The Israel lobby has suffered an epic fail in Canada. An attempt at persuading the country’s Green Party to drop its support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement galvanized many activists. The result was that Canada’s Greens have emphatically demanded that Palestinian rights be respected.
In August, the Green Party’s members voted to back BDS measures targeting those sectors of the Israeli economy which profit from the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. As is par for the course, Israeli nationalist groups labeled the resolution “anti-Semitic.”
Describing herself as “broken-hearted,” the Greens’ leader Elizabeth May threatened to resign if the party didn’t revisit the issue.
May, then, announced that a special general membership meeting would be held at the start of December to discuss its stance on Palestine.
In September, she fired three members of her shadow cabinet for defending the party’s recently passed policy from attacks by the head of the British Columbia Greens.
But May overplayed her hand.
Caught in the Ottawa and corporate media bubble, she failed to grasp the depth of support for the Palestinian cause both within and outside her party. She also underestimated Palestine solidarity groups’ organizational capacities.
In the lead-up to last weekend’s special general meeting, Dimitri Lascaris, one of the three fired by May, spoke in defense of BDS at town hall meetings across Canada.
Support for the Palestine policy was overwhelming during these events.
Despite media claims to the contrary – “Green Party losing members, riding associations as BDS controversy highlights infighting,” according to one National Post headline – the party has more to gain by aligning with the growing number of Canadians critical of the federal government’s support for Israeli violence and colonialism.
Facing the prospect of a humiliating defeat at the special meeting, May and other party leaders backed an alternative resolution, which was approved at last weekend’s meeting.
An explanatory note issued by the Greens claims that the party “explicitly rejects” calls for boycotting the State of Israel. The note indicates that the Greens could not support the BDS movement as its goals do not include “supporting the right of the State of Israel to exist.”
Nonetheless, the new resolution supports the targeted use of boycotts, divestment and sanctions as tactics in response to violence and oppression.
It also backs the three main demands made by the BDS movement: an end to Israel’s colonization of Palestinian lands; full equality between Israeli Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel; and guaranteeing the right to return of Palestinian refugees.
The resolution calls, too, for an end to the siege of Gaza and insists that Canada divests from companies that benefit from Israel’s activities in the occupied West Bank. It also urges the renegotiation of the free trade agreement between Canada and Israel so that goods produced within Israel’s settlements in the West Bank are “explicitly” excluded. The resolution also promotes the “indefinite suspension” of all military cooperation and trade in weapons and surveillance equipment.
The new resolution was swiftly denounced by Canada’s pro-Israel lobby. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Toronto claimed that the Greens had been “coopted by extreme activists.”
Pressure on NDP
The Green vote puts pressure on the historically left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) to take a similar position.
Some political activists associated with the NDP are sympathetic to the Palestine solidarity movement.
Sid Ryan, former head of the Ontario Federation of Labour, signed a recent appeal addressed to members of the Canadian Greens. Also backed by the authors Yann Martel and Rawi Hage and musicians Richard Reed Parry, from the group Arcade Fire, and Bruce Cockburn, the letter urges Greens not to “weaken or reverse the vote to support Palestinian rights” taken in August.
Ryan is being spoken of as a possible candidate for NDP leader. A website urging him to enter the contest for that position celebrates his advocacy for Palestinian rights, including his support for the BDS movement.
No matter who wins the campaign to become NDP leader in October it’s hard to imagine they will be worse than outgoing leader Tom Mulcair, who has described himself as an ally to Israel “in all circumstances.”
For the pro-Israel groups, the Green vote will sting. Rather than forcing party members to cower, their attacks focused attention on the Palestinian struggle for equality and justice.
Yves Engler who wrote the above post is the author of Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid and the newly-released A Propaganda System: How Canada’s government, corporations, media and academic sell war and exploitation. His website is yvesengler.com.
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