In a historic move, delegates at the Green Party of Canada’s national convention in Ottawa this past weekend adopted a policy resolution supporting the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The resolution declares Green Party support for “the use of divestment, boycott and sanctions (“BDS”) that are targeted to those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation of the [Occupied Palestinian Territories] … until such time as Israel implements a permanent ban on further settlement construction in the OPT, and enters into good faith negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian people for the purpose of establishing a viable, contiguous and truly sovereign Palestinian state.”
The resolution, carried by a large majority in plenary session, also opposes “all efforts to prohibit, punish or otherwise deter expressions of support for BDS.”
GPC leader Elizabeth May, the party’s only sitting member in Commons, opposed this weekend’s BDS resolution. “I would rather not, as leader, be leading a party that has endorsed BDS,” she stated during discussion of the resolution in committee.
“This is a perfectly legitimate movement,” May said. “There is nothing illegal about it, and within the Charter of Rights of Freedoms. So, I am uncomfortable with the demonization of this movement. But there is for me, no question that there’s a better way to put pressure on Israel, bearing in mind the history of Israel; the fact that it’s, I think, a tactic that won’t work.”
May proposed that Canadians support the “extraordinary” opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies among former members of the IDF and Mossad.
“We need a two-state solution, and the way things are going there will be no Palestine for a two-state solution,” May said. “So it comes to the point where, what’s our best method going forward. And I think tactics like BDS, that make the people and the state of Israel think that they are under assault, and that they have lost allies and friends around the world, is not going to succeed.”
In a party press release following adjournment of the Green Party convention on Sunday, May was quoted as saying: “As Leader, I am disappointed that the membership has adopted a policy in favour of a movement that I believe to be polarizing, ineffective and unhelpful in the quest for peace and security for the peoples of the Middle East. As is the right of any member, I will continue to express personal opposition to BDS.”
Saturday’s resolution places Canada’s Greens in frank opposition to the Canadian House of Commons, which voted overwhelmingly in February to condemn BDS, on the grounds that it “promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel.” Both Conservative and governing Liberal Party members have referred to BDS as “the new face of antisemitism.” Elizabeth May was not present for that vote, but declared her opposition to condemning the movement at that time.
Where to from here? Dimitri Lascaris, the Green Party’s Justice Critic and author of the BDS resolution, is hopeful. “Assuming that our leader continues to act as a spokesperson for party policy and not of her own personal opinions, it places us in the forefront of human rights in this country, on an issue with respect to which it has been very difficult for human rights advocates to speak out,” says Lascaris. “The first thing that I’m concerned about is attempts that will be made now by opponents of BDS to somehow discredit this decision, or pressure the party into withdrawing it.”
Lascaris will be calling upon other parties, including Canada’s center-left New Democrats, to “stand tall” by supporting BDS.
A second policy resolution voted on at this weekend’s Green Party convention, calling on the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, passed committee by an almost three to one margin, but was then gutted in plenary in a swift series of procedural moves apparently engineered by Elizabeth May and the party chair. Reference to the JNF was excised, calling simply for the CRA “to revoke the charitable status of or to refrain from conferring charitable status upon any organization that is complicit in the violation of Canadian or international human rights law.”
Advocates for the original resolution complained that the original motion had been “hijacked,” and was now reduced to “mere platitude.”
“This allows us to tackle all organizations,” a supporter of the now-generic resolution argued during plenary. “This doesn’t water it down; this strengthens it, and allows us to actually address human rights issues and charitable organizations that are discriminating against people.”
“Everyone rebukes organizations that are against human rights,” said another. “It is totally meaningless to say this now.”
According to Corey Levine, author of the original version of the JNF resolution, Elizabeth May had been “approached and pressured by the JNF to take [their name] out and I think it’s really important that we not be bullied and cowed by them.”.
Elizabeth May certainly faced intense pressure prior to the vote – from the JNF, B’nai Brith, and a group calling itself the “Green Movement of Israel.” Josh Cooper, CEO of JNF Canada, sat down with May before the vote, and was invited to present his views at this weekend’s party convention. Cooper declined the invitation, expressing dismay at being asked to attend on a Saturday.
Asked in an email to elaborate on his objections to the JNF-related motion, Cooper responded: “I have already said everything that needs to be said on the record. Even [Elizabeth May] has acknowledged that the [JNF and BDS] resolutions are filled with lies.”
Cooper did not reply to follow-up email notes asking him to specifically identify the “lies” in question. Requests for copies of the JNF’s constitution or statutes – reportedly containing clauses prohibiting lease or sale of JNF lands to non-Jews – were also ignored.
The JNF’s discriminatory polices are common knowledge. The U.S. State Department, in its 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, stated that the JNF’s statutes “prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.” Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ruled, in 2005, that JNF practices are “discriminatory.”
Notwithstanding her opposition to the JNF resolution as originally drafted, Green Party leader Elizabeth May is perfectly aware of what the JNF is all about.
“I have a lot of trouble with the Jewish National Fund,” she told delegates at this weekend’s convention. “I’m not insensitive to the argument that Jewish National Fund is very close [sic] to any kind of line that we would want to see around Canadian charities.”
“The Jewish National Fund has been complicit and involved in human rights violations in building Canada Park on top of land that was dispossessed from Palestinians who were living there in 1967,” she told delegates in committee.
“We have a place called Canada Park on top of villages [Yalu, Imwas and Beit Nuba] that were illegally dispossessed, bulldozed, and people never allowed to go home … But I’m also aware that when we met with Jewish National Fund, they said, well, look, we were asked by the government of Israel to plant trees.”
“People say [the JNF] is an environmental organization,” May went on, honing in on matters close to Green hearts. “Good argument, except that they plant conifers. If they were primarily an environmental foundation, they would plant trees indigenous to the region.”
But May said she wanted to “continue a dialogue with Jewish National Fund, to see if they are prepared to work towards making reparations for the many injustices – the discriminatory, exclusionary, and racist land policies that they’ve resulted in.”
“I will pursue the question of Jewish National Fund violations of the law, and whether they are appropriate for Canada charitable status,” she promised party delegates.
Green Party delegate Corey Levine, who authored the original JNF resolution, says she’ll wait and see. “I’m disappointed as a Jew,” said Levine. “I put this forward because the JNF don’t speak for me, as a Jew. They are using environmentalism, which is at the heart of the Green Party, to commit human rights violations and dispossess people from their land, and I felt that that needed to be singularly addressed, and they’re doing it at the expense of Canadian taxpayers. So, that resolution, while the leader may say, okay, we’re still committed, the resolution really doesn’t have any meaning.”