Israel boycott restrictions thrown out by UK’s High Court

Campaigners call for the right to boycott Israel and other human-rights abusers.


The High Court in London ruled on Thursday that the Conservative government acted unlawfully in trying to prevent local councils in the United Kingdom from divesting from firms involved in Israel’s military occupation.

The successful legal challenge for the right to boycott was brought by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in March, and was supported by War on Want, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and the Quakers.

”We couldn’t be happier that this right has been upheld by the court,” said PSC Director Ben Jamal.

Recent UK polling showed that two in five people consider BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – a reasonable Palestinian response to Israel’s crimes.

“Today is a victory for Palestine, for local democracy and for the rule of law,” PSC Chair Hugh Lanning said. “Absolutely everyone has a right to peacefully protest Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights.”

In a judicial review published on Thursday, judge Ross Cranston overturned part of a guidance document issued in September by local government minister Sajid Javid.

The court ruled that the government had acted improperly by seeking to use pension law to pursue its own foreign and arms industry policy.

Freedom to protest

Jamie Potter, one of PSC’s lawyers, said, “this outcome is a reminder to the government that it cannot improperly interfere in the exercise of freedom of conscience and protest in order to pursue its own agenda.”

The full ruling can be read below.

The minister’s guidance had stated that local authorities must not use “pension policies to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defense industries … other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the government.”

Although the document did not specifically name Israel, it was part of a series of measures, launched at a press conference in Jerusalem, explicitly intended to target BDS campaigners.

Although the government trailed it to the media as a “BDS ban,” legal analysis of the new documents showed there was nothing new in them “aside from some overblown rhetoric clearly intended to scare campaigners.”

BDS gets the goods

Local government bodies in the UK have for years been urged by Palestine solidarity campaigners to divest from companies that are involved in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

French multinational Veolia withdrew from most Israeli businesses in 2015 after being the focus of a years-long BDS campaign.

Municipalities around the world had dropped it from contracts worth more than $14 billion, according to the BDS National Committee.

Veolia lost contracts with public bodies in London, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Canterbury, East Sussex and Winchester as a result of BDS campaigns.

Councils in Tower Hamlets, Leicester, Swansea and Bristol are among those that have passed resolutions in support of BDS or condemning companies involved in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal under international law.




The next government will at last give heed to public pressure and support for the cause of Palestine. The new Prime Minister will be able to begin untying the knots that bind Britain to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. That relationship has been a decidedly unhealthy one from the perspective of peace and justice in the Middle East. Yesterday's decision by the High Court affirming the right of municipalities to boycott states engaging in war crimes will cast a shadow on Israeli plans to stifle dissent in the U.K. It's one more step in holding Israel to account.


Thank you,thank you for this most sound judicial decision.There is justice in the UK after all.


A great victory for democracy in action that was achieved by PSC Director Ben Jamal and Chair Hugh Lanning, as well as all others who participated in, and supported, their cause. The right to free speech and dissent is paramount to a free and democratic society. And, those who support BDS must be allowed to express themselves, unhindered, whether one agrees with them or not.
To quote Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
My wholehearted congratulations to all of those who made this decision by the UK High Court possible.


To add to my comment of June 24, 2017, on Tuesday, June 27th, the Spanish Parliament passed a motion defending the right to advocate for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. The bill was introduced by the progressive coalition Unidos Podemos-En Comu` Podem-En Marea.
The right to free speech is the oxygen of a vibrant democracy!

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).