'We need to debate BDS': SNP MP backs boycott of 'Israeli' products from occupied Palestinian territory

Calls for wider debate on support for 'Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions' (BDS) regime

MP Tommy Sheppard has backed a targeted consumer boycott campaign to oppose the occupation of Palestine by Israel and to push for a fresh peace settlement.

Sheppard, the MP for Edinburgh East, said he "generally supports the BDS campaign" with a boycott focus on arms used in human rights abuses alongside goods produced from illegal settlements.

The programme of BDS is based on calls from Palestinian civil society for international action to end the occupation of Palestinian land and oppose the bombardment of the people in Gaza.

The Scottish Government previously called for an arms embargo on Israel following the 2013 bombing of Gaza, which killed 1,903 Palestinians including 450 children.

Sheppard, speaking to CommonSpace, said: "I do generally support the BDS campaign. My concern is to try and give it some focus and select individual industries or products that we focus on."

Sheppard gave two examples of this: "Concentrate on the arms trade with Israel. We sell a lot to them and they sell a lot of us. Also settler goods or goods from the occupied territories."

"All of this is a means to apply pressure to the Israeli government to come back to the negotiating table and stop annexing the West Bank," he added.

"We want to go out and engage with party members on a range of issues, including BDS, and have that conversation with them and potentially take it forward to conference." Andy Murray, SNP Friends of Palestine

Over half of SNP MPs support the 'Friends of Palestine' group, which is consulting the wider party on supporting a BDS policy.

Andy Murray, convener of the group, said he supported a debate within the party on support for BDS: "As an organisation we want to take it out towards supporters and MPs. We want to go out and engage with party members on a range of issues, including BDS, and have that conversation with them and potentially take it forward to conference."

Murray added that it was important to discuss effective actions rather than a blanket boycott as 'Friends of Palestine' work alongside "Jewish groups that are anti-occupation", so it makes more sense to "start with goods from the illegal settlements" to "open a wider conversation".

"I avoid them [goods from the occupied Palestinian territories] myself and I am relaxed if others do too." Alyn Smith MEP

Under procurement rules, updated in 2014 , the Scottish Government already "strongly discourages trade and investment from illegal settlements" and states that "exploitation of assets in illegal settlement is likely to be regarded as 'grave professional misconduct.'" This includes the occupied Palestinian territories.

At the SNP Conference in Aberdeen last October a fringe meeting expressed near unanimous support for the party adopting a 'Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions' policy towards the Israel-Palestine debate.

Alyn Smith MEP, who chaired the SNP fringe event, said the option of a debate on BDS would be possible at future SNP Conferences.

Commenting on the issue to CommonSpace, Smith added: "It is entirely open to individual SNP members to boycott produce or goods from the illegally occupied territories. I avoid them myself and I am relaxed if others do too. The clue is in the title, this land is illegally occupied, so in exactly the same way as the EU was quick enough to close our borders to occupied Crimean goods, I think there is every case to do the same for the Occupied Palestinian Territories too.

"I strongly supported recent EU moves to force labelling of these illegal products so that consumers can choose. The reaction from the Israeli government to this proportionate, mild action was disgraceful.

"SNP policy is that we favour a two state solution, so, of course, Israel proper has a right to sell its goods internationally. But I leave the door open to the idea of a boycott, the ongoing actions of the Israeli government and the so called 'settlers' is making a two state solution impossible and I do think there should be consequences to their actions if we are to encourage a meaningful dialogue.

"It is entirely open to any branch within the party to bring forward a motion to conference for the members to debate and decide upon whether we should update our policy, and I would certainly engage in that process."

"A people being dispossessed under a vicious apartheid system need to hear more than 'I love Palestine.' They ask us to come to their aid, to deliver practical solidarity." Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Last October the Scottish Green Party officially adopted the policy .

Any SNP policy change on the issue would have to be accepted by the party leadership prior to debate and support at a future SNP conference.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, called on the SNP to join the international organisations who support BDS: "SPSC welcomes and publicises the Scottish Government call for an arms embargo on Israel but the violations of the Palestinian people that Amnesty categorises as 'crimes against humanity' cry out for concrete action.

"Cameron has threatened to criminalise local authorities that have answered the Palestinian call for BDS. We call on the Scottish Government to declare their support for the democratic rights of the four Scottish councils where cross-party alliances have won a commitment to full BDS. A people being dispossessed under a vicious apartheid system need to hear more than 'I love Palestine.' They ask us to come to their aid, to deliver practical solidarity. Today that means supporting BDS."

Peace campaigners point towards the UK's colonial role in modern day Israel-Palestine and its crucial military alliance with Israel as justification why the country has a particularly important responsibility for ending the current occupation.

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Picture courtesy of K Mo Foto