Sorry pro-Palestinians, your crucial method of opposing Israel is now gone, the government have banned the boycotting of Israeli companies. Any public bodies – including councils and in some cases Student Unions – that refuse to buy goods and services from Israeli companies in the occupied West Bank, or any corporations that are involved with or profit from the arms trade, fossil fuels or tobacco products will face “severe penalties”.
This now ban exists because apparently boycotts “undermined good community relations, poisoned and polarised debate and fuelled anti-Semitism” but in reality it seems far more sinister. The Government openly supports Israel’s occupation of Palestine and earns a lot of money from the arms trade, so it is obvious why they would want to keep good relations with these companies. A blanket ban of boycotting feels less like an attempt to protect the community and stop anti-Semitism and more like an infringement on the right to protest so the government doesn’t hurt their allies’ feelings.
Boycotting has always been a way that people have enacted social change, as it can be fairly easily done and it hits those in power where it hurts: their wallets. As a means of protesting boycotting has done a lot of damage in the past, with people pointing out that boycotting in the past helped lead to the end of apartheid in South Africa, so this ban will stop people’s right to bring about real social change in a way that has been historically extremely effective.
The ban seems dodgy when you consider it as another way that the government can stifle and silence political expression. Peter Frankental, from Amnesty International summed up a main problem with this law: “Where’s the incentive for companies to ensure there are no human rights violations such as slavery in their supply chains, when public bodies cannot hold them to account by refusing to award them contracts?” Boycotting has always been an important political tool, and by taking it away from us can only be seen as an outright attack on our democratic rights.