Legal threat delays Northern Ireland settlement boycott motion

A district council in Northern Ireland has delayed the tabling of a motion banning trade with Israeli settlements after a legal threat from UK Lawyers for Israel.

UKLFI director David Lewis, a construction industry lawyer and self-described “committed Zionist,” emailed the council’s chief executive last week. He claimed the motion was “unlawful and discriminatory” and that “we and others will consider what steps may be legally open to us” should it go forward.

The motion was due to be tabled at Newry and Mourne District Council’s monthly meeting today at 7pm. It will now be deferred until September pending legal advice. Instead a statement will be read out in the council chamber Monday.

Gary Spedding of Queens University Belfast’s Palestine Solidarity Society said in a statement: “This is a clear attempt by an anti-Palestinian advocacy group to use a politicized interpretation of the law to deter legitimate democratic political processes.” He continued: “it frightens Councillors who, if there were a legitimate legal issue, could be liable to pay surcharges to the sum of thousands of pounds” when they only have very limited budgets anyway.

Spedding is also a campaigns officer in Alliance, a cross-community political party in Northern Ireland.

He has also drafted a similar motion for the Northern Ireland Assembly which will be tabled later in the year.

The email is a “last minute attempt to throw a spanner in the works … I don’t think it’ll stand up to scrutiny when it’s properly reviewed,” he told me in a phone call.

Motion

The now-postponed motion was put forward by Social Democratic and Labor Party councilor Connaire McGreevy. It says:

That this Council commits to upholding trading standards that are ethical and human rights compliant and recognises that trade can contribute to national and international well-being.

This Council however acknowledges that trade and investment should be suspended or withdrawn where there is international consensus that trade is a factor in conflict, human rights abuses or continued breaches of International Law in designated regions, settlements and states.

This Council affirms that cases exist where the status of a designated settlement for example is considered illegal, these being Israeli Settlements in occupied Palestinian and Syrian Territories and the Moroccan Settlement in Western Sahara.

Accordingly the Council agrees that all trade and investment carried out by Newry and Mourne District Council should cease and no further investment be taken with companies that are complicit in unethical practices, including but not limited to the illegal settlement of occupied territories and profiteering off goods from those territories and that no investment in unethical companies should occur in the future from this Council.

Councillor McGreevy told me on the phone: “I don’t think it’s helpful to issue legal threats, they could have put questions” instead. He said the motion was about ethical trading standards and as such “was much wider than Israel … it’s about fair trade across the world … we believe in sustainable development.” He said he anticipated the motion would be put forward again in September.

Campaign

In his email to the council, Lewis misrepresented the motion as focusing “on Jewish communities” – right-wing Israeli propaganda terminology commonly used to describe illegal Jews-only settlements in the occupied West Bank and Syrian Golan Heights.

Spedding said in the statement that “this is demonstrably not the case as the motion clearly identifies that it targets illegal settlement of occupied territories and cannot fall foul of the legalities surrounding a people groups’ protected characteristic status.”

Spedding told me that legal advice he had sought in Belfast suggested that four of the five points in the email were “completely bogus” and other lawyers had told him there “no real impediment to this motion at all.”

He also said such “lawfare” tactics were part of a wider campaign against the boycott movement in Northern Ireland.

Two weeks ago, he said, deputy ambassador Alon Roth-Snir was sent from the Israeli embassy in London to talk to Alliance party officials. Spedding said that the main purpose of the meeting was to talk about the motions going through the assembly and the council.

The email included a signature footer that named figures including Lord David Trimble as patrons. Trimble, the former first minister of Northern Ireland helped Israel to whitewash its 2010 assault on the Mavi Marmara aid ship to Gaza. He was part of the Turkel Commission, an Israeli body which cleared the Israeli government and military of wrongdoing during the May 2010 military raid, in which nine passengers were killed.

Full email

*”David Lewis (UKLFI)” <david.lewis@uklfi.com david.lewis@uklfi.com>*

28/06/2013 10:31

Please respond to <david.lewis@uklfi.com david.lewis@uklfi.com>

To
<tom.mccall@newryandmourne.gov.uk tom.mccall@newryandmourne.gov.uk>, <Siobhan.fearon@newryandmourne.gov.uk Siobhan.fearon@newryandmourne.gov.uk>

cc

Subject
Proposed motion on Jewish communities in the West Bank and Golan Heights

Dear Sir/ Madam

We have been informed that the Council at its meeting on Monday 1 July 2013 will be asked to approve a motion in the following or similar terms:

“That this Council commits to upholding trading standards that are ethical and human rights compliant and recognises that trade can contribute to national and international well-being.

“This Council however acknowledges that trade and investment should be suspended or withdrawn where there is international consensus that trade is a factor in conflict, human rights abuses or continued breaches of International Law in designated regions, settlements and states.

“This Council affirms that cases exist where the status of a designated settlement for example is considered illegal, these being Israeli Settlements in occupied Palestinian and Syrian Territories and the Moroccan Settlement in Western Sahara.

“Accordingly the Council agrees that all trade and investment carried out by Newry and Mourne District Council should cease and no further investment be taken with companies that are complicit in unethical practices, including but not limited to the illegal settlement of occupied territories and profiteering off goods from those territories and that no investment in unethical companies should occur in the future from this Council.”

We have consulted lawyers about this proposed motion, and their advice is that it may well be unlawful and that the Chief Executive and/or the Council’s chief legal adviser should take the following matters into consideration before allowing it to go onto the agenda, and indeed should not allow it to go forward unless you are satisfied that it is lawful.

  1. You must satisfy yourself that the motion complies with the Council’s constitution and other internal regulations: for example, meeting any requirements about relevance to the Council’s functions.

  2. The motion’s reference to investment includes the investment of pension funds under the Council’s control. Pension fund trustees have a fiduciary duty to invest in the best interests of the members and beneficiaries of the fund, and to invest prudently. In// /Cowan v Scargill/(1984) the court ruled that the best interests of pension fund beneficiaries are normally their best financial interest. Disinvestment, or refusal to invest, on the grounds that a company serves Jewish communities in the West Bank or Golan Heights, as the motion appears to require, would be unlawful.

  3. The motion appears to be in breach of regulation 23(4)(e) of the Public Contracts Regulations 2006, in that it advocates the rejection of tenderers who meet the movers’ highly politicised definition of “unethical”, i.e. companies serving Jewish communities in areas where, in the movers’ political opinion, Jews should not be permitted to live.

  4. The motion will be in breach of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 unless the Council has, before approving it, had due regard to the need to promote good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group (and may be in breach of other statutory provisions relating to rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity).

  5. The motion proposes a secondary boycott of Israel which is discriminatory because it proposes no similar boycott of companies that deal with northern Cyprus. The motion ignores the transfer of large numbers of Turkish settlers to that region and the UN Security Council’s numerous resolutions confirming that the current status of northern Cyprus as a separate state is illegal. The motion’s references to “international consensus that trade is a factor in … continued breaches of International Law in designated regions, settlements and states”, “cases … where the status of a designated settlement for example is considered illegal”, and “the illegal settlement of occupied territories and profiteering off goods from those territories” are more applicable to northern Cyprus than to the Jewish communities in the West Bank and Golan Heights.

If this unlawful and discriminatory motion goes forward and is passed by the Council, then we and others will consider what steps may be legally open to us to ensure that the Council complies with the law.

We should be grateful if you would kindly acknowledge receipt of this email.

Yours faithfully

David Lewis*
David Lewis
Director and Secretary
UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI Limited)*

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Comments

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A sure sign that BDS is working successfully is the amount of zionist feathers that are being ruffled and the time, energy and expense they are putting in to trying to fight BDS.

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This is a copy of the email I sent to David Lewis with cc to Tom Mccall and Siobahn Fearon;

Subject; Your email to Newry and Mourne District Council

'Proposed motion on Jewish communities in the West Bank and Golan Heights'

May I point out that there are 3 specific UN resolutions applying to Israeli settlements (see below) with Resolution 465 being particularly relevant as 'trading' with settlements is 'assisting the settlements program'.

I therefore respectfully suggest that the The Newry and Mourne District Council’s' motion banning trade with Israeli settlements' is necessary for it to meet it's obligations to UN resolution 465.

Yours faithfully,

Resolution 446 (1979): 'determines' that Israeli settlements are a 'serious obstruction' to peace and calls on Israel to abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention".

Resolution 452: " ... 'calls' on Israel to cease building settlements in occupied territories".

Resolution 465: " ... 'deplores' Israel's settlements and asks all member states not to assist Israel's settlements program".

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I have today received the following reply from Mr Lewis.

Dear Mr Ward

Thank you for your observations on certain UN Security Council resolutions, which we – and, I am sure, the officers of Newry and Mourne District Council - have noted with interest.

Yours sincerely

David Lewis
Director and Secretary
UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI Limited)

Company no. 07396781
A: 37 The Grove, Finchley, London, N3 1QT (registered office)
T: 020 8346 6424 F: 020 8346 0745 M: 07887 757 606
E: david.lewis@uklfi.com W: www.uklfi.com
Patrons
The Rt Hon Lord Carlile of Berriew CBE QC | The Rt Hon Lady Cosgrove CBE QC
Baroness Deech DBE QC | Professor Sir Elihu Lauterpacht CBE QC
Sir Ivan Lawrence QC | Sir Gavin Lightman QC | Lord Pannick QC
The Rt Hon Lord Trimble PC

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Exactly the same scare tactics were tried at Hackney Council by UKLFI who wished to discuss the illegal actions of Veolia in its projects in the OPTs. It is all fluff and nonsense and a shameless and disgraceful attempt to stymie and interfere in democratic council business, that must be faced head-on and discounted. In fact the EU directive and even UK Company Law gives organisations and local councils the right to refuse business with companies and their subsidiaries who carry out business considered illegal by the UN and which constitute grave misconduct. An investigation should be made into UKLFI and their political Zionist links, and reference should also be made to the Ronnie Fraser/UCU tribunal in which an attempt to charge the UCU with anti-semitism at a Tribunal fell flat on its face and was thoroughly dismissed.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He first visited Palestine in 2004.