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UK court case on boycotting Israeli investments draws apartheid comparisons Open in fullscreen

Robert Cusack

UK court case on boycotting Israeli investments draws apartheid comparisons

The case was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London [The New Arab]

Date of publication: 14 June, 2017

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The UK high court heard there was no legal basis for the current guidance on the boycott of Israeli investments, a policy the Conservative Party has slammed.
Pension companies in the UK should be allowed to dump Israeli investments on ethical grounds, the UK high court heard on Wednesday.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) argue Westminster may have acted "unlawfully" by refusing local government pension schemes the right to divest from Israeli companies.

Campaigners have drawn comparisons to similar campaigns which led to British financial institutions withdrawing their funds from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.

"Everyone has a right to peacefully protest Israel's violation of Palestinian human rights," said Hugh Lanning, chair of the PSC.

"It is reprehensible to forbid people from making decisions about where their own money goes, and forcing them to profit from human rights abuses."

The case, which is projected to last one day, continues.

There is no distinction between a boycott of companies engage in fracking on the one hand and of companies engaged in the arms trade on the other.

The case, heard by Sir Ross Cranston at the High Court of Justice in London, centres on an ideological battle between the UK government - run by the Conservative Party, and local government - mostly controlled by Labour administrations.

Central government in Westminster has consistently said that plans to divest from Israeli investments are "inappropriate" as they run contrary to UK foreign and defence policies.

Many Labour-run councils, by comparison, have shown support for the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Leicester City Council passed an official policy to boycott Israeli goods in 2014, leading to criticisms of anti-Semitism and an unsuccessful legal challenge by Jewish Human Rights Watch, a UK-based pro-Israeli organisation.

"Leicester City Council recognises the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and free from incursion, but condemns the Government of Israel for its continuing illegal occupation of Palestine's East Jerusalem and the West Bank."

It encourages anti-Semitism and strives to make a municipal foreign policy contrary to the interests of the UK.

The chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel said in 2016 that "the attempt by the irresponsible Left to demonise Israel is bad for British business, bad for the local taxpayer, and deeply damaging to community relations.

"It encourages anti-Semitism and strives to make a municipal foreign policy contrary to the interests of the UK," said Sir Eric Pickles, once also minister for communities and local government (DCLG).

Nigel Griffin QC, representing the PSC, said there was no legal basis for the current guidance on boycotting investments.

Current guidance allows authorities to boycott "unethical" investments "as long as there is member support and no risk of financial detriment", but it prohibits boycotts directed "against foreign nations and UK defence industries".

"The purpose of the challenged section is to prevent authorities from acting out of step with the government in matters of defence and foreign affairs," Griffin told the court.

Current guidance allows authorities to boycott payday lenders, companies engaged in fracking, tobacco manufacturers, and companies that abuse zero-hour contracts.

Griffin argued that investors should be allowed to make similar ethical decisions towards Israeli boycotts.

"From a pensions perspective, there is no distinction between a boycott of companies engaged in fracking on the one hand and of companies engaged in the arms trade on the other," the court heard.

The Conservative Party has argued in previous press releases that boycotting Israel is the "dangerous consequences" of "hard-left policies".

"Divisive policies undermine good community relations, and harm the economic security of families by pushing up council tax," said Greg Clark, minister for local government from 2015 to July 2016.

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