As Parliamentary Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel in Westminster I have seen first-hand the divisive and aggressive nature of ongoing efforts to delegitimise the Jewish State, writes Stephen Crabb MP.
The so-called BDS movement is perhaps the best-known vehicle for this hard-left campaign. BDS promotes Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions against Israel, is a favourite tool of the far-left to bash supporters of Israel and is often a vehicle for antisemitism – particularly in the Labour Party. BDS activists are well known on many university campuses where they promote a virulent Israel-hating ideology.
There is currently a storm brewing in Cardiff, where a controversial Procurement Advice Note (PAN) seeking to “exclude from tendering any company that conducts business with occupied territories either directly or via third parties” has many people rightly worried. Much of the growing concern revolves around the fact that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are the sole territory to have currently been identified as subject to the PAN.
Why should we be worried? Well, in short, the proposed PAN risks being discriminatory and harming community relations across Wales. I have seen with depressingly predictable regularity how often left-wing local authorities in the UK cosy up to the BDS movement and propose boycotts against Israel and then fail to apply the same measures to other contested areas of the world.
Are we really to say that the Welsh Government is now to become the final arbiter on some of the most complex and highly contentious international disputes? We could find ourselves in a situation where Cardiff Bay is obliged to make rulings on territorial disputes involving even our closest allies, including Spain (which has disputes with Morocco and even Portugal), France (Madagascar), and Australia (Indonesia). The UK itself has ongoing territorial disputes with both Spain (Gibraltar), Argentina (Falklands) and Ireland (Lough Foyle). Playing the role of judge over such sensitive matters would be most foolhardy.
Meanwhile in the Middle East itself, Arab Gulf states like Bahrain and the UAE are making peace with Israel, recognising that there is far more to be gained from working together and cooperating in the fields of trade and security.
There are also legitimate questions about how comprehensively it would be applied. A literal implementation of the new notice would mean that some of the world’s largest companies would be excluded from public procurement in Wales, including Veolia, Siemens, Renault, Allianz, Caterpillar, Bombardier, and Vodafone. Many of these companies will currently provide important services to the public sector across Wales and it would be a disruptive self-defeating act to exclude these companies. It would adversely affect the services Welsh citizens depend upon on a daily basis, and inevitably lead to increased expenses for public bodies in Wales. All of which amidst a pandemic which is already placing an enormous strain on local services.
To be clear, the BDS movement is fundamentally anti-peace. It’s singular obsession with Israel means that its activities likely fall foul of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s modern definition of antisemitism, which was adopted by the Welsh Government in 2017.
At a UK level the Labour Party seems determined to bury the Corbyn era when BDS activists and anti-Semites found themselves, for the first time, in control of a major Western political party. By indulging the sort of boycotts promoted by the BDS movement, the Welsh Government risks giving the impression that it endorses its poisonous Israel-hating ideology. At a time where reports of antisemitic incidents in the UK are at record levels, it is deeply troubling that the Welsh Government is showing such a lack of understanding on this most important of issues.
In stark contrast, the UK Government is currently preparing to legislate against public bodies engaging in boycotts of foreign countries. Political grandstanding by local authorities directly impacts upon UK foreign policy interests and, as a consequence, is regarded by many as already illegal and outside of the Welsh Government’s mandate.
I welcome a recent letter by Darren Millar MS to Rebecca Evans MS, Minister for Finance and Trefnydd on this very issue. The Welsh Conservative group has been strong advocates for Israel and I’m sure many Conservative MSs will share the concerns expressed in Darren’s letter.
The Welsh Government risks failing a critical litmus test here but there is time for it to rechart its course.
Stephen Crabb is the Member of Parliament for Preseli Pembrokeshire and the Parliamentary Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel.