BDS: you can’t ban the boycott brigade
The UK government has proposed new rules to stop public bodies from supporting ‘politically motivated’ boycott campaigns. Primarily, the ban would restrict the right of local councils, trade unions, charities and students’ unions to participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
BDS has become popular among public bodies in recent years. Local councils and Labour-affiliated trade unions have signed up to it, using their procurement and pension policies to put financial pressure on Israel. Several students’ unions have signed up to academic and consumer boycotts.
There are plenty of reasons to dislike BDS. Though the situation for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation is often appalling, singling out Israel as a uniquely menacing nation is wrong. Worse still, the BDS movement often lapses into full-blown anti-Semitism, contending that Israel disproportionately kills children or that it secretly pulls strings in Western parliaments. However, denying people the right to take part in peaceful, albeit controversial, protest is cowardly, censorious and thoroughly undemocratic.
Moreover, banning people from supporting the boycott of Israel is likely to be counterproductive. It would play into the hands of BDSers who insist that British officialdom already shares too close a friendship with the Israeli state. It would lend a glamour to BDS that it doesn’t deserve: when we silence people we disagree with, we turn them into martyrs.
We need a more rigorous debate about BDS. If you don’t approve of it, join the debate. Banning the boycotters will get us nowhere.
Chris Lynch is a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh.
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