Federal Green party Leader Elizabeth May says she was able to support a revised policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because it rejects the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement itself, but still backs boycotts as a tactic against the occupation and puts the onus on the Jewish state to move toward a two state-solution.
At a special general meeting held Dec. 3 and 4 in Calgary, 350 members voted to pass a policy titled “Measures to pressure the government of Israel to preserve the two-state solution: addendum to current Middle East policy.”
It replaced a policy titled “Palestinian self-determination and the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions,” that passed in August at a Green party convention in Ottawa.
“It needs to be said very clearly that the BDS movement does not understand the issue properly and is in fact undermining the peace process itself,” May told The CJN, the day after the addendum passed.
Immediately following the August convention, May firmly opposed the policy that supported the BDS movement.
“The reason I couldn’t accept our policy in August is because it looked very much as though we were adopting the BDS movement. And the BDS movement, although there are well-meaning people who support it, when you get down to it, their core goals do not include at all… the right of the State of Israel to exist,” May said.
At that time, May considered stepping down as leader as a result, but following a family vacation, May ultimately announced she would stay on as leader, partly because the party’s executive council agreed to call a special meeting to give members the opportunity to revisit the BDS resolution.
The amended policy states, among other things, that the “Palestinian people are among the indigenous people of the geographic region now designated as Israel and the OPT [occupied Palestinian territory],” and it supports “only non-violent responses to violence and oppression, including economic measures such as government sanctions, consumer boycotts, institutional divestment, economic sanctions and arms embargoes.”
It calls for a ban on products produced “wholly or partly within or by illegal Israeli settlements, or by Israeli businesses directly benefiting from the illegal occupation,” and it calls on the Canadian government to repeal the House of Commons resolution that condemned the BDS movement last February.
According to a statement by Thomas Woodley, president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East , Green members voted 85 per cent in favour of the revised policy.
Although the policy remains critical of Israel and still supports boycotts, divestment, sanctions and arms embargoes, its drafters were careful not to specifically endorse the international BDS movement. May insists the Green party is committed to a two-state solution.
“We condemn anyone who imagines that they don’t support, unequivocally, the right of the State of Israel to exist. That prefacing is critical to understanding the addendum,” she said.
“We’ve never been a party that was afraid to say out loud that we are critical of the decisions of the Israeli government from time to time. I think many Israelis are also critical of the decisions of the government from time to time.”
May said retired Israeli generals and intelligence officers who accuse Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of undermining the peace process and weakening security for Israelis, “make the case better than we can as Canadian Greens that there needs to be a course correction on the occupation, expansion of illegal settlements and so on… We’d rather be aligning ourselves with criticisms that come from within the State of Israel, than with a movement that doesn’t understand the critical necessity to defend the right of the State of Israel to exist.”
May said she understands that the policy won’t sit well with many members of the Jewish community, but added, “There are limited number of mechanisms that governments and parties can use to signal to a foreign government that we think you’re making a mistake here, while at the same time, remaining allies.”
Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said in a statement that the group condemns the resolution, “which confirms the Green party has been co-opted by extreme activists who – in their obsessive campaign of prejudice against Israelis – threaten the party’s own credibility and relevance in Canadian politics.
“The new policy is rife with historical distortions and places the Green party at odds with the Canadian consensus that BDS is discriminatory and counter-productive to peace. The Ontario Legislature just voted by a ten-fold margin to reject the differential treatment of Israel, underscoring how out of touch the Green party has become,” Koffler Fogel said.
The statement also pointed to the policy’s assertion that Palestinians are Israel’s “indigenous people,” and the implication that Jews have no ancestral or indigenous roots in Israel.
“Elizabeth May and the party’s leadership have turned their backs on the mainstream Jewish community, including the many Jewish Greens who no longer feel welcome,” he said, adding that despite calling attention to the Green party that the vote would take place on Shabbat, excluding observant Jews from the vote, the vote was held on Dec. 4.
Although May rejected the idea of boycotting Israel, she made a distinction between “legal Israel” and “illegal Israel.”
“I’d go out of my way to buy a product that is labelled a product of Israel from within the legal boundaries of Israel. But personally, I prefer not to buy products that come from an area that is in illegally occupied territories, which again, even retired members of the Israeli Defence Forces are saying are making life less secure for legal Israel.”
B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said he was encouraged by the rejection of the BDS movement.
“No matter how the party came to this position, it is a positive thing for Canadians that once again, the anti-Semitic BDS movement has been rejected. It is especially significant given the amount of energy, time and resources being poured into the promotion of the anti-Semitic BDS movement by certain factions within the Green party.”
However, Mostyn added there is still misinformation in the policy.
“For example, the very characterization of settlements as ‘illegal’ under Article 49 of the Geneva Convention is either a deliberate misreading of that document, or complete ignorance of international law,” he said.