On Thursday May 19, the Ontario Legislature will discuss the “Standing Up Against Anti-Semitism in Ontario Act, 2016.” The bill, however, has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, and does not conceal its purpose as a bill that targets the BDS movement and, both, its organizational and individual supporters.
The bill seeks to enact penalties on government contractors, public pension funds, college and university foundations and colleges and universities for supporting BDS and thus presents disturbing implications for free speech and the protection of civil liberties in Canada. Under the proposed act any individual or entity could have contracts terminated based on their political beliefs.
In addition, the proposed act presents a false and defamatory characterization of BDS. It claims that BDS is “defined as the political movement whose primary purpose is to boycott, divest from and apply sanctions against Israel and various persons, corporations, businesses and cultural institutions that are Israeli, owned by Jewish Canadians or affiliated with Jewish Canadians or with Israel.” It goes on to define BDS more specifically as the “political movement whose primary purpose is to boycott, divest from and apply sanctions against,
- Israel and Israeli academics, students, corporations, businesses and cultural institutions,
- corporations, businesses and cultural institutions owned by Jewish Canadians, and
- corporations, businesses and cultural institutions affiliated with Jewish Canadians or with Israel; (‘mouvement BDS’)”
In fact, the BDS National Committee in the occupied territories has explicitly defined the academic boycott as institutional and not individual. Contrary to the claims of the proposed Act, BDS does not aim to boycott Israeli academics or students. It is worth recalling that when Canada supported BDS against South Africa under apartheid, in that case it was an individual boycott where white South African academics and students were unable to work and study in Canada.
Furthermore, it is a gross mischaracterization and an act of defamation to define BDS as targeting corporations, businesses and cultural institutions owned or affiliated with Jewish Canadians. BDS targets corporations and institutions that actively support Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people, and in no way specifically targets businesses owned by Jewish Canadians. In fact, many Jewish Canadians have been actively involved in the BDS movement out of a desire to peacefully and through legitimate, liberal-democratic means, pressure Israel into complying with its obligations under international law, as per the explicit goal of BDS.
The bill that was brought forward by Tim Hudak currently passed first reading which implies that it was brought forward and immediately given this status as per legislative process. The next steps for the bill are for it to be debated in Parliament this Thursday the 19th, and if there is enough support it is given second reading status. Very little publicity was given to the bill and supporters of the BDS movement are weary of it passing second reading as it leaves little room to reverse any action already taken.
This act resurrects the divisive politics of fear that characterized the Harper Government. Indeed, with the passing of the anti-BDS motion at the House of Commons put forward by Conservative MP Tony Clement earlier this year, and now this motion proposed by Progressive Conservative MPP Tim Hudak, the question remains whether Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals will give in to Tory fear-mongering or stand up for the values of free speech and non-violence that Canadians hold dear.
The BDS movement is a non-violent movement utilizing liberal-democratic means of peaceful struggle and initiated by 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005. Here in Canada, it has the support of the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario, and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Students at a variety of academic institutions, such as York, Concordia, McMaster, Carleton and the University of Toronto have all passed BDS motions at the student union level, and the United Church of Canada committed to divestment from corporations and institutions complicit in the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel.
We unequivocally reject the notion that criticism of Israeli policy is anti-Semitic, and we will fight for our legitimate liberal-democratic rights as Canadians and as people of conscience.
It should also be noted that this bill comes at a time when Israeli officials have placed a ban on Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, and have committed to increasingly repressive campaigns against BDS.
“Having failed to stop the growth of BDS in the mainstream, Israel is now launching a desperate and dangerous global war of repression on the movement,” BDS National Committee general coordinator Mahmoud Nawajaa said.
“After losing many battles for the hearts and minds at the grassroots level, Israel and its well-oiled lobby groups are pressuring Western states to implement patently anti-democratic measures that threaten civil liberties at large.”