On Aug. 7 in Ottawa, delegates at the Green Party of Canada’s federal convention voted overwhelmingly to endorse boycott, divestment and sanctions against the sectors of the Israeli economy that benefit from the occupation of Palestinian territories.
The result of this pristine exercise in grassroots democracy did not sit well with party leader Elizabeth May, who began criticizing her own party after the convention, referring to the individuals who submitted the BDS resolution as “one-issue people” and linking the international civil society movement to perceived anti-Semitism. She went as far as threatening to step down if the vote was not overturned by the party executive at their next meeting before leaving on a week-long vacation.
As leader of the Greens in Quebec, the only ecosocialist Green Party in Canada, and someone who has watched the federal party from a distance for many years, I was unfortunately not surprised to see May speaking against the policy and attempting to marginalize those who support it. Over the years, Elizabeth May has pushed the Green Party of Canada closer and closer to the centre of Canadian politics. Her policies are a far cry from what her U.S. counterpart Dr. Jill Stein has been advocating for in that country’s presidential campaign.
BDS makes sense
The actions of the state of Israel against the Palestinian people are unacceptable. This is a fact Elizabeth May herself has recognized. The disagreement is with respect to tactics. May is effectively arguing that there is nothing that we can do as Canadians to stop Israel's reign of terror in the Middle East.
BDS is a peaceful tactic and a powerful tool designed to apply economic pressure on the Israeli government until they respect human rights and end the illegal occupation. Canada routinely sanctions other nations for a variety of reasons and there is nothing out of the ordinary about using this tactic to achieve our diplomatic objectives.
Nothing about BDS is anti-Semitic. In fact, many of the people who were advocating in favour of BDS at the Green Party convention are Jewish. The goal of BDS is to put an end to the violence as quickly as possible. Representatives of the Israeli government are involved in a wartime effort to obtain and preserve international approval for their occupation, use of force and killing of civilians. The backlash by supporters of the Israeli government against the Green Party of Canada following the adoption of the BDS resolution was predictable, anticipated and manageable.
Biased media coverage has skewed public opinion
Despite the magnitude of the atrocities being committed by Israel in the occupied territories, mainstream Canadian media continues to show only one side of the BDS issue. For example, almost none of the mainstream articles covering the adoption of the Green Party’s BDS resolution explain the reasons why it was endorsed by both party members and groups such as Independent Jewish Voices Canada and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.
The mainstream media has consistently failed to mention the amount of support the Green Party could gain by developing this kind of outspokenly pro-peace foreign policy. Instead, mainstream coverage has been limited to showcasing arguments against BDS while grossly overestimating the amount of support that the party stands to lose from taking such a strong stand. Many Canadians are critical of the Israeli government, and the Green Party’s BDS policy is far more popular than the mainstream media makes it out to be.
A democratic decision
Contrary to what May has said in the national media, the resolution passed with an overwhelming majority of support both on the convention floor and during online pre-convention voting. While Elizabeth May is sensitive to criticism, intimidation and bullying from pro-Israeli government groups, the members are not.
This bold position taken by the membership shows that there is a growing ideological disconnect between the rank-and-file members and the party leadership. In fact, none of the other provincial Green leaders have gone on record to support this policy. The leader of the B.C. party, Andrew Weaver, has even gone as far to condemn the simple fact that such a policy was even debated.
Canadian pro-Israel consensus shattered
What makes this resolution historic is that it is the first time any federal party in Canada has broken the pro-Israel consensus in the House of Commons. The Trudeau government has been content to follow the Harper government’s lead of abusing Canada’s moral authority on the world stage. Under the leadership of these two men we have offered Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government Canada’s unwavering and unconditional support for military actions against the Palestinian people regardless of the civilian death toll or the number of children killed by the Israeli Defence Forces.
To survive, the Green Party of Canada should turn left
One of the main criticisms leveled against Green parties is that we are one-issue parties that have few propositions beyond environmental issues. In the case of the Green Party of Canada, I agree with many of these criticisms and it is one of the many reasons the Green Party of Quebec has chosen to become an ecosocialist, feminist and multicultural party that does not back down from difficult or polarizing issues.
The approach promoted by Elizabeth May is inherently unsustainable in the long run. Increasing success comes with a responsibility to take positions on more and more issues and parties built on unstable foundations are prone to failure in the long term.