Foreign Office questions, House of Commons, March 28 2017
Consumers have a right to decide for themselves whether or not to boycott Israeli goods. That may sound like a statement of the obvious, but after the Israeli Knesset passed another anti-boycott law in March, it was reassuring to hear this from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Answering a question from Crispin Blunt (right), the Conservative chair of the Foreign Affairs committee, about UK policy on buying goods from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, he said “consumers should have the right to judge for themselves whether they wish to purchase them”.
That needed saying after all the attempts to make it illegal to boycott settlement goods, not only in Israel, but even in the UK. Last year the Communities Department and the Cabinet Office tried to make it illegal for local authorities and public sector pension funds to adopt a policy of not buying from, or investing in illegal settlements.
On March 6 the Israeli Parliament has passed a law allowing the Border Police at Tel Aviv airport to refuse entry to foreign nationals if they – or an organisation they belong to – has publicly called for an end to trade with illegal settlements.
Since the Trade Union Congress has been calling for a ban on settlement goods since 2009, and the Co-op has banned settlement goods since 2013, and hundreds of other organisations have supported the ban, the new law puts millions of UK nationals at theoretical risk of being locked up and deported if they come to Tel Aviv airport.
Israeli border police already have the power to refuse entry without giving a reason and last year the Foreign Office was aware of 115 British nationals who were refused, 50 at Tel Aviv airport and 65 at the Jordanian border. There may have been many more.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock pointed out that MPs from all parties had called for a ban on goods produced in the illegal settlements on the West Bank and could be banned from travelling to Israel.
Labour MP Andy Slaughter (left) raised the case of Hugh Lanning, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, who was detained when he arrived at the airport in March at the head of a trade union delegation to Palestine.
SNP MP Margaret Ferrier asked whether the Deputy Foreign Secretary, Sir Alan Duncan, could fall foul of the new law because he once described people who support the illegal settlements as “extremists”.
Labour MP Richard Burden asked whether Foreign Office ministers could be questioned because their website discourages financial and commercial dealings with settlements.
Boris Johnson said he has been pushing for clarification on the impact of the new law on UK nationals, but added: “I am sure that Members [of Parliament] who wish to travel to Israel will have absolutely no difficulties.”
In relation to his deputy, Alan Duncan, he said: “I do not believe he has said anything of the kind or called for any such boycott, and nor do I believe for a second that he would be interrupted if he chose to go to Israel.”
He is right in that Sir Alan did not specifically refer to boycotts in his speech to the Royal United Services Institute in 2011. What he said was: “Anyone who supports illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land is an extremist who puts themself outside the boundaries of democratic standards.
“They are not fit to stand for election or sit in a democratic parliament, and they should be condemned outright by the international community and treated accordingly.
“For too long we have been too submissive on the principle of illegal settlements, and it is high time we stopped being so, and reasserted clearly and without fear, exactly what is legally and morally right and what is legally and morally wrong.”