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Court strikes down ban on Palestine solidarity divestment

PALESTINE solidarity campaigners declared victory today after the Supreme Court said the government’s bid to ban co-operation with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was illegal.

THE government was defeated yesterday over its ban on local councils being able to divest their pension funds from companies complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestine. 

Palestinian rights campaigners hailed the Supreme Court ruling as a “historic victory” and “win for democracy, freedom of expression and justice.” 

The three-year legal battle finally came to a close yesterday when judges ruled the ban – which restricts Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) from divesting from foreign nations and British defence industries – as unlawful. 

The case was brought by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), which argued that the restrictions imposed by the government were a breach of civil liberties. 

“This historic victory represents a major win not just for the campaign for Palestinian rights, but for the fundamental principles of democracy, freedom of expression and justice,” PSC chair Kamel Hawwash said. 

The campaign group first challenged the restrictions in 2017 after they were written into guidance by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2016.

A judicial review found the ban unlawful, however this was later overturned in 2018 by the Court of Appeal. 

Refusing to stop there, PSC took the government to the Supreme Court which ruled in its favour yesterday. 

Jamie Potter, partner at Bindmans solicitors, who represented PSC in its challenge, said: “We welcome the Supreme Court’s confirmation that the government went too far in imposing its political opinions onto the management of the money of LGPS members. 

“LGPS members now have the freedom to pursue their own principles in respect of the role of the arms trade and foreign countries in violations of human rights around the world, when determining how their pension monies are invested.”

Yesterday’s ruling also marks a huge victory for the BDS movement which is facing increasing attacks from right-wing governments across the world. 

Germany and a number of US states have already banned BDS.

Earlier this year PM Boris Johnson laid out plans in the Tory manifesto to do the same in Britain. 

However PSC said yesterday’s ruling demonstrates “the illegitimacy of [the government’s] attempts to suppress BDS campaigns.” 

Campaigners across the social justice movement yesterday hailed the “landmark” ruling. 

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) told the Morning Star: “For far too long, successive UK governments have played a complicit role in arming and supporting the Israeli army, which has committed atrocities against Palestinian people. 

“This judgement defends the rights of people and of councils to challenge these appalling abuses.”

The British government has licenced £374 million in arms sales to the Israeli government since May 2015, according to CAAT. 

War on Want said the ruling was a “victory for accountability” which will be “crucial” in challenging Israel’s imminent plans to illegally annex the Jordan Valley in July. 

“If the annexation happens, the UK government must hold Israel to account by imposing sanctions, as it has done in other cases,” the group’s campaigns officer Ryvka Barnard told the Star.

“And UK companies and institutions must not ​seek to profit from the annexation​, or they risk facing divestment campaigns to hold them to account.”

Prior to yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, climate change groups had warned that the ethical investments ban could precipitate similar attacks on the freedom of public institutions to divestment from fossil fuels. 

"Today’s win sets an important precedent,” Anna Vickerstaff from Fossil Free said. “It ensures our savings are not bankrolling injustice around the world.” 

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