By a vote of 229 for and 51 against, the Canadian Parliament passed a historic motion this afternoon which formally condemned the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement.
The Conservatives (including former Prime Minister Stephen Harper who attended the session to cast his vote against BDS), as well as the Liberals voted for the motion. Tom Muclair, leader of the NDP, opposed it as well as Bloc Québécois and three MPs of the Liberal Party (René Arseneault, Larry Bagnell and Nick Whalen).
The motion, which was brought on November 18 by Conservative MP’s Tony Clement and Michelle Rempel, called on Canada to reject BDS.
“That, given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.”
After the announcement that the Liberals will join the Conservatives in rejecting BDS, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said that “the world will win nothing for boycotting Israel but depriving itself of the talents of its inventiveness”.
On February 18, during the debate on the motion urging the House to reject BDS, Michael Levitt, Liberal candidate for the riding of York Centre, pointed out that “BDS is about intolerance. It’s a broader movement to demonize and delegitimize Israel, and to collectively punish all Israelis by holding Israel alone responsible for the Arab-Israeli conflict”.
“Whereas anti-Semites have long targeted Jews throughout the world as the root of all society’s ills, this new form of anti-Semitism targets Israel as the Jew among the nations, singling out the Jewish State as the root of all ills in the world”, he continued.
Levitt also called attention to the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism, passed by the previous Conservative government in 2010, which recognized anti-Semitism as a pernicious evil and a global threat against the Jewish people, the State of Israel and free, democratic countries everywhere. Levitt said the Protocol is instructive in identifying anti-Semitism that is pervasive within the BDS movement. “Denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination, for example, by claiming that the existence of Israel is a racist endeavour – that is anti-Semitism. Applying double standards by requiring of Israel behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation – that is anti-Semitism. Using the symbols or images of classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel or Israelis – that is anti-Semitism. Drawing comparison of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis – that is anti-Semitism. Holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the government of Israel – that is anti-Semitism.”
“Anti-Semitism so pervasive within the BDS movement involves the discrimination against and the denial of Jewish national self-determination and the right of the Jewish state to exist as the equal member of the family of nations.” – Michael Levitt, Liberal Candidate for York Centre
During the same debate, Anthony Housefather, Liberal Member of Parliament for Mount Royal, said the following: “The BDS movement as well is wrong because the thrust of what it is asking for is the disappearance of the State of Israel. BDS is saying that all Palestinian refugees must have the right of return to what is today Israel, which would automatically create a situation where we would not have a two-state solution. We would have a one-state solution where Israel was not a majority Jewish state. One of the three things that BDS is asking for is actually to make Israel disappear as a majority Jewish state, the only one in the whole entire world, and that is wrong. BDS, which again singles out Israel, is not looking at all those other countries in the world that engage in egregious human rights violations.”
“The whole idea of holding Israel to a higher moral standard than anyone else is clearly anti-Semitic” – Anthony Housefather, Liberal Member of Parliament for Mount Royal
“Why are they not condemning Saudi Arabia, which does not even let women drive, and does not let women have any kind of rights? Why are they not condemning Syria, where the Assad regime has killed thousands and actually displaced millions of its own people? What about China? What about North Korea? There is not a word from the BDS movement about any of these other countries. Only Israel is condemned, as BDS holds it to a complete double standard. Indeed, I have been to many meeting where there is talk of BDS. I have heard that Israel should be held to a higher standard, that people do not think it is like other Arab countries. That is the new form of anti-Semitism. The whole idea of holding Israel to a higher moral standard than anyone else is clearly anti-Semitic.”
The Conservative Party’s position against BDS is well known. In January 2015, while in Israel on an official visit, then Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird issued a statement saying “Canada strongly supports Israel’s right to defend itself by itself and its right to live in peace with its neighbours. Canada will fight any efforts internationally to delegitimize the State of Israel, including the disturbing BDS movement.”
Former Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney told the UN General Assembly that “Canada has taken a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination including rhetoric towards Israel, and attempts to delegitimize Israel such as the BDS movement.”
Member of Parliament Jeff Watson called the BDS movement “hateful and deceitful” and denounced “this new anti-Semitism which is poisoning our Canadian campuses.”
During last October’s election campaign, the Liberals also voiced their opposition to BDS. Several days before the elections, a Liberal Party flier titled “Don’t let Harper make Israel a partisan issue” was distributed in predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods in central and north Toronto, which read in part: “We abhor and fight BDS, the targeting of Israel at the UN and all other examples of the new anti-Semitism and efforts to isolate Israel”.
“The BDS movement, like Israeli Apartheid Week, has no place on Canadian campuses.” – Justin Trudeau
In March, 2015, ahead of a motion put forward by McGill University undergraduates’ association which urged the university to divest from companies “profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories”, then Liberal leader Trudeau tweeted: “The BDS movement, like Israeli Apartheid Week, has no place on Canadian campuses. As a McGill alum, I’m disappointed [the motion was introduced].”
The Canadian vote comes days after the British government enacted measures to prevent public bodies from engaging in or endorsing boycotts of the State of Israel. The measures, which make such boycotts illegal, represents a serious blow to the BDS movement.
Britain is the second major European country which enacted legislation against boycotting Israel. France passed such laws in 2003, and they have served as the basis for multiple convictions of BDS activists who were sentenced for incitement to discrimination or hate due to their actions on Israel.
In the US, state legislatures in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and Indiana passed anti-BDS resolutions and about a dozen other states are considering following suit.
On February 17, French banking giant BNP Paribas announced that it is shutting down a major financing source for the BDS campaign in Germany. This is the latest in an anti-BDS trend in Germany and, potentially, the first step in cutting of BDS funding in Europe.
On February 20, barely one month after passing a motion supporting a boycott against Israel, the Spanish municipality of Aviles reversed its own decision and denounced it as discriminatory.