During the recent meeting of the UNIFOR Canadian Council, held in Winnipeg from Aug. 18 to 20, representatives of Canada’s largest private-sector union endorsed a resolution that supported boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against “sectors of Israel’s economy and society that profit from the ongoing occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).”
The resolution further stated that BDS should continue “until such time as Israel implements a permanent ban on further settlement construction in the OPT, and enters into good faith negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian people for the purpose of establishing a viable, contiguous and truly sovereign Palestinian state.”
Reaction to this development from leaders of Canada’s Jewish community was swift and highly critical. Shimon Koffler Fogel, the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said, “It is appalling that UNIFOR has allowed itself to be drawn into the anti-Semitic, divisive and counter-productive BDS campaign against Israel. The resolution that passed last week at UNIFOR’s Canadian Council is misguided and shameful, and it suggests that UNIFOR has a complete lack of understanding of the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The story was widely covered in the Israeli and Canadian press. Columnist Sue-Ann Levy, herself a UNIFOR member, wrote in the Toronto Sun that as a Zionist, the resolution disgusted her.
How does it come about that a Canadian union with over 300,000 members finds it appropriate to take such a one-sided stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict? In a world overflowing with pain and injustice, why does the situation in Israel warrant such a measure, while the union is silent on the subject of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the daily deaths of refugees in the Mediterranean and the ongoing Russian occupation of Crimea?
Perhaps we can shed some light on this question if we examine other developments that have occurred on the political left in recent years. We have seen the rise of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the U.K. Labour Party. Corbyn is known for his warm words for Hamas and Hezbollah, and for presiding over a crisis of anti-Semitism within his own party. Recent polls show that support for the Labour Party among British Jews has fallen to 13 per cent, as a result.
In his new book, Contemporary Left Antisemitism, David Hirsh, a British sociologist who spoke in Ottawa on Sept. 5, documents the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism on the left in Britain. Hirsh zeroes in on the way an extreme form of anti-Zionism, directed at a mythical demonic Israel, has become a litmus test to separate good and evil on the extreme left, and shows that such attitudes are increasingly being tolerated by mainstream society.
In America, we have seen similar attempts to exclude supporters of Israel from the women’s movement and accusations that Israel is guilty of genocide, included in the platform of the Movement for Black Lives. Sadly, the group Jewish Voice for Peace continues its Deadly Exchange campaign, which falsely links co-operation with Israel to African-Americans who have been killed by police.
The UNIFOR resolution should alert us to a similar problem here in Canada. What are the consequences for Jewish workers and others who oppose discriminatory measures against the State of Israel? Are they still safe in the workplace? Now that the union has publicly taken this provocative position, are they still free to speak out against it; to say that the union does not speak for them? Or will they be perceived as “scabs” for breaking union solidarity? Will Jews have to be outspokenly anti-Zionist to avoid arousing the suspicion of their co-workers?
As Canadians, we would be wise to inform ourselves, stay alert and be ready to speak out against the growing influence of anti-Semitism within the union movement, political parties and left-wing NGO’s, not just for our own sake, but for the preservation of Canada’s open and welcoming society.