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Boycott bill: MPs inundated by complaints over absence of Palestinians

Scottish MP says failure to invite Palestinian organisations to speak in opposition to anti-BDS bill was 'perhaps more cock-up than conspiracy'
Free Palestine proterstors in Portland Square in central London, on 26 June 2021 (AFP)

MPs scrutinising the UK government’s anti-boycott bill were bombarded with complaints after failing to hear evidence from Palestinian organisations during last week’s public bill committee hearings.

In closing remarks to the committee on Thursday, Chris Stephens, a Scottish National Party (SNP) MP, acknowledged it was “unfortunate” that no Palestinians had given evidence – but said he believed it was “more cock-up than conspiracy”.

Stephens and other MPs said they had received more than 2,500 e-mails from people opposed to the bill.

“I think it was perhaps more cock-up than conspiracy, but I hope it is something we will all learn from. We should have all views heard, and we might all want to take that point away and reflect on it,” Stephens said.

Middle East Eye reported last week that no Palestinian advocacy organisations had been invited to give evidence about the bill, which primarily aims to prevent public bodies from supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS).

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The committee heard from a number of pro-Israel lobby groups and witnesses supportive of the bill, including the Conservative Friends of Israel, UK Lawyers for Israel, Melanie Phillips, and the Henry Jackson Society.

Several prominent human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also gave evidence in opposition to the bill.

In written evidence submitted to the committee this week, the BDS National Committee said: “We see this exclusion as a hurtful manifestation of what the late Edward Said has called, ‘disappearing the Palestinians.’"

Bob Blackman, a Conservative MP, said he and other MPs had received 2,500 emails from people opposing the exclusion of Palestinian advocacy groups. 

'Correct the record'

Blackman urged the committee chair to "correct the record on how the witnesses were chosen and on the offer that was made in terms of correspondence and evidence so that we could carefully consider all sides".

Commenting on the e-mails received by MPs, Lia Nici, also a Conservative MP, said: "The aggressive nature of what we and our staff have experienced this week really is not acceptable. We are here trying to do the best job we can, and we have had no influence on who does and does not come here to give evidence."

Communities minister Felicity Buchan said that all parties had had a chance to suggest witnesses and that the final list of those invited to give evidence had been agreed by a sub-committee.

Despite vocal opposition to the bill, including from some members of the governing Conservative Party, when it was debated in the House of Commons, the committee failed to vote in favour of a single amendment.

The bill is considered controversial because it includes a clause which singles out Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, and the occupied Golan Heights for special protection.

However, a further amendment to remove this clause, proposed by Conservative MP Desmond Swayne, could still be discussed.

The bill still faces a third reading in the House of Commons as well as scrutiny in the House of Lords, which could proposed its own amendments before it becomes law.

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