Supreme Court rules local councils can boycott Israel

In a victory for the BDS movement, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has defeated the government in a court battle to defend the right to take action in the UK in support of Palestinian rights.

The Supreme Court ruled today that the government’s current ban on ethical pensions divestment is unlawful, overturning the previous decision of the Court of Appeal.

This means that if local councils want to make ethical investments which boycott Israel they may do so. It also means they may divest from the UK defence industry.

Since 2017 the PSC, the UK’s largest organisation campaigning for Palestinian rights, has been fighting the government in the courts to protect the right to undertake BDS campaigns in the UK.

In 2016 the Department for Communities and Local Government issued guidance which prohibited Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) from pursuing divestment from foreign nations and UK defence industries. This included a prohibition against disinvestment in companies on the basis that they trade in products produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The PSC originally won its case in the High Court in 2017, then lost in the Court of Appeal in 2018, but today’s verdict from the Supreme Court will be final.

In bringing the legal case, PSC raised concerns about threats to freedom of expression, government overreach in local democracy, and the right of pension holders to have a say in the investment and divestment of funds.

The Supreme Court

The ruling comes just months after the government announced its intention to introduce legislation to prohibit public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycott divestment or sanctions (BDS) campaigns against foreign countries – a move that was widely condemned by human rights campaigners as an attack on civil liberties.

PSC says the government’s defeat in the Supreme Court demonstrates the illegitimacy of its attempts to suppress BDS campaigns.

Kamel Hawwash, Chair of  Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “This historic victory represents a major win not just for the campaign for Palestinian rights, but for the fundamental principles of democracy, freedom of expression and justice. The Supreme Court ruling sends a decisive message to the UK government that they should not be dictating how Local Government Pension Schemes choose to invest their funds, including choosing not to invest in companies complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses.

“At a time when Israel is continuing to ramp up its oppression of the Palestinian people and its illegal acts, including annexing large swathes of the illegally occupied West Bank, the government should be acting to uphold international law and defend human rights, not attacking peaceful campaigns which seek to do precisely that.

“PSC will continue to resist any attempts to suppress BDS activism, and I extend deep thanks to all our members and supporters who have stood by us every step of the way in this legal case. We have shown how powerful this movement is.”

Jamie Potter, solicitor for PSC, added: “We welcome the Supreme Court’s confirmation that the government went too far in imposing its political opinions onto the management of the money of LGPS members. LGPS members now have the freedom to pursue their own principles in respect of the role of the arms trade and foreign countries in violations of human rights around the world, when determining how their pension monies are invested.”

The government has yet to comment on the ruling.

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