Letter from Balfour Project Chair to Sir Keir Starmer on the Economic Activities of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill.

30 June 2023

Dear Sir Keir,

Economic Activities of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill: If Labour’s “reasoned amendment” is voted down in Parliament on Monday, please vote against the Bill

I write on behalf of the trustees of the Balfour Project charity, dedicated to raising awareness in Britain of our role in Palestine before the creation of the modern state of Israel and to advocating for equal rights now for Palestinians and Israelis alike. We fully support your reasoned amendment to Michael Gove’s Bill. If, however, that amendment is defeated on Monday, as can be anticipated, we urge you to vote against the Bill at its Second Reading, and to oppose it in the House of Lords.

This Bill is mischievous. It runs counter to those basic principles of civil liberties, human rights, and the upholding of international law that the Labour Party proudly stands for. It does not deserve to pass in any form.

If you decide to instruct your MPs to vote against it, you will be doing what is right. You will have the enthusiastic support of a wide range of British organisations, including the Union of Jewish Students and Yachad. Your stance will also be hailed by human rights NGOs in Israel, including B’Tselem, Yesh Atid and Breaking the Silence. The Balfour Project charity likewise will be happy to praise Labour’s principled position.

Well-informed observers like Jonathan Freedland have seen this Bill for what it is: a vindictive attempt at party political point-scoring which distracts and detracts from the necessary task of combating antisemitism in our country. Amnesty International, Liberty and Human Rights Watch all agree that this pernicious Bill must therefore be opposed and defeated. 

As a charity focused on upholding the rule of law and advancing equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis, the Balfour Project is particularly concerned by Michael Gove’s attempt to change established government policy by stealth. I refer to the bipartisan policy to differentiate between Israel within its pre-June 1967 borders and illegal Israeli settlements, expanding today at an unprecedented pace. Mr Gove’s intentions were clear from the time of HM The Queen’s Speech when the Bill was first mooted. He wishes to penalise Councils that have acted not against the State of Israel but against settlements built on occupied territories, in flagrant defiance I should add of successive UN Security Council Resolutions – resolutions Britain helped draft and voted in favour of.

Those Councils, mostly controlled by Labour, have every right to make ethical procurement and investment decisions whether in respect of Russia/Ukraine, the Uighurs in China or Palestine. Such justified decisions merit support from Labour – not abstention on this partisan and ill-advised Bill.

In conclusion, the Balfour Project believes that the Labour Party should listen to a broader range of British voices than those of established Jewish communal organisations. A broad swathe of the public – including many British Muslims, Arab and Palestinian, British Jews and other citizens – is deeply troubled by the far-reaching impact this Bill could have on those fundamental civil liberties we all enjoy and which, I am confident, you personally cherish.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Whitley

Chair, Balfour Project

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