On returning to Toronto from her visit to Israel last month, Ontario Premier Wynne promised that she would work on a motion to oppose the movement to boycott Israel called BDS. I appeal to her to do some public consultation before preparing the legislation. It might change her mind. Read more.
While Kathleen Wynne was on a visit to Israel last month, two MPP’s introduced a private member’s bill denouncing the BDS movement as “anti-Semitic” and demanding that the Ontario government cease funding or contracting with organizations that boycott Israel.
Bill 202 (misleadingly entitled “The standing up against anti-Semitism Act“) was draconian and heavy handed. It also appears to have been a cynical political ploy by some of Israel’s more strident advocates to catch Wynne off guard, as it would have been very hard for her to appear “soft on anti-Semitism” during her visit there.
Wynne’s cautious response appears to have been twofold. On the one hand, it seems clear she instructed her caucus to vote against the bill, and it was handily rejected. At the other hand, she announced on her return from Israel that she would would work with opposition members to prepare a new bill that would be “less divisive”.
I have written her an open letter, copying all MPP’s, appealing for broad public consultations before any such legislation is brought forward. As I explain in my letter, I think such consultation will make it clear that BDS has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with human rights and international law.
My letter follows:
Open letter to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne
Dear Premier Wynne,
According to a June 2nd article in the Canadian Jewish News, you have undertaken to consult with opposition parties to draft a bill opposing the growing movement to boycott Israel.
I share with you a commitment to oppose anti- Semitism as well as any other form of racism, including Islamophobia. Notwithstanding its title, however, (“A bill to fight anti-Semitism in Ontario”) Bill 202 which was introduced by Mr. Hudak and Mr. Mike Colle and defeated at second reading, was not really aimed at anti-Semitism but at forestalling a growing movement to bring pressure on the State of Israel to respect human rights and international law. As can be easily confirmed by consulting its website (www.bdsmovement.net), the official BDS movement explicitly rejects anti-Semitism both in words and practice.
Bill 202 appears to have been drafted in secret, with little public consultation. (As far as can be determined, the only non governmental organization involved in its preparation was an active pro-Israel lobby group called the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre.)
The hurried presentation of the motion (while you were in Israel) gave very little time for other organizations to raise their concerns with you and with other members of the legislature.
However a number of concerns were raised including:
- Unsubstantiated allegations by the bill’s promoters that the supporters of BDS are motived by anti-Semitism
- Unfounded claims that in Ontario and elsewhere the boycott is aimed at Jews or Jewish owned businesses
- Conflation of attempts to bring pressure on a State (Israel) with discrimination against adherents of a particular religion (Judaism)
- A mischaracterization of the aims and objectives of the BDS movement itself
- Dangers to freedom of speech and expression
In keeping with your government’s expressed commitment to openness and transparency, before any new legislation is tabled in the house, would urge you to solicit informed opinion from a range of serious and knowledgeable people and organizations who share an opposition to anti-Semitism, but who are equally concerned about Israeli actions toward the Palestinians.
These should include (but not be limited to):
- Ms. Christie Neufeld, The United Church of Canada
- Ms. Margaret Rao, President, Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice
- Mr. Tom Woodley, President, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME)
- Reverend Karen Rodman, United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel (UNJPPI)
- Mr. Joseph Hickey, Executive Director, The Ontario Civil Liberties Association
- Mr. Chris Buckley, President, The Ontario Federation of Labour
- Mr. Tyler Levitan, Campaigns Coordinator, Independent Jewish Voices Canada
- Rev. Robert Assaly, Canadian Friends of Sabeel
- Ms. Jennifer Henry, Executive Director, Kairos Canada
- Mr. Robert Massoud, Beit Zatoun
Not all of these organizations support the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Some support only a boycott of goods produced in the illegal settlements of the West Bank. But all of them share a strong commitment to human rights, in Canada and abroad.
Madame Premier, should you be interested in learning more about the aims, objectives and tactics of the BDS movement, it would be my pleasure to make a presentation to any appropriate group. I am confident that you will be satisfied that the official BDS movement has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with a legitimate desire to promote justice and equality through means that are peaceful and legal.
Chair, Canada Talks Israel Palestine
cc. Mr. Tim Hudak, Mr. Colle, Ms. Andrea Horvath,
Hon. Yasir Naqvi, (MPP Ottawa Centre)
all Ontario MPPs
all people and organizations mentioned
Comments? Do you agree that there should be public consultation? Please do not hesitate to write a respectful letter to Premier Wynne at email@example.com. It might also be a good idea to send a copy to your own MPP. MPP addresses can be found here.