The Green Party of Canada may consider two resolutions highly critical of Israel and a major Canadian Jewish organization at its convention in August.
The resolutions, advanced by party members and not yet party policy, call on the party to urge the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to revoke the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and to support a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) policy.
The resolutions were slammed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and the JNF, which called on their supporters to flood the Green Party and its leader, Elizabeth May, with letters expressing their opposition.
B’nai Brith Canada independently called on its supporters to write letters to the Green Party, as well.
CIJA and the JNF urged their supporters to send a template letter to the party that calls the proposed resolution a “blacklist” of the JNF and which accuses the party of endorsing “the discriminatory, fringe BDS movement.”
“It’s a bit outrageous, especially for the Green Party, to take on… such a successful environmental agency, based on the distorted narrative promoted by our adversaries,” said CIJA chief executive Shimon Fogel. “You’d think that Elizabeth May, being a supporter of the JNF, would use better discretion.”
“JNF Canada has been raising money in Canada for over 100 years. We operate to the letter of the law in full compliance with CRA regulations,” said Josh Cooper, CEO of the Jewish National Fund.
Cooper and members of his staff, along with Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Ottawa, met with May and her staff to discuss the resolutions.
“We had a very positive meeting with Ms. May,” Cooper said. “Unfortunately, she has been given a lot of false information. We have maintained a positive dialogue with her and look forward to working with her and the Green Party in the future. Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael/JNF has been the largest Israeli environmental organization for over 100 years, so for any member of the Green Party to attack KKL/JNF, clearly flies against the values of the Green Party.”
May acknowledged the meeting was “very good… very productive, very respectful.”
It included a discussion on claims she had heard from a Palestinian former resident of one of three villages that were destroyed and are now part of Canada Park, a JNF-funded natural area north of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway that was occupied by Jordan prior to 1967. JNF presented its views on the history of the area.
“We are still in dialogue,” she said. “I’m grateful for the willingness to engage.”
May, who has attended JNF Negev Dinners, said the resolution to remove the organization’s charitable status was advanced by Corey Levine, a member of the party and also a member of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV).
May is listed as one of 29 co-sponsors of the JNF resolution and says she backed it based on her discussion with the Palestinian man.
Levine said she was unable to respond to questions by The CJN’s deadline.
Hers was one of 13 resolutions advanced by party members for consideration at the convention. They are subject to an online vote with three possible outcomes. If the resolution is “red-lighted,” it is defeated and won’t be considered at the convention. A resolution can be “green-lighted” and passes, or it can be “yellow-lighted,” which means it will come up for debate at the convention, May said.
“If perchance the resolution on the JNF is green-lighted, I’d bring an emergency resolution to be debated again,” to correct errors in the existing resolution that Cooper brought to her attention, she said.
May said she’s invited the JNF to be present at the convention to present its side of the issue. As a grassroots party, members are free to present resolutions on a variety of issues, including calls for BDS. But the party’s “policy is to reject BDS,” May said.
Meanwhile CIJA said that within two days of the start of its letter-writing campaign, some 4,000 members of the Jewish community had responded by writing to May.
In the Green Party’s response to the letter-writers, May acknowledged that the resolution about the JNF is “problematic,” but she rejected suggestions the party was singling out Israel. “In my work in Parliament, I have raised human rights concerns about many nations, but not Israel. I point this out only to provide context to the CIJA email that suggests the Green Party is singling out Israel,” she wrote.
She also stated that members of the party are free to advance resolutions, which are not screened in advance.
Fogel suggested that while the resolutions may not represent the views of many in the party, “it’s the responsibility of the leader to do just that – show more leadership. We would expect [May] to come out with statements, internal and external, that the resolutions are unhelpful and that she opposes them.”
Fogel noted that May “has stated for the record several months ago that neither she nor the party support BDS. For us the concern goes deeper. We don’t feel she has a recognition of the extent to which BDS is a thinly disguised form of anti-Semitism.
“There is a growing body of evidence that the Green Party is becoming the preferred venue for those who are marginalized in the political system. We have to wonder who is being attracted to the party, and is that the message the Green Party wants to present,” Fogel added.
The resolution to revoke the JNF’s charitable status mirrors IJV claims on its website that target JNF.
The Green Party resolution accuses the JNF of practising discrimination against non-Jews in Israel by refusing to lease or sell lands to non-Jews; it alleges the JNF “is complicit in the continued dispossession of Palestinians from their lands by creating forests and parks on this land in the name of environmentalism”; it accuses the JNF’s Canada Park of being situated in occupied Palestinian territory on the site of demolished Palestinian villages; and it accuses the JNF of failing to comply with international human rights law.
Cooper said, “Our parks are open to all citizens of Israel. Furthermore, our work covers 100 per cent of Israel, from cities with very diverse populations to small Jewish, Arab, Druze, etc. villages. KKL/JNF has employees from all different backgrounds from labourers right up to senior management.
“KKL/JNF only plants trees on land it owns and on state land. KKL/JNF has never dispossessed or evacuated anyone, has never confiscated the property of anyone, and has never planted even a single tree on land that was not it its own possession or owned by the State of Israel.”
Cooper referred to a 2015 CJN article by former Israeli ambassador Alan Baker, which addressed allegations that Canada Park is on occupied Palestinian territory.
Baker wrote that the area in question was never part of any Palestinian entity and so, could not be occupied territory. In 1949, as part of the armistice between Jordan and Israel, the area was designated as a demilitarized no-man’s-land and no permanent borders were established.
“During the course of the Six Day War, in which Jordan, despite Israeli pleas not to do so, attacked Israel, the area fell under Israel’s control and administration, together with the other West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria. In light of its strategic location commanding the main route to Jerusalem and the vital security implications involved, and in accordance with Israel’s rights pursuant to the rules of armed conflict, the area was declared by Israel to be a closed military area under strict military control, and the presence of the few civilians who remained after the majority had chosen to leave was prohibited,” he wrote.
Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak said: “Just as Israelis deserve to live in a clean and healthy environment, so, too, do we deserve to live in peace and security. By demonizing one side and advocating against Jewish sovereignty, efforts by supporters of the BDS movement are antithetical to the pursuit of a lasting peace that both Israelis and Palestinians so rightfully deserve,” he stated.