London, Paris, step up fight against BDS

Britain plans to step up its fight against boycott, divestment and sanctions activities targeting Israel, Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock, who is visiting Israel, said Tuesday.

The British government is currently pursuing a new bill that would prevent public bodies, universities and student unions from boycotting Israeli products.

Hancock, who is leading a bipartisan delegation of British MPs, is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the visit and present him with the bill’s principles.

Earlier this week, Hancock described anti-Israeli boycott efforts as divisive, fueling anti-Semitism, and potentially damaging to the U.K.’s relationship with Israel.

The new bill aims to prevent any public body from imposing a boycott on a World Trade Organization member, which Israel has been since 1995. The regulation will essentially outlaw boycotting Israeli products — a threat often made against goods produced in Judea and Samaria — and allow the British government to take legal action against organizations that impose such boycotts.

Under the plan, all publicly funded institutions would be barred from excluding goods produced by their idea of “unethical companies,” such as firms involved in arms trading, fossil fuels, tobacco products, or companies based in Judea and Samaria. Any public bodies that continue to pursue boycotts would face severe penalties.

Hancock met Tuesday with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who heads the government’s public diplomacy efforts against the BDS movement. Last week, Hancock met on the issue with Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, who was visiting London.

Also on Tuesday, the Paris Municipality approved a bill barring city departments and city-affiliated organizations from hosting events or fostering ties with the BDS movement or any other group urging divestment from Israel or boycotting Israeli products.

“The Paris Municipality condemns the boycott of Israel, opposes any initiative to isolate Israel, and clearly states its commitment to promoting a nonviolent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, through strengthening its ties with Israeli and Palestinian cities,” the French capital’s administration said in a statement quoted by the Walla news website.

The bill was sponsored by the French Republican Party. In a statement issued after the vote, the party said anti-Israel BDS efforts were “unjustified” and compromised a close ally of France.

“The divisive and hateful” activities of the BDS movement undermine peace efforts rather than promoting them, and boycott initiatives “have no place in Paris,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law a new trade policy bill that officially condemns anti-Israel boycott efforts.

Section 909 of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, titled “United States-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement,” states Washington “opposes politically motivated actions that penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel, such as boycotts of, divestment from, or sanctions against Israel.”

The bill notes that such actions “by governments, governmental bodies, quasi-governmental bodies, international organizations, and other such entities are contrary to the principle of nondiscrimination.”

The U.S. “encourages the inclusion of politically motivated actions that penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel … as a topic of discussion at the U.S.-Israel Joint Economic Development Group (JEDG) to support the strengthening of the United States-Israel commercial relationship and combat any commercial discrimination against Israel; and supports efforts to prevent investigations or prosecutions by governments or international organizations of United States persons solely on the basis of such persons doing business with Israel, with Israeli entities, or in any territory controlled by Israel,” the bill says.

The bill passed its Senate reading with a majority of 75 votes in favor and 20 against. The White House issued a statement later that day saying the president would sign the bill despite his objection to the article on Judea and Samaria.