UK Supreme Court boosts BDS

A 2019 Palestine Solidarity Campaign demonstration.

Claire Doherty SIPA USA

The UK’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign won what it said was a historic legal victory for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement on Wednesday.

BDS campaigners celebrated as the Supreme Court in London struck out an anti-divestment rule imposed by the government in 2016.

As the ruling was made by the UK’s highest court, it cannot be appealed.

The Conservative government in September 2016 imposed a new guideline which stopped local authorities using their pension schemes to divest from Israel or any other country – regardless of human rights concerns.

The rule stated that councils must not use their pension policies “to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defense industries.”

But the Palestine Solidarity Campaign challenged the government, and in 2017 the High Court ruled in its favor.

That decision was overturned in 2018 by the Court of Appeal but has now been upheld by the Supreme Court.

“Historic victory”

Calling Wednesday’s decision a “historic victory,” Kamel Hawwash, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said that the ruling “sends a decisive message to the UK government that they should not be dictating how local government pension schemes choose to invest their funds.”

Hawwash promised to continue fighting government anti-BDS measures.

Instead of attacking activists, said Hawwash, the government should be acting to uphold international law and defend human rights.

Jamie Potter, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s lawyer, said the ruling means that local authority workers “now have the freedom to pursue their own principles in respect of the role of the arms trade and foreign countries in violations of human rights around the world, when determining how their pension monies are invested.”

The anti-BDS rule was imposed by the Conservative government in 2016, as part of a wave of measures targeting the Palestine solidarity movement. The measures were announced in Jerusalem at a press conference that Matt Hancock, a British government minister, held with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But related rules on procurement intended to outlaw BDS turned out to have no legal teeth and failed their first test in court. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday represents the last defeat of that wave of the government’s anti-BDS measures.

New law?

But the Conservative government – which has done its best to support Israel – seems unlikely to stop efforts to outlaw BDS.

The court ruling strikes out 2016’s government regulations, but does not speak to any future anti-BDS law the government may bring in.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s director Ben Jamal told The Electronic Intifada that the court victory is a “shot across the bows” for the government’s likely forthcoming anti-boycott legislation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to bring in a new law to ban public bodies from using “boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries.” That pledge was contained in the manifesto on which the Conservative Party fought a general election in December last year.

The intention was confirmed in the “queen’s speech.” Delivered by the reigning monarch, that speech traditionally outlines the legislation a government plans to introduce over the course of a parliamentary term.

On the same day that the speech was delivered, Johnson condemned public bodies who “develop their own pseudo-foreign policy against countries that, with nauseating frequency, turn out to be Israel.”




An excellent example of the sense in using the courts as a adjunct to campaigning. This will make the government's task in framing new legislation slightly more difficult, but they will have astute legal brains on their side and they will undoubtedly seek to outlaw BDS wherever they can. What they can't do, of course, not yet at least, not until Johnson transmogrifies into a complete Big Brother, is to prevent individuals boycotting Israeli goods or investments. The power of that should not be underestimated. Those who recall checking every tin to ensure it didn't come from South Africa will know that when millions discipline themselves, the effects are significant. Notice that coverage of the Supreme Court decision, hardly nugatory, is scant. Imagine if the SC had just ruled that the Labour Party was guilty of anti-Semitism. The Daily Mail wouldn't have enough pages to devote to it. The pro-Israel bias in the media, in the Establishment as a whole, is extraordinary. Here is a racist State which by law prevents people standing for the Knesset who uphold the belief in equal rights before the law for all citizens - a central plank of democracy. Yet the British Establishment, like those of the rest of the so-called advanced democracies, prostrates itself before anti-democracy and racism. The PSC has won a heartening victory, but Johnson and his fellow pseudo-democrats who love Israel because it represents the brutish pursuit of interest over principle in which they believe, will be back. Using the courts is a great tactic and this victory should be headline news. Crucial though to recognise that the grassroots campaign across the globe is what will bring freedom to Palestine. The painstaking, diligent work of making people see that buying Israeli goods or investing in Israel is upholding racism and tyranny, difficult though it is, needs to be encouraged by this judgement in favour of justice.


The Law is everything to sovereignty. The Queen signs the government in and it's platform becomes live? Any law introduced now to comply with that section of the proposed platform is outrageous and should become the spark for mass disobedience and protest till it's rescinded. George Orwell's art is alive and well!

The UK has an opportunity to become a more conscious place where grass roots activism and solidarity with the working class merge. Education and effective organization are required to highlight the appalling record of governing elites embracing policies against their own civilians' interests for their 'special 'friends' abroad. Organization requires legal help and volunteers who are sick to the teeth of the audacious hypocrisy, indoctrination and violence aided and abetted by corrupted established leadership. Yellow vests type movements are required in the UK and that might kick off a yellow vest protest across the EU's individual States? Serious, principled and spirited objection to well designed, unacceptable, repressive legislation is long overdue!

Palestine is an ugly stain on the conscience of humanity with it's inflicted suffering fully supported by all democratic nations? This underway to an amazing ancient people who have so long inhabited that land. They have been evicted since '48, ethnically cleansed, repressed and treated like animals by Central Asian and eastern European foreign invaders. It's impossible to disguise the resulting trauma deliberately perpetrated on the Palestinian population? It was an underhanded and deceitful enterprise at birth and has evolved predictably, if in slow motion, into an unconscionable criminal endeavor. National and EU Laws should clearly reflect that! They don't! That must be the central vehicle of attack before all European people, everywhere!


It’s gratifying to see the courts occasionally still doing their job of upholding the rule of law and the separation of the powers. I won’t be holding my breath to see, however, whether the Law Lords’ decision won’t imminently be undone by the legislature; or even by the executive, via some Order in Council under extant legislation originally conceived and passed with an altogether different motive. Over the years during which I’ve been become semi-detached from it through living and working on another continent, standing on the outside looking in, I’ve become more-than-ever disappointed by my country's "leaders". Johnson is only one of a plethora of self-seeking, mendacious, methanous, populists turds around the world which has recently floated to the surface of the cess-pool that is nationalistic politics. Such as Johnson realise the political advantage in pandering to the dishonest “logic” of the lowest common denominator among their constituency , exemplified in Asa Winstanley’s quote from him, “….develop their own pseudo-foreign policy against countries that, with nauseating frequency, turn out to be Israel”, rather than confronting the less glib reality that stands Johnson’s argument on its head: it is counties including Israel which, with nauseating frequency, breach international law and commit egregious humanitarian abuses against which those of conscience are impelled to protest by withdrawing their investment capital and withholding their purchasing power, which unilateral actions are and must remain their absolute right, and are no government's business.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).