OPINION: Sanctions against Israel are fair play

by | Mar 4, 2016 | Canadian News, Opinion

Jeremy Appel

Senior reporter

Canada’s House of Commons voted overwhelmingly Monday to condemn the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel, despite the Liberal government’s pledge for a more balanced approach to the conflict than its diehard pro-Israel predecessor.

The resolution passed 229-51, with the unanimous support of the Conservatives and near-unanimous support of the government. Three Liberals, Larry Bagnell, Nick Whalen and Rene Arsenault, broke ranks and voted against the motion, along with the NDP, Greens and Bloc Quebecois caucuses.

BDS, modeled after the non-violent movement that brought down South African apartheid, advocates punitive measures against Israel until its core demands are met. These are Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian lands occupied since 1967, dismantling the separation barrier that slithers across the West Bank to annex illegal Israeli colonies, compensating the descendants of Arabs expelled from Israel during its foundation and full equality for Israel’s Arab citizens.

Punitive measures include academic and cultural boycotts, whereby universities and colleges sever ties with Israeli academic institutions and artists refuse to participate in events that normalize Israel’s rule over Palestinians. A movement is also underway to get universities to divest from weapons manufacturers, including but not limited to those who provide the Israeli army with weapons.

Israel’s supporters correctly condemn Palestinian violence. Suicide bombings, random stabbings and indiscriminate rocket attacks do nothing to help the Palestinian cause.

But the blanket condemnation of the non-violent BDS movement as “anti-Semitic” and “un-Canadian,” to borrow the terminology of the bill’s Conservative sponsors Tony Clement and Michelle Rempel, suggests that to Israel’s apologists, the Palestinians can do no right.

If violent and non-violent resistance are equally unacceptable, then what is a Palestinian to do? The clear implication of the resolution is that they should give up on their rights and return to negotiations with a far-right Israeli government that is in the process of gobbling up all that remains of Palestine.

The bipartisan chorus of condemnation says BDS is anti-Semitic because it “singles out Israel for criticism,” while ignoring other, more serious human rights abuses in the Middle East.

Yet it’s Israel that is singled out for praise and special economic treatment by Canadian governments, whether Liberal or Conservative.  The Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1996 by the purportedly neutral Chretien government. It goes without saying that there’s no equivalent agreement with the Palestinian Authority that rules over patches of the West Bank.

BuzzFeed Parliamentary reporter Paul McLeod covered the initial anti-BDS proceedings last week, where he heard parliamentarians repeatedly ask why BDS has nothing to say about China or Iran.

“I’ve never heard this about other movements,” McLeod observed on Twitter.

It’s like asking why AIDS activists don’t focus on anti-poverty initiatives. It’s likely to do with there being a mere 24 hours in a day.

Not a single federalist MP defended BDS. While voting against condemnation, the NDP, Greens and Liberal outliers did everything else to distance themselves from the movement.

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Helen Leverdiere merely recited platitudes about the “right to disagree,” as if that is all that’s at stake here.

Party leader Tom Mulcair has in the past called the BDS movement “grossly inappropriate.” He also essentially purged the party of pro-Palestine elements in the runup to the 2015 election as part of a bid to push the NDP closer to the political centre and gain power. Former deputy leader Libby Davies and Nova Scotia candidate Morgan Wheeldon were two such casualties.

The Bloc Quebecois was the only party to defend BDS as a legitimate form of political dissent in defence of international human rights.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper has in the past insinuated that his government wants to make support for BDS a criminal act, citing laws against hate speech, as the CBC’s Neil MacDonald discovered last year.

The same Stephen Harper who supported the Trans Pacific Partnership on the grounds of promoting free trade wants to force Canadians to do business with Israel, regardless of any moral qualms.

If advocating BDS is hate speech, the Conservatives and their Liberal enablers need to explain why it’s supported by a significant number of prominent Jewish progressives — journalists Max Blumenthal and Naomi Klein, queer theorist Judith Butler and Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, to name but a handful. This writer also identifies as Jewish.

Is it really appropriate for Canada’s parliament to accuse these Jews of self-hatred?

Humber journalism student Ali Amad questioned the effectiveness of cultural boycotts against Israel in these pages last year. This is a debate that needs to be had, not cut off by a coterie of self-serving careerists on Parliament Hill.

The Trudeau government is clearly more interested in shoring up its pro-Israel credentials than defending Canadians’ basic right to dissent from our country’s foreign policy and act where successive governments have failed.

Israel has occupied the West Bank for nearly 50 years with no end in sight. It’s incumbent upon those who support justice and peace in the Middle East to start thinking about new ways to solve the conflict, so Israelis and Palestinians can both live in freedom and dignity.

BDS clearly falls within this purview, regardless of what one thinks of its potential efficacy.