West Dunbartonshire has one of the UK’s most high-profile Israel boycott policies — but what does it mean in practice?
West Dunbartonshire Council is one of Britain’s smallest Local Authorities, located just west of Glasgow in Scotland.
Starting in 2009, councillor Jim Bollan began to push for West Dunbartonshire Council to boycott Israel. The council first voted to boycott all Israeli products in January 2009, and then reaffirmed this decision in June 2010, voting to promote their boycott policy to all other councils in Scotland.
The Council really hit the headlines in 2011, when the Daily Express reported that the Council’s policy even extended to Israeli books.
At the time, the Fair Play campaign said “Banning access to knowledge for political reasons is nothing short of censorship. West Dunbartonshire must reverse this policy or their libraries will become an international laughing stock.”
West Dunbartonshire Council sought to defend itself by saying “Our boycott does not in any way seek to censor or silence authors and commentators from Israel… This boycott would only ever apply to books printed in Israel”. However, many books about Judaism and Israeli culture are only printed by Israeli publishers, effectively banning those books.
The story quickly travelled around the world and led to an organised counter-boycott of scotch whisky by some Jewish groups in the USA, forcing the UK Government to distance itself from the policy and to the whisky companies themselves complaining to the council.
Ultimately though, despite all the energy and reputational damage to the council, a boycott was never really implemented at all.
That become clear this week as West Dunbartonshire Council prepares to reapprove G4S as its cash-collection company.
G4S is a major target of the anti-Israel boycott campaign, especially at local authority level. Campaigns like StopG4S target every contract renewal, demanding that G4S be boycotted because of its small role in keeping Israelis safe by selling security cameras and metal detectors. Even though G4S decided not to renew its contracts with the Israeli police, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has still made boycotting G4S a key priority for several years.
They have met with almost no success, for a simple reason: councils cannot boycott companies for political reasons. It’s illegal.
And so, despite theoretically boycotting Israel, West Dunbartonshire is about to re-sign its contract with perhaps the biggest boycott target in the UK, all of which proves the total pointlessness of the campaign to get councils to adopt boycott resolutions. It’s divisive and frequently nasty but it achieves nothing.