Members of the Green Party of Canada made history over the weekend, passing a resolution at their convention in Ottawa to support boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting economic activities in the Occupied Territories. In the sometimes parochial sphere of Canadian politics, this is a big deal.
For years, open discussion about the occupation of Palestine — and of the broader Middle East conflict in general — has been suppressed by both governing and opposition parties. In Feb. 2016, a motion targeting BDS activism was passed in the House of Commons. The motion, initiated by the Conservatives and supported by a majority of Liberal MPs, condemned “any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.” The NDP voted against the motion on free speech grounds.
During the 2015 federal election, however, the NDP banned a number of aspiring candidates from seeking nominations due to past statements deemed to be too critical of Israeli government policies. Some NDP MPs who had previously been outspoken advocates of Palestinian rights have been quieter in recent years under Mulcair’s leadership. The outgoing NDP chief had a notorious dust-up in 2010 with his then fellow deputy leader, after MP Libby Davies suggested she personally supported BDS against Israel.
Even as global public opinion, and UN resolution after UN resolution, condemned the Netanyahu government’s bombing campaigns and siege against Gaza, and ongoing illegal settlement-building in the West Bank, the expression of solidarity with Palestinian human rights has virtually disappeared from parliamentary politics in Canada.
“This is the first time a Canadian political party with representation in the House of Commons has taken a strong and positive position in solidarity with the grassroots Palestinian movement for freedom, justice and equality,” noted Independent Jewish Voices Canada spokesperson Tyler Levitan in a press release.
The idea for an international BDS campaign targeting Israeli policies stems from a call by a coalition of Palestinian civil society groups in 2005.
Leader May "disappointed" in party vote
At their convention this weekend, the Greens also passed a resolution calling for the removal of the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund, although the resolution was ultimately amended to remove specific references to the JNF, and instead call for removal of charitable status from any organization involved in human rights violations.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May spoke against the BDS resolution. In an official party statement at the conclusion of the convention, May said, “I am disappointed that the membership has adopted a policy in favour of a movement that I believe to be polarizing, ineffective and unhelpful in the quest for peace and security for the peoples of the Middle East.” In the same statement, the party’s federal council president Ken Melamed said, “The Party membership also voted to express support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. I want to be clear — the GPC supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and we continue to advocate for good-faith negotiations. This support is intended to further advocate to that end.”
The thing is, in the case of so much injustice being so universally ignored by Canada’s political class, a little polarization of the Middle East debate is necessary. Quibbling or disagreement around the specific tactics of BDS is fair game, but let’s be honest: this call to action from the Greens’ membership comes amidst a deafening silence from all major Canadian political parties in the face of immense human suffering.
The utter failure of western governments
The official Canadian government policy (although it was almost never mentioned by the Harper government) is in fact to oppose illegal Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, but the Netanyahu government continues building new settlements in blatant violation of international law. This is the real context for the international movement for BDS; it’s a call for non-violent, civil society action in response to the utter failure of western governments allied with Israel to rein in its policies of occupation and dispossession.
This democratic decision by Green Party members will no doubt draw the ire of Canada’s corporate media editorial boards, not to mention politicians who vehemently support Israel’s discriminatory policies and military occupation of Palestinian territories.
First out of the gate, unsurprisingly, was Conservative MP and sort-of-would-be-Alberta-premier Jason Kenney, who tweeted all too common slanders of those who advocate for Palestinian human rights. In recent years especially, political courage on this issue has been in short supply, leaving the likes of Kenney emboldened to push the limits of his own zealous advocacy of Israeli state policies.
Regardless of the blowback, this weekend’s vote by the Green Party will hopefully spark more serious debate about Middle East policy in Canada. As IJV’s Levitan puts it, “The Green Party of Canada has passed two resolutions of historic importance that can only have a positive impact on the pursuit of justice and peace in the Middle East, as well as on Canadian democracy.”
As long as Palestinian dispossession and oppression continues unabated in defiance of international law and human decency, Canadian parliamentarians have a responsibility to speak up. This conversation has been suppressed for too long.