Boycott, divestment and sanctions

For Wynne as for Hudak, Palestinian lives don’t count

Canadian politicians’ use of anti-Semitism to shutter criticism of Israel is shameful
Photo: Heri Rakotomalala

I wonder if Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne plans to paste that lovely picture of her shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into a photo album tucked away in a special place at her home in north Toronto.

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She really should, if only to remind herself when she inevitably departs the world of politics — voluntarily or involuntarily — of the hard-to-erase moral morass she recently permitted herself to descend into in the name of “promoting business.”

Looking at that iconic and, I dare say, infamous image taken a few weeks ago while Wynne led a delegation of mostly business types to Israel, I also wonder what this self-styled paragon of progressiveness may have been thinking about when she grasped Netanyahu’s hand.

Wynne and Netanyahu
Ontario Premier's Office

He is, after all, a politician that even former members of his own cabinet now concede is a dangerous, trigger-happy demagogue who is obsessed with getting and retaining power and damn the human consequences … mostly at the expense of Palestinians.

Not-so-ancient history

Did warmly greeting and meeting for an hour with a man who, in the name of defending Israel, was quite content during the summer of 2014 to preside politically over the unrelenting killing and maiming of more than a thousand Palestinians, including more than 500 children in what amounted to a turkey shoot in that killing field known as Gaza, give the premier so much as a moment’s pause, let alone a hint of discomfort?

It’s mighty hard to tell since, as far as I can gather, no one inside or outside the mainstream media has asked Wynne any of these questions before, during or after her week-long “trade mission.” I mean, it just wouldn’t be becoming for journalists to disturb her happy, carefully orchestrated photo-op with our dear pal Bibi with “prickly” queries about all those dead, injured and orphaned Palestinian kids, would it?

[Netanyahu] is a dangerous, trigger-happy demagogue who is obsessed with getting and retaining power and damn the human consequences.

Israel’s latest calamitous invasion of Gaza has happily receded not only into the distance, but also apparently from the memory of Premier Wynne and the travelling caravan of stenographers and pinstriped suit-wearing power brokers who accompanied her on the Magical Amnesia Tour.

Oh sure, Wynne made the perfunctory side trip to the West Bank to meet briefly with Palestinian officials and to be pictured handing out scholarships to young students arranged under the auspices of Daughters for Life. The humanitarian initiative is spearheaded by Canadian physician and academic Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who lost, it should be noted, three daughters and a niece to an Israeli tank shell in Gaza eight years ago. (I know 2008 is ancient history for most Western politicians and journalists, but I suspect it isn’t for the families of the 1,300 Palestinians who perished when the Israelis launched yet another assault on Gaza that year.)

The intent of these predictable excursions into the Israeli-occupied West Bank is to provide Wynne with cover if the odd troublemaker poses the kind of questions I’m raising in this column. In the remote eventuality that she was pressed, Wynne’s shampooed PR line would, no doubt, go something like this: “I regret the loss of life on both sides of this unfortunate conflict that I hope can be resolved at some point peacefully. The purpose of my trip was to build bridges between Ontario and Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

You see, Premier Wynne isn’t taking sides, she’s building bridges. This is, of course, a transparent, almost comical lie. There isn’t a major political party in Canada, save perhaps the Greens, that doesn’t side unquestionably, often hysterically, with Israel on any matter, at any time.

Recall how Thomas Mulcair — that defeated, make-believe social democrat — hid behind a press release or two urging both sides to “de-escalate” while Gazans were being indiscriminately and disproportionately killed and injured in 2014. How considerate.

There isn’t a major political party in Canada, save perhaps the Greens, that doesn’t side unquestionably, often hysterically, with Israel on any matter, at any time.

Fact is, Wynne and company feign empathy for the suffering of Palestinians. They’re seen as just numbers, as forgettable, disposable, irredeemable supporters of Hamas who are the authors of their own misfortune. Still, you would have thought that decency may have prevented the premier from giving the green light to her obscenely timed trade mission. My goodness, it’s been less than two years since 1,500 Palestinian children, women and men were annihilated and another 11,000 injured in July and August 2014. Oh, never mind.

Given her clear preference for business as usual over humanity, Wynne should be reminded that chances are that some of the young Palestinian women she stood with, smiling, will be the next casualties when Netanyahu inevitably decides that he must teach Gaza and the besieged people who populate that tiny strip of land another sharp, deadly lesson.

Burst from the backbench

And what to make of those two rank, headline-thirsty hucksters who also inhabit the Ontario legislature, Tory MPP Tim Hudak and Liberal MPP Mike Colle? Last week, their co-sponsored private member’s bill, which would have, in effect, outlawed the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in Ontario, was up for another vote.

To attract the media’s notoriously short attention span, Hudak and Colle dubbed their bill the Standing Up Against Anti-Semitism in Ontario Act. These days, shouting anti-Semitism is like shouting fire in that proverbial crowded theatre. It gets the gullible, mainly in the corporate media, all riled up.

Not surprisingly, it still works. So Hudak was rescued from the retirement home of discarded, long-forgotten political has-beens — more commonly known as the backbench — and propelled into the spotlight. Colle also emerged from political oblivion to enjoy an intoxicating burst of the kind of ephemeral attention that many politicians mistake for being taken seriously.

These rubes would be loath to acknowledge it, but their bill’s principal aim was not to ensure the continued existence of Israel (as if it needed their help), but to demonize and intimidate BDS supporters into inaction and silence.

But here’s the reassuring part: This smear masquerading as a bill can’t possibly dent a worldwide political movement that seeks, through non-violent means, to call attention to and to do something tangible about the pain and humiliation that Palestinians have endured day after day after day at the hands of successive Israeli governments, including, and arguably most potently, the rabidly nationalistic Netanyahu administration. (I could have used “shamefully” instead, but I’m convinced Netanyahu is incapable of feeling shame. If you don’t believe me, just ask his former cabinet colleagues.)

In defence of his bill, Hudak invoked what he probably considers convincing logic. “If somebody said they weren’t going to buy from a business because the owners were gay, you would go crazy,” he said. “But somehow because they’re Jewish or from Israel, oh, it’s free speech all of a sudden? Come on.”

First, Hudak well knows that a fair majority of the people who won’t buy a birthday cake from a gay baker are intolerant, gay-bashing evangelicals. In other words, die-hard Tory supporters.

Second, I always giggle when the party that uses a bullhorn to lecture us on how the government should stay out of the wallets of the nation now suddenly lectures us with the same bullhorn about how, where and when we should spend what’s in those wallets. Hypocrites.

As it happens, Hudak’s insipid line of reasoning failed to move many of his colleagues, who overwhelmingly voted down the bill.

Look, the overarching truth is that Hudak and Colle’s bill isn’t remotely about free speech, or defending Israel from phantom anti-Semites. (By the way, I was hunting Nazi war criminals across Canada while Hudak and Colle were busy eating their first of many rubber chickens.) No. It’s all about trying to enshrine, this time into a proposed law, that Palestinians don’t count. They’re invisible to those in power. And they and their interminable, grinding, state-sanctioned and engineered anguish are an accepted, tolerable cost of doing business for Ontario.

That, by any humane measure, is shameful.

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