Tories pledge to ban boycotts

Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched the Conservative manifesto.

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The UK’s ruling Conservative Party has promised to ban public bodies from using “boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries.”

The pledge – contained in the party’s election manifesto – does not name any particular state but is clearly aimed at protecting Israel from the growing BDS movement.

BDS campaigns “undermine community cohesion,” the manifesto, published on Sunday, claims. The Tories say they would enact the new ban if they win the general election on 12 December.

You can read the full manifesto below.

If enacted, the new ban would be the second such Tory attempt to restrict BDS.

In February 2016 Matt Hancock, now a senior minister, went to Jerusalem to announce new measures to stop British public bodies from boycotting Israel, at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But the new UK government rules on local authority procurement had no teeth, and did not involve any new legislation.

The first case to rely on the new rules – launched by an Israel lobby group against local governments that had boycotted Israel – failed in the High Court in June 2016.

BDS ban again?

But there was a second set of guidelines which also flowed from the “ban.” Those guidelines sought to prevent public bodies that administer pension schemes from excluding firms complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses.

The new manifesto pledge comes as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign is challenging the anti-BDS rules in the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest legal authority.

A hearing took place last week, and a ruling is expected probably sometime in January. A PSC source said they were cautiously optimistic about the result.

Unlike the previous “ban,” the new manifesto pledge appears to be a promise to bring in new anti-BDS law, or at least decree the boycott of Israel to be “anti-Semitic.”

The manifesto’s claim that BDS campaigns “undermine community cohesion” is almost certainly a reference to that false claim.

In fact, the BDS movement has always been clear that it is an anti-racist campaign demanding equal rights for all.

Tory government ministers have this year smeared boycotts of Israel as anti-Semitic.


In May, Jeremy Hunt, then the UK’s foreign minister, expressed support for the German parliament’s non-binding declaration that “the pattern of argument and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic.”

The German motion also smeared the BDS movement as akin to Nazis.

The new Conservative manifesto stands in stark contrast to the opposition Labour Party’s manifesto, which actually boosted the BDS movement.

A Labour government would “immediately” suspend arms sales to Israel and to Saudi Arabia, the party announced last week.




Israel is totemic. It is an international example and therefore very important to the Right. Its meaning is simple: if we can do this to the Palestinians, we can do it to you; ethnic cleansing works; violence works. Behave yourselves or this will be your fate. What the Zionists and their supporters fear is not the disappearance of Israel, as they claim, but the democratisation of Palestine. Democracy, of a kind, is acceptable in the advanced nations (where most people have white faces) but democracy for Arabs is a frightening notion because it undermines the insidious notion of genetic superiority. Israel rests on the belief in messianic entitlement, which blends into genetic election. Israel says white people are superior, democracy is for them, even socialism is for them, but there can be no equality with the Arabs. The apparent commitment to equality in the advanced democracies is belied by support for Israel. Johnson and the Tories are enthusiastic about Israel because it represents the social division along genetic lines which underpins their ideology. The unspoken message of Toryism is that there is an elite born to be an elite. Yes, people get a schooling, yes, there is apparently "equality of opportunity", but when the rich and powerful prevail, the tacit assumption is that they do so because of their innate superiority. Israel is a bulwark. The Israelis prevail because they are superior and they are superior because god made them so. The Arabs have to be corralled, expelled, abused, imprisoned, denied, shot because they are lesser creatures. If Palestine becomes a democracy, the ruling elites around the world lose a visible "proof" of their superiority. Hence Johnson's intention to deny the democratic right of public bodies here to boycott an apartheid regime, just like the 1960s when the Tories supported the South African regime.


Boris Johnson will also unleash more humiliation, and suffering on the disabled and those in ill health in the UK. That's not in his manifesto, but its something the tories have conducted for nearly a decade, and which will worsen under his leadership.


Since the boycott of English tea in the U.S. colonial days was part of the U.S. revolution I understand that the English tories have a negative attitude toward boycotts. Also Irish insurgents acting for fair treatment against an English land agent whose ostracism by his local community in Ireland gave the English language the verb "to boycott." The ruling class hates activism for justice and decent treatment. BDS is part of a proud tradition to fight against oppressive authority.

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).