Last May, the Ontario legislature rejected a private member’s bill that would have prevented public bodies from contracting with, and public pension funds from investing in, entities that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Despite that defeat – largely on free speech grounds – supporters of Bill 202 have not given up hope that an amended version of the bill will one day prevail.
Yifa Segal believes there is a way such a bill can pass, if it is crafted properly. Segal, director of the Israel-based International Legal Forum (ILF), was in Toronto in late November to recruit lawyers to join the ILF’s network of attorneys and legal experts, who provide local expertise to address issues such as the BDS movement. (Segal spoke to The CJN before last week’s successful vote at Queen’s Park on Tory MPP Gila Martow’s motion condemning BDS.)
The ILF, Segal said, has experience and familiarity with other laws around the world that address BDS, while local lawyers are best able to determine what would work in their domestic jurisdictions. It’s a marriage made if not in heaven, then over the Internet through Skype and email, she suggested.
To date, the ILF, which was founded in 2014, has managed to put together a network of 1,300 legal experts in 19 countries. You can find supporters in Canada, the United States, across Europe and in South America.
“To be part of the network means we decide together on what needs to be done,” she said.
Segal’s visit was largely geared to meeting potential volunteer supporters. Though new to the Canadian scene, the ILF has registered successes in other jurisdictions where BDS was being considered. In Spain, it responded to a request from the local Jewish community after “there was a wave of resolutions in municipalities to adopt BDS as official policy. They wanted to take [the municipalities] to court. We worked with their attorneys to win the issue and create a precedent for Europe,” she said.
The ILF’s position was that the push for BDS was not a human rights issue. “It’s really about unlawful discrimination… You can’t say you want an economic boycott and then not allow professors and speakers from Israel. It’s wrongful discrimination.”
To date, the ILF has been part of 10 court victories in Spain, which serve as a precedent for other countries within the EU orbit, she added.
The ILF also worked with local groups in Brazil on an anti-terrorism initiative, which passed last February. Up until that point, it was not against Brazilian law to be a member of a terrorist organization or to fund it.
The ILF is also attempting to focus the attention of various governments on their indirect support for terror through their funding of the Palestinian Authority, which pays the salaries of terrorists and provides them with higher education, she said.
Recently the ILF, in conjunction with StandWithUs, presented a petition to UNESCO protesting the UN agency’s resolution that denied the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Segal said the 100,000 signatures on the petition won’t change the position of the highly-politicized UN agency, but “it can win public opinion when you show that western countries did not vote for the resolution.”
We are in an era when opponents of Israel tout their human rights credentials, but many of these ostensibly human rights organizations are really pursuing a political agenda, and “Israel is at the forefront of that [as a victim],” she said.
For Segal, her November visit was her second trip to Toronto. To date, the ILF has garnered support from lawyers of various faiths, including Jews, Christians and Muslims, she said.