In a nearly unanimous vote on June 8, Niagara regional council voted to condemn the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Fort Erie Coun. Sandy Annunziata brought the anti-BDS motion forward in response to a motion to endorse the BDS movement that was brought to the Ontario NDP convention in April.
“This was a position and policy plank that was brought forward by the provincial Niagara Centre NDP riding association and it was included in the NDP policy convention booklet discussion,” Annunziata said. “Ultimately, this did not make it through.”
Still, Annunziata felt that Niagara Centre MPP Cindy Forster and the riding association should be held accountable.
“I was getting approached by a lot of people in the Jewish community who were asking me, ‘What’s going on with Niagara? Why would Niagara endorse BDS?’ And what they were doing was conflating this position of the NDP Niagara Centre riding association with all of Niagara, so I had to make it perfectly clear that this was not the position of Niagara,” he explained. “I think it’s important that when things like these rear their ugly heads, we have to deal with it and we have to deal with it swiftly.”
“The most shocking thing from my perspective, is that it was brought forward by one of the legitimate political parties in Ontario, probably an election away from forming government, so I think there has to be broader condemnation of the BDS movement. Just to say that you’re anti-racism, if you’re not condemning BDS, those words ring hollow,” he said.
Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin said the BDS movement was not on his radar until the riding association brought it to the NDP convention earlier this year.
“I’m not sure what their motive was to do that, but anything that creates division is not OK with me,” Caslin said.
“We reaffirmed last night with our Niagara Regional Council that in no way do we support anti-Semitism or the BDS movement and that we will not be supporting that position.”
The motion to endorse the BDS movement did not make it to the floor to be voted on by party members at the April convention.
Although Annunziata’s motion singled out Forster and the riding association, Forster denied that she was responsible for it. In an open letter sent to councillors in advance of the June 8 vote to condemn BDS, Forster said the motion was a politically motivated attempt to smear her, adding that she would have voted against it, if the motion had made it to the convention floor.
“If I haven’t been clear, and if my years of public service haven’t spoken loudly enough, I absolutely, unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and all forms of racial discrimination,” she wrote.
Jewish groups including B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) presented to council on June 8, to implore it to condemn the BDS movement.
Regional council voted 24-2 in favour of the motion.
In his remarks to council, CIJA spokesman Adir Krafman explained that the BDS movement is “a vehicle for anti-Semitism and … encourages discrimination against members of the Jewish community.”
B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said that, “After our deputation, some councillors admitted that they were not aware of how wrong and racist BDS is. By the end of the evening, they were keenly aware of the bigotry associated with BDS and that directly led to overwhelming rejection of BDS in the vote.”