UK Politics

Boris Johnson cancels West Bank events amid Israeli boycott row

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Media captionBoris Johnson described people who boycott Israel as corduroy-wearing "lefty academics, who have no real standing in the matter"

Boris Johnson has had to cancel planned public events in the West Bank because of security fears after he criticised backers of a boycott on Israeli goods.

The MP, on a trade trip to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, said advocates of a ban were a "bunch of corduroy-jacketed lefty academics".

Those who endorsed it were "foolish" and in a "very small minority".

The BBC's Karl Mercer said there was strong reaction to the London mayor's comments on Palestinian social media.

While Mr Johnson's meeting with Palestinian Authority prime minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah went ahead, other meetings with young Palestinians and female business leaders in the West Bank were cancelled because of fears of protests.

Advocates of a boycott, which has been in place by some organisations in recent years, claims it exerts pressure on the Israeli government, particularly in relation to the building of settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, which have been condemned by the UN.

But the UK and other leading governments do not recognise the consumer boycott.

Mr Johnson, who is regarded as a Conservative leadership contender when David Cameron stands down, was due to take part in a number of public events, having spent the past two days in Israel.

Earlier this week, he condemned talk of a "so-called" boycott of goods and services, as well as other punitive measures such as sanctions or divestment of shares in Israeli companies, describing their proponents as "corduroy jacketed-academics... by and large lefty academics who have no real standing in the matter and are unlikely to be influential on Britain".

Speaking after a trade export event in Tel Aviv, he added: "I cannot think of anything more foolish than to say you want to have any kind of sanctions or divestment or boycott against a country that, when all is said and done, is the only democracy in the region that is the only place, in my view, which has an open, pluralistic society. Why boycott Israel?

"This is a very small minority in our country who are calling for this."

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Media captionBoris Johnson abandons West Bank visit

The BBC's assistant political editor Norman Smith said he understood the charity which had asked Mr Johnson to the West Bank had withdrawn the invitation, while there was a suggestion that Palestinian politicians had also refused to meet him.

Many people would regard the comments as "undiplomatic", he added, although defenders would argue this was "Boris being Boris". ( see this 2007 list of where his comments caused offence)

Speaking in Ramallah, Mr Johnson said it was a shame that he could not fulfil some of his engagements, acknowledging that some people had "taken offence" at his remarks but suggesting they had been "whipped up" on social media.

Asked if he regretted what he said, Mr Johnson said it was a "simple repetition of what is not only British government policy but is a policy supported by the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority".

"It was very clear from the conversation I have just had with the prime minister that he does not support a boycott and does think that is the way forward. What you have got here is elements who do think that is the way forward, who are very vociferous and want to make a point."

About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

In recent months, Leicester City Council has boycotted goods from Israeli settlements in the West Bank while four Scottish councils have resolved to boycott Israeli goods in recent years, according to the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

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