A bill that will soon be introduced in the British Parliament by Michael Gove would prevent local councils and bodies from boycotting Israel. Gove, MP and Secretary of State for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities, has explained that such BDS efforts by councils undermine British foreign policy and serve to legitimise and drive antisemitism in the community.
Surprising nobody, a Guardian editorial published yesterday blasted the bill (“The Guardian view on banning council boycotts: a blow to local democracy”, June 26). The editorial is illustrated by a photo of a London protest against China’s human rights abuses against the Uyghurs:
The caption claims that “the [anti-BDS] bill risks undermining attempts to hold China responsible for human rights abuses”, which is extremely dishonest as the bill specifically makes exceptions for countries, such as China, that are already subject to British sanctions over, for instance, the use of slave labour.
Further, the Guardian article later acknowledges that “the bill would allow ministers to rule that particular countries or territories do not come under the legislation”.
The Guardian addressed the question of BDS and antisemitism by acknowledging that “recent years have seen high levels of hate crime, and antisemitism cloaks itself in many guises”, before noting that “The Board of Deputies of British Jews has welcomed the challenge to “unnecessary and inappropriate targeting of Israel”.
However, the editorial avers, “legitimate criticism of illegal settlements and an increasingly extreme far right Israeli government must not be silenced, and economic sanctions are a reasonable means of expressing dissent”, and then later argues that the “legislation is not only a partisan diversion from the serious task of tackling antisemitism”.
The Guardian can be as cynical as they want, but, for British Jews, the question over BDS and antisemitism isn’t merely academic.
A poll in 2021 showed that 78% of British Jews “felt intimidated by tactics used to boycott Israel”, while a 2012 survey found that 67% of British Jews would consider a non-Jewish person who endorsed a boycott of Israeli goods and products to be either ‘probably’ or ‘definitely’ antisemitic.
Further, a 2019 publication, ‘The apartheid connection and calls for a boycott’, released by the Jewish Policy Research Institute (JPR) and CST, shows empirically that there’s a strong connection between extreme hostility towards Israel and traditional antisemitism. This poll – which also revealed that a mere 10% of the British public supported such boycotts – demonstrated that those who agree with explicitly antisemitic statements, such as “Jews have too much power in Britain”, are dramatically more likely to also support BDS.
“It is…scientifically reasonable to conclude”, the authors argue, “that when such claims are made about Israel [such as support for boycotting the state] by non-Jews, there is a relatively high likelihood that they are being made by someone who is also predisposed towards anti-Jewish feeling, thereby indicating antisemitic feeling, motive or intent“.
The Guardian is consistently on the wrong side in the debate over antisemitism in Britain: in supporting the Corbyn-led Labour party in two elections, consistently opposing the internationally recognised IHRA Working Definition on Antisemitism, legitimising antisemitism (and anti-Semites) on its pages and, now, opposing legislation offering a modicum of protection to Jews against hateful, toxic and discriminatory boycotts.
The “serious task of tackling antisemitism” are words that are occasionally mouthed by editors, but is never an ideal they’re willing to truly fight for when to do so would alienate their anti-Zionist base.