At its biannual convention in August 2016, the Green Party of Canada GPC adopted a policy expressing support for the use of boycott, divestment and sanctions to bring an end to Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian territories.
The reaction of pro-Israel groups and the mainstream media was strident and unabashedly biased. B’Nai Brith Canada’s CEO Michael Mostyn berated Greens for embracing “the policy position of shills for 9/11 conspiracy theories and terror apologists.” The Globe & Mail mischaracterized the BDS policy as an “Israel boycott” even though the policy is explicitly confined to those sectors of Israel’s society and economy that profit from the illegal occupation. The National Post quoted multiple critics of the BDS policy, but not one supporter of BDS. Even the supposedly progressive Toronto Star piled on, and thundered that “rather than fleeing the scene of its political car-crash over policy on Israel, Elizabeth May should stick around and save her party from itself.”
In all of the anti-BDS hysteria that ensued, there was scarcely a mention of Israel’s appalling human rights abuses.
As the International Court of Justice unanimously held in 2004 (with the concurrence of the United States judge), Israel’s settlements constitute a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Canadian government acknowledges as much on the website of the ministry of foreign affairs, and goes so far as to describe the settlements as a “serious obstacle” to a “just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”
Further, and as reputable human rights organizations like Amnesty International have documented for years, the state of Israel engages in torture, including the torture of children. It employs collective punishment, extra-judicially assassinates its perceived enemies, and imprisons protesters without due process. It has imposed a cruel siege on Gaza which, according to the United Nations, has plunged the people of Gaza into mass destitution and could render Gaza, home to nearly 2 million people, unlivable by 2020. In 2014, following an intense bombardment of Gaza in which over 550 Palestinian children died and over 1,000 children were permanently disabled, Gaza set a world record unemployment rate of 47 per cent.
Israel’s racist government
Equally absent from the virulent attacks on the Green Party was the slightest acknowledgement that Benjamin Netanyahu’s far right government is openly racist. In 2013, Netanyahu appointed Eli Ben Dahan to be Israel’s deputy defence minister despite the fact that Dahan had said of Palestinians “to me, they are like animals, they aren’t human.” In 2014, Ayalet Shaked, Israel’s justice minister, posted on her Facebook page an article that referred to Palestinian children as “little snakes.” She also declared that Israel’s enemy is the entire people of Palestine, effectively inciting Israelis to kill innocent Palestinian civilians. Israel’s extremist education minister, Naftali Bennett, once infamously boasted that “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that.” More recently, Bennett celebrated the election victory of the shameless bigot Donald Trump by trumpeting that “the era of a Palestinian state is over.”
Racism is now so pervasive within Netanyahu’s far right regime that, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the deputy chief of staff of Israel’s army, Yair Golan, said that Israeli society is exhibiting elements of 1930s’ Germany:
It's scary to see horrifying developments that took place in Europe begin to unfold here. If there's something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then — 70, 80 and 90 years ago — and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016…There is nothing easier and simpler than in behaving like beasts, becoming morally corrupt, and sanctimoniousness.
Nonetheless, Netanyahu’s apologists subjected Green Party leader Elizabeth May to intense and relentless pressure following our adoption of the BDS policy. After the party’s convention in August, Ms. May briefly contemplated resigning as Green Party leader, but ultimately she resolved to fight for electoral reform as leader of the Greens. Meanwhile, the GPC’s federal council has called for a special general meeting to be held in Calgary on December 3 and 4, 2016. Among other things, the purpose of the SGM will be to revisit the BDS policy.
Town halls across Canada
The unconscionable attacks to which our party has been subjected have generated significant strains among our members. In order to ease those strains, I and dozens of other GPC members who support the BDS policy organized a series of BDS town halls and debates.
Since our biannual convention in August, we have conducted 18 town halls and debates in 15 cities and six provinces. In every one of those events, a large majority of audience members who expressed a view on the BDS policy were supportive of that policy.
A recurring theme in our town halls and debates was that the party’s core values, which include social justice, non-violence, respect for diversity, and participatory democracy, do not only allow but oblige us to support non-violent methods to bring an end to oppression. As stated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has likened Israel’s brutal occupation to South African apartheid, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Nonetheless, in order to address concerns that our party should not endorse social movements over which it has no control, I accepted Elizabeth May’s invitation to participate in discussions with members of the GPC’s shadow cabinet with a view to crafting a consensus resolution. I was supported in these discussions by Lisa Barrett and Colin Griffiths, two other former members of the Green Party’s shadow cabinet who have vigorously defended the BDS policy.
On November 8, 2016, the GPC announced to its members that we had achieved a consensus on a resolution to replace the BDS policy. Among other things, the consensus resolution:
- expresses support for the use of consumer boycotts, institutional divestment and government sanctions to end violence and oppression;
- calls on Israel to respect the right of return of Palestinian refugees, accord to Palestinians living in Israel equal political and civil rights, and end the illegal occupation and the siege of Gaza;
- calls for the Canadian government to impose an arms embargo on Israel and to ban the importation into Canada of products made in Israel’s illegal settlements;
- calls on the International Criminal Court to prioritize its investigation into potential war crimes by the state of Israel; and
- calls for recognition by Canada of the state of Palestine.
Ultimately, the Green Party’s members will determine the fate of this consensus resolution. In order to undermine support for the consensus resolution, the usual suspects may well claim that the resolution unfairly “singles out” Israel. In 2014, however, the GPC adopted a policy calling for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, yet none of the groups or media organizations that attacked us after our adoption of the BDS policy have claimed that we have unfairly ‘singled out’ the monstrous Saudi autocracy. As stated by Michael Lesher, an Othodox Jewish member of Jewish Voice for Peace, “it seems only Israel is supposed to be immune from criticism — however legitimate — that doesn’t come yoked with reminders about each of the ‘numberless nations’ whose records leave something to be desired.”
In 2014, weeks before Israel’s deadliest assault on Gaza to date, Forum Research conducted a poll on Canadians’ attitudes toward Israel and Palestine. The poll found that two-thirds of Canadians did not sympathize with either side, while the remainder were almost equally split between sympathy for Israel and sympathy for Palestinians. (Canadians’ sympathies for Palestinians would almost certainly be far greater if the mainstream media and Canada’s major political parties deigned to tell Canadians the truth about what is being done to Palestinians.)
Today, who in Canada’s Parliament speaks for the millions of Canadians who demand a just peace for the long-suffering people of Palestine?
By uniting around the Green Party’s consensus resolution on Palestine and Israel, my fellow Green Party members will at last give a voice in Canada’s Parliament to those millions of Canadians. And they will thank us for it. The Green Party’s adoption of a policy calling for Israel to be held accountable for its human rights abuses is not only the right thing to do. It is also the politically intelligent thing to do.