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BDS Declares Divestment Victory (23/06/2017)

The High Court has struck down Government guidance preventing local councils from divesting from companies who do business in Israel

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In a victory for BDS activists, the High Court ruled on Thursday that the UK’s recent barring of Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) from engaging in “ethical” divestment from certain companies is unlawful.

In September, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in September issued guidance to local councils that they could not pick local pension schemes that deliberately boycotted certain industries, including the fossil fuel and defense industries, or companies that do business in Israel.

The judge who ruled on the case brought by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Sir Ross Cranston, said that the guidance issued was beyond the powers of the Secretary of State’s office.

Cranston added that he was concerned that local government pension funds should be involved in such divisive political debates: “It might undermine cohesion at home by legitimizing anti-Semitic or racist attitudes and attacks- although it accepts that anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian campaigning is not in itself anti-Semitic; and because it could impact adversely on the financial success of UK defense industries.”

However, Cranston said, “The judgment has nothing to do with the political merits of the claimants’ or the Secretary of State’s position on these matters.

“In this court, the challenges the claimants raise are soluble through legal analysis, not political argument.

“The political merits of the respective arguments have no relevance”, concluded the judge.”

Pro-Palestinian rights and BDS activists as well as organizations with other focuses- including the Quakers, War on Want and the Campaign Against Arms Trade- rejoiced immediately.

Hugh Lanning, chair of the PSC, said: “Today is a victory for Palestine, for local democracy, and for the rule of law. Absolutely everyone has a right to peacefully protest Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights. This ruling upholds the right of local councils and their pension funds to invest ethically without political interference form the government of the day.”

PSC director Ben Jamal said: “We couldn’t be happier that this right has been upheld by the court in the month the illegal occupation of Palestine turns 50 years old.”

Immediate reactions were mixed to negative from those concerned with activists’ attempts to delegitimize Israel through the BDS movement.

Jonathan Turner, chair of UK Lawyers for Israel, said “we will have to wait and see” when it came to measuring the decision’s significance, although he did see it as a victory for PSC.

David Barens, a lawyer who represents the Jewish National Fund on the Board of Deputies, called the decision “disappointing”, adding: “BDS is clearly anti-Semitic within the meaning of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance which the Government has adopted.”


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