Whether the Trudeau government was baited into supporting what Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion called a “divisive” opposition resolution, the Liberals in the end backed a Tory motion that condemns the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
The Feb. 18 motion, introduced by Conservative MPs Tony Clement and Michelle Rempel, states, “That, given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House reject the BDS movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.”
Jewish groups applauded the motion, which is expected to pass next week with the support of the Liberals and Tories, but not the NDP and Green party.
Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), stated: “A clear, all-party consensus rejecting the divisive BDS movement was reaffirmed in the House of Commons. One after the other, members of Parliament spoke up in support of Canada’s friendship with Israel and spoke out against efforts to delegitimize, isolate and discriminate against Israel by advancing the false idea that Palestinians bear no responsibility for the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“The boycott movement does not contribute to peace and is not pro-Palestinian. It is discrimination based on nationality, and it harms both Israelis and Palestinians alike by driving the two sides further apart. The BDS movement is a fringe movement and is outside genuine peace efforts.”
JSpace Canada spokesperson Karen Mock said her organization “opposes all forms of BDS of Israel and all forms of vilification, demonization or delegitimizing of Israel as a state. JSpace supports the motion in Parliament. Although BDS is a non-violent form of protest, it has been found not to be effective and divisive in Israel and Canada.”
B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO Michael Mostyn stated, “We are very pleased to see that Parliament is recognizing the anti-Israel boycott and sanctions movement for what it is: a discriminatory global propaganda campaign to demonize Israel and the Jewish People.”
Avi Benlolo, CEO of Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the parliamentary debate reflects “a general consensus that needs to be heard.”
“There is a sense that everybody is pushing back against BDS… It will send a signal to the community, campuses and other groups that they don’t have government support,” he said.
The motion comes as a number of jurisdictions in North America and Europe have taken steps to oppose BDS. In the United States, state legislatures in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and Indiana passed anti-BDS resolutions, while the British parliament also announced a plan to enact legislation outlawing BDS. France passed such laws in 2003.
Canada’s parliamentary motion comes a little more than a year after former foreign affairs minister John Baird signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel that pledged the two countries will “work together to oppose efforts to single out or isolate Israel by developing a co-ordinated public diplomacy initiative to oppose boycotts of Israel, to oppose those who call into question the Jewish state’s right to exist and to work to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”
Despite voicing support, statements by Dion suggested he backed the motion reluctantly.
Responding to a question from NDP MP Helene Laverdiere, who asked whether by adopting the motion he was condemning the Ontario arm of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which endorsed BDS, Dion stated: “We have to make choices. We did not draft this motion, but we have to vote yea or nay. The government that I represent here chose to vote in favour of it even though we would have written it differently. I agree with the member that most of the people in the movement are acting in good faith, including many of the organizations, but they are misguided. We therefore support this motion, but we wish to make it clear that we are in no way seeking to limit freedom of expression in Canada or to encourage any kind of bullying one way or the other. ”
In debate prior to adoption of the motion, Dion analyzed the BDS movement and said, “The Liberals do not support this boycott movement, because we do not believe it is conducive to achieving peace in the Middle East… We will support it because we agree with the substance of it, although we do have some reservations about its form and about the Conservative party’s real intentions.”
NDP MP Charles Angus suggested the principle of free speech was at stake in the debate.
“I note that last August the United Church of Canada, which represents two million Protestants, supported the divestment movement… This has nothing to do with my colleague’s claim that it is delegitimizing the State of Israel. This was a choice it made.
“My Conservative colleagues are asking Parliament to stand up in the House and condemn individuals in this country for their right to debate… We are being asked… to deny and condemn individual students for debating politics.”
Responding to Angus, Rempel stated: “Madam Speaker, my colleague is wrong… He is saying that we are trying to stifle free speech. We are not. All of the groups the member mentioned absolutely have the right to say what they said. What I am asking him to do is make a choice and condemn this movement.
“I condemn the choice of [the postal union] CUPW to support this movement. I condemn the choice of academic student groups to support this movement. I can disagree with them. This movement is not Canadian. As leaders of this country, we should stand up and say that while they have the right to say this, we have the right not to support it and we condemn it.”
With files from JTA