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Government regulations may stop Students’ Union Israel boycott

The University of Sussex Students’ Union may be prevented from continuing its boycotting of Israeli goods under new government procurement guidelines.

It is speculated that the regulations could affect student unions.

Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock announced the regulations during a visit to Israel, citing concerns that such boycotts can fuel antisemitism.

Last year Sussex students voted to endorse the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel.

806 students voted to boycott Israeli companies while 373 voted against.

The government considers such boycotts to be “inappropriate, out- side where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the government”.

A spokesperson for Sussex Friends of Palestine Society (Palsoc) said: “We think the latest proposals by the government to limit the freedom of public bodies to choose not to buy goods from apartheid Israel are fundamentally undemocratic… At Sussex we passed a BDS referendum through the SU. It would be undemocratic to reverse this decision.

“The government should not be imposing its support for the Israeli government on all public bodies, many of which, as we have seen, are keen to stand with Palestinians and support their call for a boycott of Israel.”

Students’ Union Society and Citizenship Officer, Sarah Gibbons described the governments claims that boycotts are a risk to national security “absolutely ridiculous.”

She said: “I’m hugely concerned by these proposals and what they would mean for public bodies, including Students’ Unions, whose members choose to take a stance on human rights violations across the world.

“Well-planned, strategic boycotts have been successful in the past and Students’ Unions should remain free to choose which companies to conduct business with and boycott those which conflict with our values.”

The regulations were first announced at the Tory party conference in October and will prevent any public authority from imposing a boycott on a country signed up to the World Trade Organisation government procurement agreement.

The government said that penalties for those who break the law would be severe.

A spokesman for the Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn told the Independent: “This government’s ban would have outlawed council action against apartheid South Africa. Ministers talk about devolution, but in practice they’re imposing Conservative party policies on elected local councils across the board.”

Cabinet Office Minister, Matthew Hancock said: “The new guidance on procurement combined with changes we are making to how pen-sion pots can be invested will help prevent damaging and counter-productive local foreign policies under- mining our national security.

“We support UK local authorities, businesses and individual consum- ers alike in making informed choices about how they procure services and products from overseas.”

The law affects all public bodies including local councils and NHS trusts.

Pete Humphreys

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