Debating boycotts

Lascaris: Green Party’s BDS resolution is common sense

Unlike broader movement, Green motion targets only illegal settlements and Occupied Palestinian Territories
Photo: Heri Rakotomalala

My Green Party of Canada colleague Jeff Wheeldon has penned an op-ed in which he explains why he does not embrace the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. He is certainly entitled to reject the BDS movement but, to be clear, the Green Party of Canada’s BDS resolution does not endorse that movement.

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The resolution passed by the Green Party refers to the tactic of boycott, divestment and sanctions but makes no reference at all to the BDS movement, whose goals and tactics are far broader than those which the Green Party of Canada has now embraced. As stated on the website of the BDS movement, the movement has three goals for Israel:

  1. Ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling its separation wall (the movement’s website defines “Arab lands” as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights).

  2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.

  3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

The Green Party’s resolution makes no reference to the equality rights of Arab- Palestinian citizens of Israel or to the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Further, the BDS resolution relates strictly to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which do not include the Golan Heights.

Not only are the goals of the Green Party of Canada’s BDS resolution narrower than those of the BDS movement, but so too are its tactics.

The singular and explicit goal of this resolution, which I consciously drafted to be narrower than the goals of the BDS movement, is to end Israel’s settlements, which are almost universally acknowledged to be a violation of international law, and to pressure Israel to commence good faith negotiations with Palestinians toward the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

Not only are the goals of the Green Party of Canada’s BDS resolution narrower than those of the BDS movement, but so too are its tactics. The BDS movement seeks the application of BDS to those who are involved in violations of Palestinian rights, whether the victims of the violations are in the OPT, Israel itself, or refugee camps outside of Israel and Palestine. By contrast, the Greens’ BDS resolution calls for the application of BDS only to “those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation of the OPT.” Thus, the BDS resolution is confined to the violations of the rights of those living in the OPT.

It’s no Leap for Greens to endorse a movement

Let us assume, for a moment, that the BDS resolution does amount to an endorsement of the movement.

Wheeldon argues that a political party should not adopt policies from outside organizations. Yet this is precisely what Elizabeth May did when she stated publicly at COP21 that the Green Party of Canada endorses the Leap Manifesto. To my knowledge, Wheeldon and those who share his views about the BDS resolution have not criticized May’s endorsement of the Leap Manifesto, whose authors are in no way beholden to the Green Party of Canada.

Western governments refuse to sanction Israel, and even accord it a privileged status through which it is effectively immune from the consequences of its offences.

Wheeldon also argues that Palestinians possess a “wealth of options for non-violent conflict resolution” other than BDS, but fails to identify a single one. What are these other options?

Regrettably, governmental sanctions are not a realistic option. While paying lip service to human rights law, Western governments refuse to sanction Israel, and even accord it a privileged status through which it is effectively immune from the consequences of its offences. Indeed, the United States just agreed to give Israel the largest package of military aid in U.S. history.

Negotiations with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are not a viable option. For decades, successive Israeli governments have engaged in a pretence of negotiations while aggressively confiscating Palestinian land in violation of international law. Our own government describes Israel’s settlements as a “serious obstacle to peace,” yet it rolls out the red carpet to Israeli leaders whose official policy is to promote illegal settlement construction.

Perhaps Wheeldon would argue that Palestinians should engage in Gandhi-like civil disobedience, but Palestinians have done so for years, often at immense personal cost to those brave souls who peacefully oppose the occupation. Recently, Palestinian demonstrators dressed as Santa Claus took to the streets of Bethlehem at Christmas-time in order to protest the occupation peacefully. They were met with volleys of tear gas from Israeli forces. Examples of Israel’s violent suppression of peaceful protest are legion.

On three separate occasions, the BDS resolution was approved by a substantial majority of those party members who voted on it.

It is facile for those of us who live in a society where peaceful protest is permitted to demand that Palestinians resist the occupation by engaging in civil disobedience. I and other supporters of the BDS resolution imagine ourselves living in their grim reality and, in good conscience, we cannot abandon the Palestinian people to the fearsome brutality of Israel’s occupying army.

Finally, Wheeldon claims that “the majority of Green Party members, coast to coast, do not support the resolution,” yet he cites no evidence to support this claim. On the contrary, on three separate occasions, the BDS resolution was approved by a substantial majority of those party members who voted on it.

Despite threat of resignation, fewer than half of Greens want BDS resolution repealed

Promptly after the BDS resolution’s adoption at the Green Party of Canada convention in Ottawa, our leader and only Parliamentarian, Elizabeth May, threatened in national media to resign over it. Immediately following that threat, the party sent members an online survey asking various questions relating to the resolution. With May’s knowledge and approval, but without consultation with me, the party’s justice critic at the time, this survey was disseminated at the direction of the party’s executive director.

There are many deficiencies in this survey, including that less than 20 per cent of the party’s members responded to it. Perhaps its greatest flaw, however, is that it was disseminated immediately following May’s threat of resignation, which almost certainly meant that many of those who responded by expressing opposition to the BDS resolution were acting out of fear that the party was about to lose its leader, and were not expressing genuine opposition to the concept of BDS.

Despite all of this, 56 per cent of the respondents did not say that they wanted the BDS policy to be repealed. If anything, this is a powerful indication of the degree to which the grassroots of the Green Party of Canada support the limited use of BDS to bring an end to Israel’s interminable and unconscionable occupation.

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