Pro-Israel groups declare ‘lawfare’ on BDS movement in Canada

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Groups closely aligned with the far-right Israeli government have declared “lawfare” on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Canada.

Lawfare, as it is commonly known, is the use of legal methods and the courts to damage an opponent, usually with the intent of winning a political or public-relations battle.

Recent events in Canada’s parliament, the Ontario Legislature and on Canadian campuses reveal the increasingly forceful trajectory of this strategy.

As predicted by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and opposition MPs, the Canadian Parliament’s controversial condemnation of BDS back in February has served to bolster the Israel lobby’s efforts to target groups and individuals who promote BDS as a means of achieving equal rights between Israelis and Palestinians.

Back in July 2015, then opposition MP, now Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau wrote that BDS is “not about our shared Canadian values of respect, openness, and engaging with each other.”

But, has Parliament’s condemnation of BDS done anything to further the cause of respect and engagement?

In fact, it was almost immediately followed by several offensives by Israel advocacy organizations that have chosen not to engage with the substance of the concerns of Canadian groups and individuals who are trying to hold Israel accountable for its occupation of the Palestinian territories and other violations, but to take the more convenient path—widened by Parliament—of imposing a chill on them.

From an aggressive push against a York University campaign that even Israel advocacy groups admit does not single out Israel, to the failed anti-BDS motion at the Ontario Legislature, Canadian supporters of BDS have found themselves increasingly under attack.

After a protest calling for weapons-divestment at York University in February, Hillel Ontario CEO Mark Newburgh told the Canadian Jewish News that “They [the protesters] were chanting numerous slogans about the university divesting from weapons manufacturers. There were no chants about Israel, and there were no chants about Jewish students.” Yet the far-right Jewish Defence League (JDL) staged a counter-protest “to stop incitement to murder Jews,” according to the JDL’s Facebook page.

In May, a private member’s bill to stop the Ontario government from doing business with companies that back BDS was defeated. Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak and Liberal Mike Colle brought forth the motion, which lost by 39-18 in a free vote. That same week, Ontario premier Kathleen Wynn stated, “I entirely oppose the BDS movement” but added freedom of speech is “something we must vigorously defend.”

More recently, Hasbara Fellowships Canada filed a lawsuit with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against the student and faculty associations at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Durham College (UOIT and DC).

Hasbara’s national director, Robert Walker, claims that his Israel advocacy group was discriminated against when it was denied participation in “Social Justice Week.”

An email to Walker from the assistant of UOIT and DC’s faculty association explained that because the Student Association (SA) passed a BDS motion at their last annual general meeting, it would be against the motion to provide resources to a group that is “closely tied to the state of Israel.”

According to the National Post, Walker stated in his filing that “I was perceived as being ‘tied’ to the state of Israel because I am Jewish and work for a Jewish organization.”

However, the president of Students for Justice in Palestine, the group that lobbied the Student Association to endorse BDS, said, “Hasbara Fellowships is not a religious or cultural group. It’s a political group that was founded partly by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and it describes itself as an Israel-advocacy organization that runs Israel-advocacy training programs.”

Mariam Nokerah, VP of University Affairs at the SA, stated, “Walker says his group was ‘banned’, but Hasbara Fellowships isn’t even a student club on this campus. It’s an organization external to our UOIT and DC community. They wanted to use student funds, space and resources without having been invited. And the SA is accountable to its members. In addition, the group’s objective of supporting Israeli military policy in the occupied territories conflicts with the mandate of Social Justice Week.”

When asked where they think BDS advocacy is headed in Canada, Elatawani and Nokerah are both optimistic about its growth, but say they are preparing for difficult challenges ahead.

“Criticism of Israeli policies and its military occupation is not anti-Semitism,” Elatawani insists.

“The sooner we can untangle the two, the sooner we’ll realize freedom, justice and equality for both, Palestinians and Israelis.”

About Hammam Farah

Hammam Farah is a Palestinian Canadian activist and therapist-in-supervision. His family's resilience in Gaza is a source of fierce inspiration for him. Follow him on Twitter at @HumHum83.

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11 Responses

  1. Ossinev
    September 6, 2016, 12:38 pm

    “The sooner we can untangle the two, the sooner we’ll realize freedom, justice and equality for both, Palestinians and Israelis.”

    Not quite sure what to make of this particular comment. Israelis ie JSILis = Jewish citizens of the Jewish State in the Levant already have justice,equality and freedom in bucketloads (with the exception of the likes of the dark skinned Ethiopian Jews who are perceived as not quite European looking enough to be deserving of equal treatment and liable to be beaten up as looking like “terrorists” or “infiltrators). The Arabs citizens in the Jewish state in the Levant patently do not the same levels of freedom,justice and equality as their “fellow” Jewish citizens.
    http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.550152

    As for the realisation of this dream of freedom,justice and equality for all be they Palestinian or Jewish this can only happen in a single state and the overwhelming majority of Jewish JSILis who have been thoroughly brainwashed into being ugly braindead racist bullies will resist it to the bitter end – with the exception perhaps of all those Aliyahsing Brooklynites etc who will unearth their second passports and high tail it back home as soon as they realise that their ZioBible dreamland has to be shared in full with Goy untermenschen

  2. eljay
    September 6, 2016, 1:00 pm

    … Hasbara’s national director, Robert Walker, claims that his Israel advocacy group was discriminated against when it was denied participation in “Social Justice Week.” …

    Is Mr. Walker upset because other supremacist groups were permitted to participate in SJW while his supremacist group – tasked with defending Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine – was not?

    Or is he upset because his group was denied participation in SJW even though – according to Zio-supremacists like him – Jews are entitled to do unto others acts of injustice and immorality they would not have others do unto them?

    • Annie Robbins
      September 6, 2016, 1:27 pm

      Walker stated in his filing that “I was perceived as being ‘tied’ to the state of Israel because I am Jewish and work for a Jewish organization.”

      oh please. hasbara fellowship is not merely a “jewish organization”. hasbara fellowship runs an israel program that takes students to israel if they agree to advocate for israel for 2 semesters, it’s funded (“spearheaded”) by aish international>> http://www.hasbarafellowships.org/homepage-v2/about-us-2/mission-2 and is a decidedly political organization.

      here’s wiki’s description of aish https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aish_HaTorah

      The organization is politically conservative and its officials have stated they oppose a full return of the West Bank to the Palestinians.[3] Jeffrey Goldberg has called the organization’s philosophy as coming from a “sterile, sexist and revanchist brand of Judaism.”[4]

      not just a “jewish” organization, an israeli advocacy organization that trains students to advocate for israel. how does this program ( http://www.hasbarafellowships.org/israelprogram ) not ‘tie’ him to the state of Israel?

      Over the course of the program in Israel, you will:
      Learn how to create strategic impact plans; effectively use social media tools; communicate effectively, build relationships and increase your confidence
      Visit Israeli humanitarian organizations, hi-tech companies, the Knesset and Supreme Court
      Tour strategic points throughout Israel, such as the Syrian border, the Gaza border, and key Jerusalem landmarks
      You will also get to meet with key Israeli leaders and thinkers. Past speakers on the trip have included (amongst many others):

      Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel
      Shimon Peres, President of Israel
      Natan Sharansky, Head of the Jewish Agency and Former Knesset Member

  3. Annie Robbins
    September 6, 2016, 1:51 pm

    “Walker says his group was ‘banned’, but Hasbara Fellowships isn’t even a student club on this campus. It’s an organization external to our UOIT and DC community. They wanted to use student funds, space and resources without having been invited. And the SA is accountable to its members. ….”

    can you just imagine the JDL demanding a booth at the university’s social justice week and JDL Executive Director Meir Weinstein suing the university claiming, after being turned down, it was because: “I am Jewish and work for a Jewish organization”

    is there no end? does the student organization putting on the social justice week get to have a say about what they do or do not perceive as social justice? because jdl probably think they’ve meted out justice too!

    • Boomer
      September 7, 2016, 3:37 pm

      @ Annie, “is there no end? does the student organization putting on the social justice week get to have a say about what they do or do not perceive as social justice?”

      Evidently not. But I admire and commend their effort.

  4. ritzl
    September 6, 2016, 1:56 pm

    Maybe a coalition of various advocacy groups can be formed to initiate/pass SLAPP legislation in Canada.

    Sounds like a sharp rise in frivolous lawsuits is in the works there.

  5. Patrick
    September 6, 2016, 11:44 pm

    My understanding is that in that the situation in Canada is different than in the U.S. The loser of a law suit in Canada is usually required by the court to pay the legal costs for the winner of a suit. This has the effect of discouraging frivolous cases.

  6. btbLondon
    September 7, 2016, 8:19 am

    @Patrick That’s true, it’s the same as the UK system but it is a double edged sword. If a litigant has deep pockets and they can afford to lose they increase the risk on the defendant because if they win their costs (and they employ expensive lawyers) are paid by the defendant.

    If they are rich enough even if they only win, say, one in ten,they can still bankrupt poor social justice campaigns.

  7. Elizabeth Block
    September 7, 2016, 9:51 am

    We’re on it. I’m a member of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) and of United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel (UNJPPI), most of whose members are from the United Church of Canada; a few, like me, are Jewish.
    We’re not talking about civil lawsuits. We’re talking about lobbying governments, federal and provincial, not to pass laws which limit freedom of speech and which, therefore, would not survive a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    And don’t forget that an awful lot of mainstream Jews are quietly having serious doubts about the Occupation in particular and Israel in general. An old friend of mine said “I don’t support the Occupation.” Three years ago I don’t think he would have said that. But so much blood has gone under the bridge…..

  8. Ottawa observer
    September 8, 2016, 9:30 am

    I would draw the opposite conclusion based on the same data.

    Is the glass half empty or half ful?

    As I see it, despite all the efforts of the Israel lobby to demonize, delegitimize and even proscribe BDS in Canada it keeps on growing.

    Of course the Israel lobby is still much more powerful that are the forces defending Palestinian human rights. They have more money and they are better organized.

    They got that motion condemning BDS passed in the Canadian parliament, of course. But they didn’t get unanmity. Far from it. The NDP voted against it and even 44 members of the ruling Liberal Party chose to be absent during the vote.

    Furthermore, when a similar motion was introduced at the Ontario Provincial Legislature, the Premier instructed her caucus to defeat it, and it went down. She subsequently covered herself by saying she would work with the lobby to introduce a new motion, but there is no sign that her party is very eager to do this.

    As I see it, the Canadian population and even the major political parties are showing themselves to be rather resistant to the Israel lobby’s increasingly strident line.

    This is not to depreciate the lobby. It is important. It does provide money and votes. But it doesn’t buy hearts. And the more pressure it applies, the less people like it/them.

    The lesson I draw is NOT – “Oh dear they are coming to get us”. The lesson is “YEAH, despite their threats, people are not buying the lobby line.”

  9. Talkback
    September 10, 2016, 6:49 am

    Desperate times call for desperate measures.

    What are Zionism’s real options? Ignore BDS? Or trying to oppress even more people than the Palestinians and trying to directly or indirectly violate their basic rights? It’s Zionism inherent logic to choose the latter and it will be its demise trying to p*** off the whole planet’s population.

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