Show up for racial justice for Palestinians – oppose the Anti-Boycott Bill

Show up for racial justice for Palestinians – oppose the Anti-Boycott Bill

Fortnightly Bulletin

Written by: IRR News Team

19th December 2023 – 9th January 2024

Over the last weeks, campaigners in the UK have targeted arms manufacturers, companies, banks and universities that are complicit in the violation of rights of Palestinians living under occupation. They have also protested against the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill (otherwise known as the anti-boycott bill) that had its third Commons reading this week. If passed, this legislation, by preventing public bodies’ investment policies from singling out a particular state or showing ‘political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct’ will clip the wings of this highly ethical civil society movement. And lest there is any doubt that the bill is aimed at granting Israel impunity for its violations of the human rights of Palestinians, the proof is in the text which names Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Occupied Golan Heights as territories that the law will explicitly protect from public sector boycotts.

The anti-boycott bill acts as the cornerstone for a range of anti-Palestinian measures aimed at suppressing criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and now of the bombing of Gaza and attempts to clear the land of its people, leading to the forced displacement of over 2 million people – 90 percent of Gaza’s population – and over 23,000 deaths to date, with a further 7,000 buried under the rubble. Another potential keystone of anti-Palestinianism, as we document in our first Calendar of Racism and Resistance of 2024, is a proposal by the government’s so-called independent adviser on political violence and disruption, the former Labour MP John Woodcock. Now Lord Walney, he wants the organisers of pro-Palestinian protests, which he apparently regards as a public nuisance, to contribute to the costs of policing them (currently estimated at £20 million by the Met). He justifies this unprecedented interference with freedom of expression and assembly on the spurious grounds of the ‘repeated incitements and disorder’ that have taken place on ‘anti-Israel’ marches in recent weeks as well as an ‘explosion’ in ‘antisemitic incidents linked to the marches’.

Lord Walney and the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, Michael Gove (sponsor of the anti-boycott bill) are putting the public on notice that its defence of Palestinian rights, even in the face of genocide, is not in the ‘British interest’ or in line with ‘British values’ – with ‘British values’ now firmly attached to support for British foreign policy in the Middle East.

Where does this leave British Palestinians, if drawing attention to their oppression, or naming their occupier, is now deemed against the ‘national interest’? We cannot stand back when the British-Palestinian community are placed in such an existential straitjacket, where they must either remain silent in the face of the destruction of Gaza and its people or speak out and be labelled a threat to British values with all that implies in terms of loss of political and civil rights. To oppose the bill is to show up for racial justice for Palestinians in both the Occupied Territories and in Britain.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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