UK Judge Rules: Illegal to Ban Palestine’s BDS Movement
Palestine Solidarity Campaign wins case against the UK Government as judge rules government acted unlawfully by restricting local councils from pursuing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel, says Hugh Lanning
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. A UK judge, Sir Ross Cranston, has overturned a UK government ban on boycott divestment and sanctions movement, saying the ban is unlawful. By way of background: Back on February 16th, 2016, the British government announced that it will be illegal for local councils, public institutions, even universities and even their unions from boycotting Israeli products. Some saw this as the greatest threat to free speech in the west, criminalizing activism. Particularly against Israeli occupation. This is, of course, in the context of a wave of attempts to criminalize the BDS movement in France and Canada and the United States, facilitated by the Israeli government.
In protest against this decision, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, a British organization for solidarity with the struggle of Palestinians for freedom and equality, launched an appeal. It is in the appeal that Judge Cranston rendered his judgment that banning BDS was unlawful. The BDS movement is a boycott divestment movement. It calls for sanctions to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory. It calls for equal rights to all the citizens of Israel and for the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Now, joining us to talk about all of this is Hugh Lanning. He is the chairman of the London Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, PSC, that appealed the decision of the UK government. Hugh Lanning is also a former trade union official. He was the deputy general secretary of the public and commercial services union, one of Britain’s largest unions until May of 2013.
Hugh, I thank you so much for joining us today.
HUGH LANNING: Thank you very much for your interest. Thanks for calling.
SHARMINI PERIES: Hugh, let’s begin with why did the UK government take such an extreme decision to begin with, to deny citizens the right to express their views and pressure through boycott? For what purpose was this decision made?
HUGH LANNING: Well partly they made a political commitment to Israel that they would try and make boycott divestment and sanctions hard, and make it illegal. They made that commitment and they thought they’d start with doing it pensions in local authorities, local councils, and so on. Also I think it’s because BDS has been very successful. It’s having an effect on major companies who are re-thinking their policy of investing in Israel.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Let’s talk about the setbacks this interim period has had on the BDS campaign, because it is one of the strongest in the world, the one in the UK. What does this decision now mean, in terms of their activities?
HUGH LANNING: Well up until we won in the high court, there was what we’ve described as a chilling effect. The government had made all these announcements and issued regulations. It was frightening people off from raising the issue of disinvestment from companies that are in breach of international law. We think this decision, which is a major victory for not only our organization, but the BDS movement, will reinvigorate our local campaigners, councilors, tribunians to start raising the issue of disinvestment once again. It’s a big, big setback for the government.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. In a sense, at least in this interim period, it had the desired effect it wanted to have?
HUGH LANNING: Yes. They had issued regulations saying that councils couldn’t do it. Councils were following that as a matter of law. What the court found was that actually what they’d done was unlawful. They’d tried to use pensions regulations, which are there to protect people’s pensions, to implement what was foreign and defense policy. The court said you can’t do that. I think it’s not only a signal in this area. They’re trying to do similar things about procurement, about meetings, all sorts of areas. I think this is not just going to affect pensions and disinvestment, I think it will make a difference to the attitude across the board. I’ve been interested in the same department, our department that looks after local councils, was trying to ban a meeting that we’re organizing, Hal Expo, in early July. Today they’ve just announced they’re not going to cancel it. I think this is going to make them re-think.
SHARMINI PERIES: I must say that the Israeli government, as you know, many people who are in the BDS movement knows, has been putting a lot of force behind these anti-BDS campaigns abroad in the UK, London, France, and elsewhere. They in fact appointed a minister responsible for this particular venture. How do you think they’re going to now react to this decision? Is there any way in which it’s going to be appealed?
HUGH LANNING: No, they have, you’re right. They’ve been using everything. They introduced a new law in Israel to make it possible for them to deport people who supported BDS. I was the first person to be removed from Israel using that law. I think they thought they could say anything and intimidate governments around the country to try and prevent BDS. I think what this shows is that individuals are not going to put up with it. I think they believe we do not have the resources to fight them. We had to raise over 100,000 pounds to fight this case. It would have been a major setback for us if we lost. They have indicated they’re going to appeal, but our legal advice is that it’s a sound judgment, and we’d be very surprised to lose if it does go to appeal. We think the law can only be changed if they want to bring in a new law through Parliament. As you know, in the UK, there is no overall majority in Parliament. We think they’ll struggle to do that, as well.
SHARMINI PERIES: Historically, Hugh, the British government has had a history of this. In fact, they supported the South African apartheid regime for years. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher even said that, in 1987 she said that the African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, that it is a typical terrorist organization. She said, “Anyone who thinks it’s going to run the government in South Africa is living in a cloud or a cuckoo land,” she said. This has been the historical approach to these sorts of activism in the UK. What do we have to learn from that experience today, here in the UK, as far as BDS is concerned?
HUGH LANNING: Well as you know, the UK has not got a good historical record anyway, really, I don’t think. I think in the UK, what they need to listen to is what ordinary people are saying, rather than what the Israeli government is saying. We should be a democracy and people ought to express their views. We’ve done some public opinion polling recently. It shows very clearly that the majority of people are sympathetic with Palestine. That they support BDS. Perhaps in the future, what was most interesting from that polling, was that amongst young people, which interestingly was described as under 50, but young people four to one in favor of supporting BDS and Palestine. I think for the future, this isn’t just a historical thing. This is where people are going. The British government needs to wake up to that and start accepting that there is a wrong that was done, that there is no free Palestine. That the UK was partly responsible for that. We need to be part of solving that problem. There needs to be …
It’s 100 years since Balfour. Palestine’s been occupied for 50 years. Gaza’s been under siege for 10 years. The British government needs to be part of the solution and not trying to silence those people who are trying to highlight the injustice that’s going on to the Palestinians.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. I should add that that poll that was conducted, where 43% of the British public thinks BDS is a reasonable demand, was conducted by YouGov polling, which is considered a very reputable polling firm, as well. Then, finally, let me ask you, Hugh, what’s next for the BDS campaign? I know that you have been very active with some products related to [avva 00:09:39] and minerals from the Dead Sea, and that sort of activity locally. What are some of the campaigns you are working on?
HUGH LANNING: Well we’ve been successful on G4S, is a big security firm that was involved in prisons and the security fence and so on, in Israel. They’ve announced that they’re going to be withdrawing. At the moment, our biggest target is Hewlett Packard, who supplied computer and other technology to the Israeli army and navy. But what our future, especially I think, is to follow the money. There’s a lot of bank and finance support that goes into the illegal settlements in the West Bank, that supports the infrastructure that helps build the wall. We’re going to be trying to highlight the role of international finance and aren’t supporting the illegal activities that are going on in the West Bank and elsewhere. At the moment, it’s the big technology and the arms trade. But I think with this decision now, we’re going to be trying to reinvigorate everyone to look and see who is complicit. Who is actually supporting illegal activities in breach of international law. We’re going to highlight them.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Hugh, I thank you so much for joining us today.
HUGH LANNING: Okay. Thank you for your interview and thank you for your interest.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.