocate for peaceful and just solutions that respect the rights and dignity of Palestinians and Israelis.

For further information, please contact:

Amy Franck, Media and Communications Officer
Amy.franck@palestinecampaign.org / 07590 862268

Press release by PSC on my denial of entry at Tel Aviv airport

Press release by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign on 12/4/2017

IMG_0621

British–Palestinian on Easter family holiday banned from Israel

  • Prominent British-Palestinian Professor Kamel Hawwash was banned from entering Israel under the new Israeli boycott law, following a string of foreign human rights activist deportations. 
  • Prof Hawwash was on a Easter family holiday with his wife and 5 year-old son to see Palestinian relatives in occupied east Jerusalem. He was denied entry Israel and forced to leave his family in tears at the airport. 
  • Outrage mounts as British government fails to protect citizens from discrimination by Israeli authorities.

Prof Kamel Hawwash, a prominent British-Palestinian from the School of Engineering of the University of Birmingham, was banned from entering Israel earlier this week. As Israel controls access to the occupied Palestinian territories, the ban effectively prevents Prof Hawwash from visiting family in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Prof Hawwash has long been a campaigner for justice for the Palestinian people. He has chaired the British Palestine Twinning Network, the Midlands Community Association and served as Vice Chair of Palestine Solidarity Campaign for eight years. This is the first time that Prof Hawwash has been denied entry or detained, despite making regular family visits to Israel / Palestine. He was told he was being deported under the new foreign boycott law.

Prof Hawwash said:

“I am personally devastated at my denial of entry. Firstly because I could not be with my wife and son for our holiday, but also because I have been denied entry to my homeland. I have elderly relatives that I will never see again if I am not allowed to enter in the future. I had to leave my wife and son alone in the airport in tears.”

The Israeli parliament (Knesset) recently passed a law to ban entry to foreigners who advocate the peaceful boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Hugh Lanning, Chair of the PSC, was the first activist to be deported under this new law in March. Israeli authorities also prevented the Chilean head of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, Anwar Makhlouf, (also of Palestinian descent) from entering the country in April.

Richard Burden, Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield said:

“Following the Knesset’s decision to pass the new entry restrictions I had already been in touch with the government and the Israeli Embassy over how this ban would affect people living in Britain. My constituent Kamel Hawwash is being denied entry not only to Israel, but to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and access to his family – it is utterly shocking that now he may never see them again. The relaxed attitude our ministers are showing to Israel’s actions is scandalous. Human rights defenders  in Israel have rightly spoken out against this new law preventing peaceful campaigners from visiting their country. It is time for British ministers to speak out too.”

Ben Jamal, Director of the PSC said:

“The bottom line is that Israel is using its new boycott law to ban foreign human rights activists. The BDS movement peacefully pressures Israel to comply with international law and cease human rights violations. It draws directly from the tactics of Gandhi and Mandela to effect positive change. According to the Israeli government, human rights activism is a security threat. Fundamental democratic norms and freedoms don’t matter. The British government must demand that Israel ceases this harassment.”

ENDS

About the Palestine Solidarity Campaign: The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is the largest UK civil society organisation dedicated to securing Palestinian human rights established in 1982. With more than sixty branches across the country, we campaign against Israel’s flouting of international law, the continued military occupation of Palestine, and systematic discrimination against Palestinians. We work to build awareness amongst politicians and the public of the continual injustices and advocate for peaceful and just solutions that respect the rights and dignity of Palestinians and Israelis.

For further information, please contact: Amy Franck, Media and Communications Officer

Amy.franck@palestinecampaign.org / 07590 862268

11817188_10153633903001320_524721968447487779_n

With Bannon’s appointment, Israel is comfortable with anti-Semitism

First published by the Middle East Eye on Monday 28/11/2016

From MEE. A file photo of Stephen Bannon, who was recently named to be Donald Trump’s chief strategist in the White House (Reuters)

_________________________________________________________________

The cat is out of the bag: Israel is comfortable associating with suspected holding anti-Semitic and extremist right-wing views as long as they support it.

How else is it possible to explain Israel and its supporters’ lack of objection to the appointment of Steve Bannon as chief strategist for US President-elect Donald Trump?

Bannon’s own ex-wife Mary Louise Pickard accused him in court of having a problem with his daughters attending a particular school. The reason given was “the biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend. He said that he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiney brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews”. He also questioned why another school had “so many Hanukkah books in the library”?

It is important to note that the allegations were made in a custody battle. However, at least one of the allegations regarding the Hanukkah books incident was corroborated by a representative of the school in question.

As has been widely reported since his appointment to the Trump team, Bannon ran the far-right publication, Breitbart News. Bannon was accused of presiding over “the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ – a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists” by the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who is a staunch supporter of Israel.

Joining in the criticism, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement “the President is entitled to choose advisors who he believes will help him implement his agenda. However, both in his roles as editor of the Breitbart website and as a strategist in the Trump campaign, Mr. Bannon was responsible for the advancement of ideologies antithetical to our nation, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia. There should be no place for such views in the White House”.

A speedy examination of Breitbart shows it has covered Israel sympathetically, but it also has covered the alt-right movement sympathetically by including individuals who have expressed homophobic, misogynist, white supremacists and anti-Semitic views. Matthew Tyrmand, a columnist for Breitbart News attacked Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, calling her a “Polish, Jewish, American elitist.”

One would have thought that Israel and its supporters would at least raise their concerns with the man Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called “a true friend of Israel”, President-elect Trump, or would at least seek clarification about Bannon’s past views. After all, anti-Semitism is not only wrong in its own right but has recently formed a major plank of attacks both on the British Labour party and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Instead of raising concerns, Israeli officials and supporters have rallied around Bannon. Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer praised Trump and his team saying “Israel has no doubt that President-elect Trump is a true friend of Israel. We have no doubt that Vice-President-elect Mike Pence is a true friend of Israel, he was one of Israel’s greatest friends in the Congress, one of the most pro-Israel governors in the country, and we look forward to working with the Trump administration, with all of the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, and making the US-Israel alliance stronger than ever”.

Emeritus Harvard Law Professor and staunch supporter of Israel, Alan Dershowitz, leaped to Bannon’s support saying “I think we have to be very careful before we accuse any particular individual of being an anti-Semite. The evidence certainly suggests that Mr. Bannon has very good relationships with individual Jews. My former researcher, Joel Pollak, is an Orthodox Jew who takes off the Jewish holidays, who is a committed Jew and a committed Zionist, and he has worked closely with him. He has been supportive of Israel”. The clue is in the last sentence, “supportive of Israel”.

Dershowitz went further in his defence: “so, I haven’t seen any evidence of personal anti-Semitism on the part of Bannon. I think the headline (on the Breitbart website) about a Conservative Republican being a renegade Jew was ill-advised. But it doesn’t suggest to me anti-Semitism. It suggests to me a degree of carelessness”.

Dershowitz has in the past accused Black Lives Matter, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Richard Goldstone either of outright antisemitism or behaviour that he judged to be problematic in this regard. However, it is behaviour towards Israel or criticism of its practices that has formed the core of his assertions. The contrast with his take on Bannon could not be starker.

It is important to note that his appointment has been widely condemned by Jewish organisations, including Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). In a statement, Rabbi Alissa Wise JVP Deputy Director said:

“In President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon–a leading white nationalist–as Chief Strategist, we are seeing a confirmation of exactly what Trump promised throughout his campaign: the open endorsement of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and antisemitism”. She reflected on the dangers of a far right Government not with reference to an abstract or theoretical situation but to the reality of Israel adding “From our work on Israel, we are familiar with the deepening violence, hatred and repression that comes from a far right government”.

The National Jewish Democratic Council feared that “Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon is just the first appointment of many individuals who have engaged in, or at least, tolerated anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia”. The pro-Israel Group J Street also joined Jewish groups condemning Bannon. However, it is telling that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) declined to take a position on Bannon claiming through its spokesman, Marshall Wittmann: “AIPAC has a long-standing policy of not taking positions on presidential appointments”.

However, is it a leap to conclude from the Bannon episode that Israel turns a blind eye to anti-Semites and extremists if they support it and its policies? Well, Bannon is no joe public. He is the most senior advisor to the President-elect of the United States and the future leader of the free world. Israel and its supporters have perhaps judged that they could not have hoped for a better outcome form the US elections than a Trump win. The team he is forming is to their liking, so why rock the boat about an individual who I would contend would have been more problematic to them had he been called to serve in the Obama Administration.

If a President Trump fulfils his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, protects Israel at the UN Security Council and finally scuppers any chances of a Palestinian state, then tolerating a troublesome senior advisor in his administration is a price worth paying.

However, we are entitled to think that those of us who receive accusations of anti-Semitism must feel aggrieved when we criticise Israel without demonstrating any hatred towards Jews. Those people would surely be happy to send their children to a school with Jewish children when Bannon would not. Those people that have been vilified as anti-Semites suggests there is a major antisemitism problem within the right wing.

TV Interview: Israel Suspends UNESCO Ties

I contributed to the Press TV programme ‘On the news line’ about the UNESCO resolution confirming that East Jerusalem including the religious sites is illegally occupied. This was broadcast on 20/10/2016.

 

Conference: Holding Palestine in the light

Lichfield is holding a conference entitled Holding Palestine in the Light 7-9 October.

This promises to be an excellent event and I am privileged to be contributing to it.

Details here

Faced with a choice of peace and BDS, Israel chooses BDS

first published by the Middle East Monitor on 10 August 2016

Israel’s recent decision to form a taskforce to target Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists for deportation is in stark contrast to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent claim that BDS had been defeated. Speaking at a special session of the State Control Committee on the Foreign Ministry and Israel’s public diplomacy, Netanyahu dismissed claims of Israeli failures against the BDS movement. Instead he claimed “we are acting against BDS and this is why they are on the defensive.” He noted that “anti-Israel activists” around the world are now being forced to fight over the issue of whether they even have a right to boycott Israel. “They are taking hits of many fronts. We have beaten them.”

It seems rather bizarre then that on Sunday 7 August, Israeli Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri and Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan decided to form a joint task force to “expel and ban the entry of BDS activists” into Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. They stated that “we must not allow BDS activists to enter the State of Israel. This is a necessary step, given the malicious intentions of these activists to delegitimise and spread lies and distortions about the reality in our region.” Erdan added that the boycott movement against Israel “must have a price.”

“Fighting against Israeli boycott starts by fighting those who undermine the State of Israel,” Deri said. “We have a responsibility to do everything possible to crush any boycott and to state clearly that we will not allow the State of Israel to be harmed. Forming the task force is an important step in that direction.”

The Palestinian BDS National Committee strongly condemned the establishment of the taskforce. Abdulrahman Abunahel, a spokesperson for the Palestinian BDS National Committee, commented that “deporting BDS activists in order to silence them and undermine their principled support for Palestinian human rights is not only anti-democratic; it is yet another incident of Israel shooting itself in the foot. If anything, we expect such acts of heightened repression to boost support for boycotting Israel back in these activists’ home countries.”

“This latest weapon in the intensifying Israeli legal, espionage and propaganda war against the BDS movement for Palestinian rights is a strong indicator of how desperate and irrational Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid has become in its futile attempts to hinder the impressive growth of the BDS movement around the world.”

Israel, it seems, is struggling to find a solution to its continually declining reputation despite throwing millions of shekels at it in recent years. Strategic Affairs Ministry Director General Sima Vaknin told Israeli lawmakers recently that Israel is perceived a “pariah state” in the international community. Vaknin made her comments during a meeting of the Knesset’s Special Committee for the Transparency and Accessibility of Government Information. She committed to “reversing this stance in the next decade”, adding that “victory for me will be a change of narrative in the world toward Israel – that the narrative in the world won’t be that Israel equals apartheid,” Vaknin said. “[T]oday in the countries of the world, Israel is a pariah state. Our goal is that in 2025 no one in the world will question Israel’s right to exist.”

It seems the penny is finally dropping in Israel that a major effort is needed to deal with its declining image.  However, as it has done in the past, its strategy is flawed because it once again plans to deal with the effect and not the fundamental cause. It sees BDS as a strategic threat which it claims delegitimises the state. How can a peaceful movement which has at its core three legal and moral demands be a strategic threat to one of the strongest military states in the world? How can calls for ending the illegal occupation, for equality for all citizens and the respect and promotion of the right of return for Palestinian refugees be a strategic threat?

The strategic threat to Israel, if it exists at the alarming level it claims, comes from its own policies, which are designed to entrench its illegal occupation and which have in my view ended any prospect for the long touted two-state solution. It comes from its continual pursuit of discriminatory roles and actions against its own non-Jewish citizens. Fundamentally though it comes from Israel’s refusal to acknowledge the wrong committed against the Palestinian people through its creation on their land and without their consent. For as long as it continues to refuse to see Palestinians both under occupation and its own citizens as equal to its Jewish citizens it will fail to sell a narrative of a “normal state” that is a victim.

Israel delegitimises Palestine and the Palestinian people on a daily basis, fighting tooth and nail to wipe away our history, culture and snuff our aspirations for freedom, independence and return. Its strategy will fail because of the steadfastness of the Palestinians and the growing support for their cause. When US Secretary of State John Kerry launched his last round of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis in 2013, he warned Israel that if the talks failed it would face boycotts on steroids. Israel is now facing this because when it has been called on to choose between a just peace and BDS, it chooses BDS and then blames others for its self-inflicted delegitimisation strategy.