A private member’s bill that targeted the boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement against Israel was defeated by a decisive 39-18 vote yesterday afternoon at Queen’s Park.
Drafted by Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies president and CEO Avi Benlolo, Liberal MPP Mike Colle and Conservative MPP Tim Hudak, “Standing Up Against Anti-Semitism in Ontario Act” identified the BDS movement as “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel globally and is increasingly promoted on university campuses in Ontario… leading to intimidation and violence on campuses.”
Tories MPPs voted for the bill, while NDP MPPs voted against it, and Colle was its lone Liberal supporter.
When asked before the vote about the chances of the bill passing, Colle said, “I don’t know. We’ll see. I know the NDP are not supporting it, but we’ll see what happens.”
Thornhill MPP Gila Martow said she wasn’t shocked the bill was defeated, but she was surprised the Liberals whipped the vote.
“It came from the higher-ups, ordering them to vote against it. They piled in. Almost everyone who wasn’t on the Israel trip [with Premier Kathleen Wynne] was [in the legislature], which is very unusual for a Thursday afternoon… before a long weekend,” Martow said.
“They weren’t allowed to vote with their conscience, they were instructed. So while Kathleen Wynne is in Israel, her caucus is being instructed,” she said, adding that when she looked at Colle, “he was fighting back tears.”
“What a strong person to stand there while your entire caucus isn’t supporting you.”
Earlier this week in Israel, Wynne came out against BDS, but said Ontario must protect free speech. “The BDS position is certainly not mine, nor is it that of our government, and I entirely oppose the movement. In fact, I stand firmly against any position that promotes or encourages anti-Semitism in any way.”
After the vote, Benlolo said in a statement he was “speechless by what he witnessed.”
He said the Liberals showed up in large numbers to vote against the bill to send a strong message. “They could have given it a respectable defeat, let’s say 21 to 18, but they wanted it to be decisive, and that’s what’s disconcerting about it,” he told The CJN.
Although many of those who voted against the bill cited free speech, Benlolo said the bill intended to use the strategy of BDS supporters against them.
It called on the government to abstain from doing business with companies that support the BDS movement against Israel.
The act said provincial pension funds should divest themselves of investments in businesses that boycott Israel, and it also urged that colleges and universities be banned from supporting or participating in the BDS movement.
“It is a bill that is purely economic… It has nothing to do with free speech… It’s really just about who you want to do business with. Do you want to do business with people who are anti-peace, or do you want to do business with people who are pro-Israel and allies of Israel?” Benlolo said.
Efforts to reach Colle after the vote were unsuccessful, but speaking to The CJN beforehand, he said he helped draft the bill to support his constituents.
“I represent a constituency at Eglinton-Lawrence, which has the second-highest number of people of Jewish heritage in Ontario… and one of the largest Holocaust survivor communities… I’m very sensitive to anything that smacks of anti-Semitism and this whole so-called BDS movement is really a very insidious attack on Jewish people and the State of Israel,” Colle said.
In a statement after the vote, Hudak said it’s “discouraging for the many Ontarians who have felt threatened and discriminated against, whether it be on campuses or in doing business in this province, to accept that Ontario isn’t willing to stand up for them… Sadly, too many legislators do not yet understand the growing threat and the underlying intolerance and hatred that is the true face of the BDS movement.”
Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East president Thomas Woodley said the bill “smears an entire movement of human rights activists by accusing them of anti-Semitism,” and “is offensive in the way it attacks freedom of expression in Ontario, and the disinformation it creates about the BDS movement overall.”
NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo declined to comment. Attempts to reach other NDP MPPs were unsuccessful.