The government
The government's Boycott Bill undermines the cause of peace.

Thank you to everyone who got in touch regarding the government’s Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill.

I have long been committed to campaigning for a lasting peace and a sustainable two-state solution because – as I have said many times before – we simply cannot go on with generation after generation of ordinary people in Israel and Palestine trapped in these endless rounds of division, bitterness, escalation, and death, the devastating consequences of which we have witnessed unfolding over the past few months.

That has been my position for more than four decades since I first visited the region when my father was involved in peacekeeping work in the Middle East for the United Nations. I have been back many times over the years, spending time in both Israeli and Palestinian communities, and it has dismayed me each time to see pessimism more deeply set, and expectations even more entrenched of further violence and bloodshed.

And yet, on every one of those visits, I have met Israelis and Palestinians alike desperate for the international community to keep alive the hope of peace and the goal of a two-state solution, just as they are striving to do within their own communities. You only need to look at the massed demonstrations in Israeli cities for peace and for judicial independence over the past year to see that there are millions of ordinary Israelis who profoundly oppose the policies and actions of the Netanyahu government.

That is why I have always been opposed to any general boycott campaign which targets the Israeli people as a whole, and which will only serve to undermine the chances of peaceful progress and dialogue and foment even greater division and bitterness.

Nevertheless, I have serious concerns about the Bill you mentioned, which is deeply flawed and which I have voted against at every stage of the parliamentary process. Firstly, by explicitly naming Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, and the occupied Golan Heights in this law, the government has done exactly the thing they said they were trying to prevent – introducing a different set of standards to which Israel is held.

The inclusion of that clause also undermines the long-standing consensus on the status of territories currently occupied by Israel, and I therefore do not think it is consistent with Britain’s obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions and international law.

The Bill also has wider implications that need serious thought. By barring public bodies from making ethical procurement decisions on other issues of concern (for example on the abuse of Uyghur Muslims in China), and also by gagging such bodies from expressing any view on such matters unless it fits with the government’s own policy, the government risks undermining entirely legitimate public debate and attempts at ethical procurement with which even they would surely not disagree.

Labour suggested the introduction of a clause to this Bill that would have introduced a mandatory and transparent ethical investment framework that would prevent public bodies from taking investment or procurement decisions in relation to one country that they would not have taken in relation to others.

The government showed no concern for trying to change the Bill in that way, which I think demonstrates that they were simply trying to score cheap political points, rather than seeking any sincere way to tackle anti-Jewish prejudice. That would be inappropriate and cynical at the best of times, but during the current period of heightened fear, prejudice, and community tension, it was totally irresponsible.

My view remains unchanged that this legislation undermines efforts to bring about peace and has far-reaching consequences that I do not believe the government has properly considered, and that is why I opposed it at each stage.

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