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Bill before Ontario legislature falsely claims ‘primary purpose’ of BDS is to boycott Jewish Canadian businesses


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,

  1. Israel and Israeli academics, students, corporations, businesses and cultural institutions,
  2. corporations, businesses and cultural institutions owned by Jewish Canadians, and
  3. 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.”

Hammam Farah

Hammam Farah is a Palestinian-Canadian activist and therapist-in-training. Follow him on Twitter at @HumHum83.

Other posts by .

Hossam Sleiman

Hossam Sleiman is a Palestinian Canadian, an undergraduate student at the University of Windsor and is a member of the Palestinian Solidarity Group.

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24 Responses

  1. just on May 18, 2016, 5:14 pm

    Thanks so much for this, Hamman and Hossam.

    I linked to Ali Abuminah’s piece earlier today [“Ontario law would blacklist BDS activists” @ ], and your piece adds so much more.

    I had no idea that this happened in Canada wrt SA, and thanks for bringing it to my attention:

    “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.”

    Thanks again and in solidarity!

  2. amigo on May 18, 2016, 6:19 pm

    So , when Israel through it,s lackeys in many cities in many nations manage to get these anti free speech laws enacted and the relevant authorities begin targeting BDS activists and companies who support BDS will they build new prisons to put all these criminals in.Will they provide funding to enable the many legal battles that will ensue.Will the ordinary taxpayers sit idly by as their hard earned money is wasted in protecting a pip squeak nation while their own right to free speech is under attack.

    I believe these tactics will backfire on Israel and it,s fifth column ( traitors ) .Those politicians who are behind these efforts will eventually receive their just reward at the polls .

    To those who claim BDS is dead -tell that to those who have mounted a world wide effort to destroy BDS.

    • Boo on May 19, 2016, 9:14 am

      When they do build those prisons, they’ll be privatized parts of the Prison-Industrial Complex, owned and staffed by G4S. And the guards will be flown to Israel for their training.

  3. DavidHeap on May 19, 2016, 7:18 am

    Defend Free Speech: Oppose Bill 202
    [email protected]
    [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

    Dear Deb Matthews,
    As one of your constituents and a resident of London North Centre, I am calling on you urgently to oppose Bill 202, which is a serious affront to free speech that can only put a chill on peaceful public debate in Ontario.

    This hastily-introduced private member’s bill amounts to grand-standing by two MPPs, and it will achieve nothing positive. Ontario already has anti-discrimination laws that protect all residents of the province from unfair treatment: there is no need to criminalize peaceful dissent and protest by singling out one movement, which is both peaceful and non-discriminatory. The text of Bill 202 is also is a grossly inaccurate smear against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

    It is very likely that such legislation would not pass a constitutional challenge, but it would be much better for it to never pass into law. Such legislation can only serve to stifle public debate and peaceful discussion about issues of interest in our communities. As Deputy Premier, you have an important role to play in this debate, to defend free speech from politically-motivated attacks and prohibitions.

    Can I count on you as my MPP to oppose this Bill at Second reading on Thursday, in order to defend free speech? Please call me at your earliest convenience, so that we can discuss this urgent issue directly.

    Sincerely and persistently,
    [name and address]
    CC: Premier Wynne, Ontario Liberal Party

  4. Generalist on May 19, 2016, 10:22 am

    I thought MW readers would be interested in knowing that the piece above–and a broad range of other responses opposing the bill–were created by an amazing coalition of bright, insightful, humane, creative and strategic people in Ontario, who coordinated many valuable actions within 24 hours or so of first learning about this bill (which was *not* published online for public review in the first day after its introduction).

    Right now – 10 am Eastern time on Thursday 5/19 – this coalition is holding a press conference in Toronto about the law. They’ve initiated petitions and a Twitter campaign, and have brought together not only Palestinian activists but also human rights, labor and Jewish groups to speak out on the law’s violation of basic Canadian (and democratic) principles.

    And as far as I understand it, most of the folks leading this coalition are between the ages of 19 and 25. I am in awe of these young activists!

  5. Generalist on May 19, 2016, 11:03 am

    Also, there’s a rally at noon in Toronto to oppose the bill.

    • just on May 19, 2016, 11:53 am

      I’ve looked around, and can find nothing. Can you please provide a link and/or livestream?

      • Generalist on May 19, 2016, 1:49 pm

        I don’t believe there is any livestream…it’s a fairly small gathering because of such short notice. I’ll see what I can find to share.

      • annie on May 19, 2016, 2:28 pm

        thanks tova!

        oh boy, this one politician guy is going on about the holocaust and holocaust survivors (his constituents). just imagine, in another few years there will be no more holocaust survivors. inevitably — people won’t be able to continually use these kinds of lame arguments.

      • just on May 19, 2016, 3:38 pm

        Thanks very much, Tova.

  6. Emory Riddle on May 19, 2016, 11:50 am

    The anti BDS forces making dishonest statements designed to make BDS look like anti-Semites? I am shocked I tell you. They would never stoop so low.

  7. just on May 19, 2016, 6:57 pm

    “Ontario parliament rejects anti-BDS law”

    Truth and freedom win!

    • Kay24 on May 19, 2016, 9:36 pm

      That is very good news Just. I always knew that the Canadians were a sensible lot.

      This would have been passed with overwhelming votes had this been in the US occupied Congress. What a sad thought.

      Despite the attempt by the pro Israel minions in Canada, including the fraudulent wording, it seems Canadian officials were able to see through the BS and the majority voted against it.
      There is hope for Canada.

  8. uh...clem on May 19, 2016, 8:13 pm
  9. uh...clem on May 19, 2016, 8:17 pm

    Another excellent Canadian commentary (before Bill 202 was defeated earlier today):

  10. DavidHeap on May 20, 2016, 7:59 am
    • just on May 20, 2016, 10:05 am

      Thanks so much for sharing that awesome video of informed Canadians, David.

      I am so humbled and impressed by many good folks’ rapid response to and rejection of this execrable stealth bill.

      • annie on May 20, 2016, 10:24 am

        excellent video. here it is again

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