We, the undersigned, urge MPs of all parties to support the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill.
The legislation is also supported by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, the national representative bodies of the Jewish Community.
We are against BDS (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions) of Israel more widely, because it deepens the divisions in the Middle East conflict rather than encouraging dialogue and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. BDS demonises and delegitimises Israel by reusing a tactic made famous in the global campaign to rid South Africa of its racist apartheid regime to imply, completely falsely, that Israel is morally comparable to apartheid.
We are specifically concerned about councils engaging in BDS because it cuts straight across their duty to promote community cohesion. Taking sides in a divisive foreign policy issue risks importing that conflict into our town halls and potentially onto our streets, to the detriment of good relationships between communities in the UK.
Local Jewish communities, most of the members of which will feel deep connections to Israel, will view their council boycotting or divesting from companies associated with Israel as an attack on their values as a community. It puts people who care about Israel in an invidious position if the council they rely on for education, social services, parks and waste management is taking a very public stance against a country they love.
BDS in local government can look ugly and irrational. Protesters have stood on town hall steps accusing the contractor Veolia of being “complicit in war crimes” and tried to block it from winning contracts to collect bins, simply because it used to be a minority partner in building the tram network in Jerusalem. West Dunbartonshire Council interpreted its BDS policy as meaning it had to remove books by Israeli authors from its libraries, and a Clackmannanshire councillor refused to meet a constituent at his advice surgery who was a dual British and Israeli national because she was a “citizen of a settler colonialist state” and so had to be boycotted.
We believe that the bill would be in the interests of local government pension funds, as it would remove undue political campaigning pressure and lobbying from them and enable them to carry out their duty to make investment decisions in the best interests of their members.