UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

Legal Challenge to Lancaster City Council’s BDS motion

UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) are challenging a Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) resolution against Israel passed by Lancaster City Council on the ground that the Council failed to comply with their legal duty to have due regard for community relations.

UKLFI have also written to Lancashire County Pension Fund and its fund manager warning them that it would be unlawful to comply with the divestment demand in the City Council’s resolution.

The City Council’s motion, passed on 23 June 2021, resolved to “express its support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement’s demands that Israel ends injustices that infringe international laws and Palestinian rights” and “write to the Lancashire County Pension Fund … and the Local Pensions Partnership urging that they adopt policies requiring them to divest from all companies active in illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine and all arms companies which supply weapons to Israel”.

Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 requires public authorities to have due regard to the need to foster good relations between persons of different ethnicities and different religions in the exercise their functions.

In the Leicester City Council case the English Court of Appeal confirmed that this duty, known as the “Public Sector Equality Duty” or “PSED”, applies to a local council when it debates and adopts a BDS resolution. However, the Court held that Leicester City Council had complied with the PSED in the circumstances of that case.

UKLFI have now written to Kieran Keane, Chief Executive of Lancaster City Council, arguing that the Council manifestly failed to comply with the PSED in relation to its BDS motion. Points made in UKLFI’s letter include:

  • The Council did not consult either the Lancaster Jewish Community or the Lancaster University Jewish Society prior to the debate. Both have expressed concerns about the impact of the resolution on them. The failure to consult the Lancaster University Jewish Society was particularly egregious since the proposer of the resolution, Councillor O’Dwyer-Henry, represents the University Ward and referred to work done by the University’s Friends of Palestine Society.

  • The Council did not consider research on the impact of BDS campaigns on Jewish people and particularly Jewish students, such as that conducted at US universities.

  • Councillor O’Dwyer-Henry told the Council that he was unaware of any connections of the BDS movement to terrorism. However, the Palestinian BDS National Committee (“BNC”), which launched and continues to lead the movement, heads its list of members on its website with the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine (“PNIF”). There is evidence that PNIF’s members include Hamas, the PFLP, the PFLP – GC and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, each of which is designated as a terrorist organisation by the UK and other countries.

  • Allegations against Israel in the motion were one-sided and misleading, and there was no consideration of the potential harm to community relations caused by the Council’s endorsement of highly partisan positions on these contentious issues at a time when relations are already inflamed.

UKLFI’s letter to the City Council also claimed that the adoption of the Resolution breached the Council’s Code of Conduct and that its implementation would promote breaches of fiduciary duties by the Boards of the Lancashire County Pension Fund and its investment manager.

UKLFI have asked the Chief Executive of Lancaster City Council to confirm that Council staff will not take any further step to implement the BDS Resolution and will use best endeavours to cancel any step that has already been taken.

In separate letters to the County Pension Fund and Local Pensions Partnership (its investment manager) UKLFI note first that the demand in the Resolution does not accord with the Fund’s Responsible Investment Policy.

UKLFI then remind the Fund and the investment manager that it is impermissible for them to take investment decisions on the basis of non-financial factors unless they are satisfied both that the decision would not involve significant risk of financial detriment to the scheme and that a consensus of beneficiaries support the decision.

UKLFI points out that it cannot be assumed that the views expressed in a motion passed by a majority of Lancaster City Council are shared by a consensus of its own employees, let alone a consensus of employees of hundreds of other employers that participate in the Lancashire County Pension Scheme. (Lancaster City accounts for some 60,000 out of Lancashire County’s population of 1.5 million.)

Jonathan Turner, Chief Executive of UKLFI commented: “Boycotts of Jews have historically been precursors of their dehumanisation and persecution. Substantial research at US universities has found that the amount of BDS activity is the best predictor of actions that directly target Jewish students for harm. It is irresponsible to ignore this linkage.”

Noah Katz, President of Lancaster University Jewish Society (JSoc), said: “My mission as JSoc President is to ensure that all Jewish students of Lancaster University are able to live their lives on campus to learn safely, in the same way as all of our peers, free from fear of anti-Jewish racism. We must all strive towards a future of unity, not division. I hope that LCC sees the error of their ways and that the University Ward Councillor does better to represent all minority groups in his constituency.