Tuesday, June 28, 2016

British Court Rejects Challenge To Local Anti-Israel BDS Resolutions

In Britain today, a 2-judge panel of the England and Wales High Court rejected a challenge by a Jewish human rights group to anti-Israel resolutions passed by three local councils.  In Jewish Rights Watch (t/a Jewish Human Rights Watch), R (on the application of) v Leicester City Council, [2016] EWHC 1512 (Admin), June 28, 2016, petitioner challenged three resolutions: one by Leicester calling for a boycott of produce from Israeli West Bank settlements; one by Gwynedd calling for a trade embargo with Israel; and one by Swansea expressing concern that a company involved in building a light railway in Israel was also involved in contracts with Swansea. The court summarized Jewish Human Rights Watch's claims:
It is JHRW's case that the Councils singled out Israel for different treatment than that adopted in respect of other countries and, in particular, failed properly or sufficiently to consider the effect of the resolutions on the Jewish community. JHRW contends that the Councils failed to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment of Jewish people, and the need to foster good relations between those who are Jewish and those who are not; and that in doing so they failed to have any regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty, set out in s.149 of the Equality Act 2010, and their legal duties as public authorities, as set out in s.17 of the Local Government Act 1988.
Section 149 of the Equality Act has been interpreted to require public bodies to give advance consideration to equality issues before making policy decisions.  Section 17 of the Local Government Act bars local governments from considering the country or territory of origin in making contract decisions. The court concluded, however, that qualifying language in, and/or the non-binding nature of, the Resolutions prevented them from being in violation of law:
First, the evidence from each of the Defendant Councils was that the resolutions did not bind the Councils to abide by or act upon them. Leicester, Gwynedd and Swansea each operated through an Executive (which developed and implemented policy); and procurement was a function of the Executive rather than the full Council.
The second point is that two of the resolutions contained qualifying words. In the case of Leicester, the boycott resolution was qualified by the words, 'insofar as legal considerations allow'. In the case of Swansea the exhortation to support the position of the UN in relation to the settlement of East Jerusalem was qualified by the words, 'so long as to do so would not be in breach of any relevant legislation.'
Jewish Chronicle reporting on the decision, quotes JHRW which says it will file an appeal. JHRW's statement reads in part:
The local councils, recognising that such boycotts would be unlawful, insisted that their motions were non-binding and not actually implemented, and that the resolutions were in fact never intended to influence policy. So this was never about investment at all. Instead, it was about councils being able to make offensive and misleading declarations that divide communities for cheap political gain and put Jews in the UK in jeopardy – and all at the ratepayer’s expense.
[Thanks to Paul de Mello, Jnr. for the lead.]