Former Tory minister Tony Clement probably calculated that a unanimous condemnation by Canadian Parliament would deliver a knock out blow to the BDS movement in Canada (or at least scare it into submission.) But he didn’t get an unanimous vote. And the debate seems to have provoked more discussion about BDS than ever before. Read more
In March 2015, Independent Jewish Voices Canada issued a public challenge to Shimon Fogel, the CEO of CIJA, the main Israel lobby group in Canada to a public debate over BDS. Fogel ignored the request. He didn’t even bother to answer.
But over the last year, the BDS movement has continued to make steady progress in Canada, particularly among student and church groups. Thanks to it, an increasing number of Canadians are today aware of Israel’s flouting of Palestinian human rights and international law.
This growth has disconcerted Israel’s defenders in Canada and prompted former Tory minister (and current Tory foreign affairs critic) Tony Clement to introduce a motion in parliament on February 18th calling on the government to “reject” the BDS movement and “condemn” any person or organization which promotes it.
“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.
Clement knew he had a political winner because Prime Minister Trudeau had already made his own opposition to BDS very clear in a much publicised tweet just prior to the election campaign.
In the end, the motion easily passed in the house – 229 – 51. Almost all Tories and most Liberals voted in favour. Seven Tories and 44 Liberals, some of whom may not have supported the motion but were unwilling to openly oppose it, did not show up for the vote. Three Liberals voted against the motion. Most of those who voted against Clement’s motion, including many NDP members, went out of their way to make it clear that they also opposed BDS, but refused to support the vote on the grounds of “freedom of speech”.
In the debate, only representatives from the Bloc Quebecois dared defend the objectives or the legal non violent methods of the BDS movement
So – round one of the great BDS debate is over. CIJA proudly celebrated Clement’s victory.
But a knock out? Not exactly. Is the fight over? Not yet.
Unfortunately for Mr. Clement, BDS does not seemed knocked out at all. The vote in parliament revealed that there is a lot of resistance to the threat by former Harper Minister Stephen Blaney to “criminalize” BDS activity.
Furthermore, it has succeeded in provoking a much wider debate in Canadian society, bringing the very words “BDS” into the lexicon of a lot of Canadians who had never heard of it before.
Some of the commentary has been predictably pro-Israel and anti-BDS. Ottawa Citizen columnist Terry Glavin wrote a scathing denunciation using a relatively unknown Palestinian source to prove BDS is “anti Semitic”. Columnist Robert Sibley chimed in claiming that BDS is a “bigoted, deceitful and slanderous campaign”. But in developing their arguments, both Glavin and Sibley made blatantly untrue statements which provoked a flow of letters to the editor, and yet more discussion.
It turns out that the more criticism is made of BDS, the greater the opportunities for supporters to weigh into a debate on the topic. CJPME President Tom Woodley was first off the mark with a brilliant “make my day” campaign, proudly announcing his support of BDS and challenging Trudeau to condemn him. To date over 300 others have signed a petition asking that they, too, be “condemned”.
Nearly 500 others have responded to an appeal by Canadian Friends of Sabeel to write to members of Parliament on the importance of BDS and urging them to defeat the motion. .
Some Palestinian Canadian organizations, including the Palestinian Canadian Congress, have also written an open letter to Minister of Global Affairs Stephane Dion urging Canada to support BDS, pointing out that its 3 demands are consistent with current Canadian policy.
Furthermore the aggressive language (“hateful”, “demonization”, etc.) used by Clement and others have prompted some pushback from mainstream Canadians.
Patrick Martin of the Globe and Mail wrote a very thoughtful piece reviewing the simple BDS demands. He brushed off the argument that the BDS movement is inherently anti-Semitic. CBC’s Neil Macdonald noted sensibly that BDS is a peaceful and non violent alternative to armed struggle.
The charge that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic also prompted a letter from Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell, Moderator of the United Church of Canada to Mr. Trudeau. “The United Church of Canada stands in solidarity with groups and individuals exercising this right in nonviolent, peaceful ways. We urge you to stand firmly for democracy and defeat this motion.”, she wrote.
Ironically, the public debate that Shimon Fogel refused to engage in a year ago has broken out anyway, thanks to Tony Clement. Now that it has started, it is likely to grow more intense.