Netanyahu welcomes UK decision against anti-Israel boycotts

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday welcomed Britain’s decision to ban the public-sector boycotts of Israeli suppliers, lauding the new rules as a boost for his government’s battle against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

The British government said on Wednesday that local authorities and public-sector organizations in Britain are banned from boycotting Israeli suppliers under new government regulations, and violators could face severe penalties.

The British Cabinet Office said that apart from where legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been imposed, procurement boycotts by public authorities were “inappropriate.”

In a statement, it said such boycotts “undermine good community relations, poisoning and polarizing debate, weakening integration and fueling anti-Semitism.”

The new rules coincided with a visit to Israel by Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock.

“We are publishing new guidance for public authorities in the U.K. that makes clear that discriminating against members of the World Trade Organization, including Israel, is wrong, and it is illegal, and it must stop,” Hancock said on Wednesday. “And we do this because we believe in an open and free trade, and we believe that discrimination is not appropriate and should be stood up to.”

In welcoming remarks to Hancock and a British trade delegation to Israel, Netanyahu said, “I want to commend the British government for refusing to discriminate against Israel and Israelis, and I commend you for standing up for the one and only true democracy in the Middle East.”

The British government said the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement required signatories to treat suppliers equally, and therefore any discrimination against Israeli suppliers would be in breach of the agreement.

The government has not made boycotts a criminal offense, but those in sectors such as the health service, local authorities and some university student unions that impose them could face penalties, including fines and contract cancellations, the government said.

World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer called the new British rules “a significant step and a major victory against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which unfairly singles out Israel.”