The debate on BDS has now begun – thanks to Tony Clement



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.


  1. Good summary, Peter. Tony Clement’s gambit appears to have had a result opposite to what was intended. Shaken by serious threats to free speech, Canadians have started to investigate reasons for rapid growth of the BDS movement, and to look more sceptically at reports fed to them by mainstream media about the Palestine-Israel conflict. Perhaps if Canadian MPs had attended a session with one or more of the many “self-hating” Jews who recently have given informative presentations in Canada about the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestine, the anti-BDS vote would have had a very different outcome.

  2. Thanks for this piece. If the Lobby here was famous for anything, unlike their more savvy US counterparts, it has been turning a spotlight on the very issue they were irrationally denouncing.

    One more pyhrric victory for their record. I think that BDS, with a little help from their ‘friends’, can only continue to provoke their counterproductive reaction!

  3. Hi Peter… Just a heads up that our moderator is a woman… Thanks for your continued work. Dawn

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Thank you for this post Peter, and also for sharing the link to the “make my day” campaign. Signed and shared.
    Blessings to you and yours, and God bless Palestine!

  5. It’s good to see this debate expand as more Canadians are exposed to the facts and value of the BDS movement as an important and peaceful alternative to violence. Opposing occupation is not antisemitic. Thanks this excellent review.

  6. I just want to correct something about the Parliamentary BDS vote. According to my MP Anita Vandenbeld, most of the non-voting Liberals, at least in Ottawa were there and refused to vote for the motion while standing up. It is then known that these members don’t support it. Six members in Ottawa did this including Catherine McKenna, Meril Belanger, Chandra Arya (Nepean), Karen McCrimmon (Kanata) and David McGuinty and Anita Vandenbeld. I was disappointed that Andrew Leslie (Orleans) voted for the motion. Anita also told me that the non-voting MP’s would really appreciate getting a message for not supporting the motion as this provides them with ammunition to continue to hold this stance in the future.

    1. This is wonderful to know, would you please provide us here with an address or email to make sure to resonnate our support, love and honestly how impressed we are and want to commend these representatives that proudly litterally stood for our rights? It’s important they feel we are grateful for something that probably wasn’t easy for them to do.
      Thank you!

  7. “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.”

    This is the crap from Tony Clement.

    Sure we’ve been friends if Israel a long time. Stupidly though as Israel has turned a blind eye to human rights and has continued to prohibit human rights. We cannot be true to ourselves by backing a country that has such a disturbing attitude.

    So, we have economic ties. Are we supposed to put money above the rights and the lives of Palestinians?

    If we have diplomatic relations why are we not fully pressing Israel to act in a legal and correct manner?

    The BDS movement does not demonize nor de-legitimize the State of Israel. Israel does that all by itself with it provocative actions upon the peoples of Palestine. Unlike our government the BDS movement does not turn a blind eye to the oppression of the peoples of Palestine nor to the illegal actions of Israel. Our government does ignore, completely the criminal actions of the State of Israel.

    Finally, (call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement) this statement is utterly ridiculous and a damnable constriction upon the ideals of freedom of speech by backing the BDS movement which asks people to restrict there dealings with the State of Israel, We all know that the State of Israel continues, upon a daily basis, to break International Law and Humanitarian Law in its repressive actions against Palestine. This repression began immediately in 1947-8 and has continued unabated ever since.

  8. ~ The Chosen People ~ Why I’m boycotting Israel…

    There seems to be a great deal of global concern about the boycott of Israeli trade at this time, and this never ending subject of Anti-Semitism, so let’s make something perfectly clear: Zionism is not Judaism. Equating Zionism with Judaism is a misconception that’s been propagated so widely, and for so long, that even many Jews cannot discern the difference. It’s this fantasy of a “Chosen People”.

    Zionism is exactly the same as Nazism when you get right down to it. You can change the label and the characters in the game, but the mindset remains the exactly same: A race of “Imaginary Superior Beings” out to dominate the world through fascism.

    Zionism, and all of these fascist ideologies we’ve seen, is a construct of the psychopathic mind. It is a mental disorder, sick minds in concert with other sick minds, in an orchestra of the criminally insane. It’s an illness that’s infecting the entire world at this point in history, and it’s literally destroying Israel from within, and the rest of the world without.

    Zionism is a parasite, a deadly cancer, hiding behind Judaism and defaming it. It is the root of all this hatred and Anti-Semitism we see in the world today: Another race of “Imaginary Superior Beings”, attacking others, proclaiming their superiority over all of humanity, and screaming “Terrorist” – “Anti-Semitism”, and calling for the destruction of anyone who doesn’t bow down to their ideology.

    Zionists are the true Anti-Semites, out to destroy Judaism, Islam and Christianity, replacing these religions, and global political structure with the Zionist New World Order. They are the true Anti-Christians and Anti-Semites combined. The labels change throughout history, but the mindset behind these ideologies, the sickness, persists. Zionism propagates fear, hatred and division, nothing but darkness.

    There are no “Chosen People”. The worth of a soul will only be measured by how much it has loved, nothing more nothing less. The choice is yours alone. Labels, however they choose to define themselves, will not save you.

  9. Doesn’t appear as though any anti-BDS comments are allowed here. This is consistent with the intentions of BDS and the twisted thinking behind it. The reason it became an issue in parliament is because it’s so deceitful, racist and the public should be aware that it’s basically fraudulent, corrosive and against Canadian values of inclusion and acceptance.And doesn’t help the Palestinian cause one little bit.

    1. Hey Jaime, Anti-BDS comments are certainly welcome here. Encouraged even. But they have to be respectful and polite. Name calling won’t cut it. If you have substantive objections to BDS, please send them along. thanks.

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