Britain’s new anti-BDS law must be opposed

Allowing the government to decide what constitutes a legitimate target of protest is a huge threat to democracy in the UK

A march calling for justice for Palestinians moves through London in May 2019 (AFP)

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t complain about “cancel culture” and also censor what’s allowed to be protested.

The British Conservative government’s plan to ban local councils and other public bodies from participating in boycott and divestment campaigns is only its latest illiberal attack on democratic norms. And, like so much of its recent agenda, including its new voter ID rules, has been imported directly from the fringe right in the United States.

The potential outlawing of peaceful boycotts of human rights abusers is not only an attack on the freedom of expression, but a narrowing of the democratic space; a bid to silence dissent, to say that only the government’s narrative is acceptable. And the British government’s narrative of Israel is one of a good friend.

Meanwhile, Israel’s continuing military occupation of Palestinian lands is a scar on the heart of human dignity. The daily human rights abuses perpetrated against Palestinians are almost beyond counting. It seems that every day brings new reports of collective punishment, killings, and the ongoing expropriation of Palestinian land and water resources.

Targeting the innocent families of those who resist Israel’s brutal occupation is an abuse of human rights. Demolishing their houses is an abuse of human rights. Evicting Palestinian families from their homes in order to install Israeli residents is an abuse of human rights. Launching days-long military offensives in Gaza that kill civilians is an abuse of human rights.

The 15-year blockade on the Gaza Strip, home to two million people, is an abuse of human rights. Administrative detention, holding people without charge or trial, indefinitely renewable, is an abuse of human rights. The demolition of the Bedouin al-Araqib village in the Negev desert – for the 211th time – is, guess what? An abuse of human rights.

You’ve got to be able to say these are abuses, and that they’re unacceptable, and that they’re long-term and structural, and that the Israeli government is imposing a system of apartheid. And you’ve got to be able to call for change. That’s how you know you’re living in a democracy.

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