Today the House of Commons is debating the government’s bill designed to stop ‘public bodies’ from supporting boycott movements, but it is of course only concerned with the boycott movement BDS targeting Israel. It serves no other purpose. This on a day when Israel is blasting away with jets, drones and troops on the ground at Palestinian targets—in areas which if it ever happened would be considered Palestinian sovereign territory. Labour MPs have been told to abstain on the Second Reading of the bill if the party’s ‘reasoned amendment’ fails. Labour may oppose the bill at Third reading. Lisa Nandy, Labour’s relevant shadow minister is reported in the Jewish Chronicle: ‘An email seen by the JC and sent to all Labour MPs by Gove’s shadow, Lisa Nandy, says that Labour has long had “concerns” about BDS, because “it has been used by some to seek to apply a standard to the State of Israel that is not used against other countries.’ The irony here is that the bill specifically singles out Israel, whose illegal occupation of Palestine has been many times condemned, not least by the UN. But the bill obviously allows boycotts when it suits, e.g. against Russia. So the irony is that Israel, despite its defiance of UN resolutions can be singled out as a special case. Rather makes a mockery of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and its ‘examples’ doesn’t it?
Well, there’s a whole set of arguments on that side of it. On the other, we have a full-on attack on free speech, and the much touted idea of local democracy. One of the pleasures of being a councillor in the 1980s was to be able to defy the Thatcher government—I’m thinking particularly of nuclear free zones (NFZs). I won’t assert that NFZs changed the course of history, but they did represent a groundswell of opinion at the time, which clearly chimed with the sense that Thatcherism in all its manifestations (not least her love affair with Reagan) should be opposed. Unfortunately in our system trudging to the polling station to vote in a local election is not as rewarding as the same exercise in a general election. Some votes are worth more than others. And when it comes to taking an ethical stand, it seems only Whitehall may decide.