We have written to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, expressing our concerns about her written letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel, in which she expressed, inter alia, support for legislation restricting the right to pursue boycott, divestment and sanction campaigns, and a desire to transfer the UK Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. To read our letter as a PDF, click here. Alternatively, read our letter below:
24 August 2022
Dear Foreign Secretary,
Public pronouncements on Israel/Palestine
We, at the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP), write with regards to your recent pronouncements in your bid for leadership of the Conservative Party and of this country.
To introduce ourselves, the ICJP is a new organisation committed to upholding the rights of Palestinians wherever they may live. It is comprised of lawyers, politicians, journalists and academics. We are an interdisciplinary, independent and international body based in the UK who believe that if the law is good enough to protect Palestinians, it is good enough to protect anyone.
We are writing to object to your recent pronouncements as part of your LizforLeader campaign most notably,
- Your recent letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel which expressed inter alia:
- support for legislation restricting the right to boycott, sanction and divest by local government in the United Kingdom;
- criticism of the newly established United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Palestine; and
- a desire to transfer the UK Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
2 . Your statement criticising the UK civil service.
These statements signify a marked escalation of rhetoric hostile to Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), who live under a complex and destructive system of apartheid, enforced ruthlessly by the current Israeli Government. The term ‘apartheid,’ is being used here as a legal definition in accordance with the findings of all leading human rights organisations and the United Nations.
We speak with authority on this point as we held a conference in Westminster on 31 May 2022, where the groups in attendance, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, DAWN MENA, B’Tselem and Al Haq, concurred with regards to this finding of apartheid and urged the UK Government to respond in line with its obligations under international criminal, human rights and humanitarian law.
We should mention here, as an aside, that we have written separately today to the Prime Minister, copying your office, with regards to the threats, destruction and raids on Al Haq and the offices of six other civil society organisations in the West Bank on 18 August 2022, which is indicative of the kind of extreme pressure, rights groups in the OPTs are currently facing.
Regrettably, your statements, rather than accepting the dire and brutal conditions that Palestinians are forced to live under, only denigrate the rights and freedoms of the Palestinian community in Britain, British citizens of Palestinian heritage and supporters of the Palestinian right to self-determination in this country further. They also run counter to the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law, and as a signatory to the Rome Statute (1998) and the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
We are dismayed by the UK Government’s increasing willingness to have its foreign and domestic policy influenced by powerful groups such as the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFoI). In a recent 2021 Home Office consultation document on legislation to counter state threats, the Government rightly stated in the introduction:
We continue to face this very real and serious threat from those who seek to undermine and destabilise our country to pursue their own agendas.
The UK will always defend its people and its interests, and we have a record of responding robustly to hostile activity by states alongside our international partners. Together with our allies, the UK is taking steps to safeguard our open and democratic societies and promote the international rules-based system that underpins our stability, security and prosperity.
We are of the view that the Government should be vigilant to all threats to the international rules-based system and to the UK’s open and democratic society with a globally respected independent judiciary, even when those threats come from the UK’s own ‘international partners’ and allies.
It is also curious to us that the anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Bill should be so high on the UK Government’s list of priorities, when the cost-of-living crisis, invasion of Ukraine and adjustments further to the departure from the European Union pose, in our opinion, far greater threats to this nation.
The reason we find this arbitrary and a waste of UK Government time, are multiple. The Government has provided no evidence in support of their claim that BDS campaigns by public bodies are discriminatory. In fact, the Government itself has engaged in BDS campaigns in relation to China and Russia, whilst refusing to engage in similar campaigns in relation to its own ‘international partners’ and allies, indicating double standards.
The Palestinian-led BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality, inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, has been used as a peaceful means to pressure Israel to comply with its obligations under international law where the international community falls silent. The oppression of Palestinians has been long, severe and flagrantly unjust, and the situation for Palestinians has become exceedingly desperate.
In her recent film ‘Boycott’ (2021), Julia Bacha clearly shows, with documentary footage, how the Israeli government funded and pushed for similar anti-BDS legislation in the United States (US). Its roll out in twenty states led to a proliferation of copy-cat legislation, for example by the fossil fuel and firearms industry, preventing criticism. There are direct consequences for ‘open and democratic societies’ like the US. By preventing Israel from being criticised, new wide-reaching, authoritarian controls are being introduced. The same is at risk of happening in the UK.
If the UK Government wishes to ‘promote an international rules-based system that underpins the country’s stability’ it obviously should not be seeking to undermine the UN Independent Commissions of Inquiry in the OPT (including East Jerusalem) and in Israel, or the UN Human Rights Council, nor should it be seeking to move its Embassy to Jerusalem, in contravention of its international agreements. It is the duty, not the weakness, of any civil service to point this out to the Head of the Civil Service and the Head of FCDO. They should not be smeared with slurs of antisemitism as a result of their support of policies that this country has committed itself to maintain.
The ICJP urges you to engage with groups working on the issue of Palestinian rights and their quest for self-determination. If, as you have claimed, the British people stand for values of sovereignty, democracy, and rule of law, then it is imperative that this government and the FCDO, engage with groups working to secure the rule of law for this country, and rules-based accountability in diplomacy and foreign policy internationally.
The call to stand up against apartheid in Palestine is only going to grow stronger. Trying to shut it down could jeopardise much of what this country has come to stand for.
We should be grateful if you could acknowledge safe receipt of our letter and look forward to hearing from you in respect of the matters raised above.
International Centre of Justice for Palestinians
Tel: +44 (0) 20 3488 2737