Open letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne about her proposed motion to protect Israel against a boycott

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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:

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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.

Peter Larson

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 kwynne.mpp@liberal.ola.org. It might also be a good idea to send a copy to your own MPP. MPP addresses can be found here.

 

 

25 comments

  1. Well said Peter. Hopefully, public consultations will reveal the truth that for far too long the Israeli government has successfully hidden behind the anti-semitism shield whenever attention is drawn to their brutally discriminatory treatment of certain people, especially Palestinians, in flagrant disregard of international human rights law and basic morality.

  2. While BDS is a legitimate tactic of “free speech” and. Action to help bring about a solution (“two state or otherwise) and better human and democratic right to Israel Palestine, it will be questioned or opposed by most governments and political parties as illegitimate using whatever arguments that are most convenient including the “anti -semitism” insinuation. As such, while it might contribute, BdS is not likely to achieve the desired effect of an IP solution. Both proponents and opponents of BDS should join together to discuss appropriate and reasonable strategies to reach a solution for Israel Palestine which the Canadian government should support.

    1. George, what suggestions can you put forward that might achieve the desired effect of an IP solution?
      And can you think of any group that might be willing to take the lead in bringing together BDS proponents and opponents to start a discussion leading to appropriate and reasonable strategies?

  3. Thank you, Peter. I sincerely hope the Premier agrees to consult the public, certainly at the very least those named in your open letter. It is really disheartening how politicians across the Canadian spectrum so easily accede to craven support for Israeli govt positions. There is plenty of solid evidence readily available showing Israel’s complete disregard for international law & human rights standards. BDS is a peaceful democratic tool to counter Israeli “exceptionalism”.

  4. The BDS movement is a legitimate movement to give aid to the Palestinian peoples of the Occupied West Bank and the Concentration type Camp of Gaza. I don’t know why our politicians here in Canada glorify Israel when Israel is a state devoid of humanitarian feeling as it continues to steal land from the West Bank at a growing rate. This is crime and, with the state of affairs in the region, it is nothing less than a war crime.

    Israel is not a fair state by any degree of imagination. It is a cruel oppressive state and kills at will without any problem because our government always ignores the truth out of Israel and our beleaguered press here in Canada.

    People in Gaza are not allowed to go anywhere without first writing for permission from Israel and waiting for a reply. Often the reply is, “No!”. Just recently, a young girl needing medical attention not available in Gaza was refused the right to exit Gaza for treatment. She is now dead.

    This is often the cruel action by Israel.

    Palestinians in the West Bank are continuously harassed by the IDF/IOF and these fully armed soldiers are trained to harass people. If you’re in doubt please read Miko Peled’s book “The General’s Son: Journey of An Israeli in Palestine”.

    There is more than a sufficient evidence on the net proving the crimes by Israel. I require our politicians to do due diligence and to look into these issues with the purpose of understanding rather than to go to Israel and be treated royally and basically lied to.

    1. Hey Johnsenrc,
      Thanks for commenting.

      Dont forget that the BDS movement is not only “to give aid to the Palestinian peoples of the Occupied West Bank and the Concentration type Camp of Gaza”. That is one of its demands. The other two demands are for equality for the 1.7 million Palestinians facing severe discrimination inside Israel, and the right of return for the 5+ million refugees (whose living conditions are in many cases worse than those living in the WB and Gaza.)

  5. I don’t agree at all with this tactic of asking for a public consultation. A government-run consultation would only legitimize making some form of this insane motion! The government’s plan for a motion should instead be categorically rejected in the strongest terms, without participating in a public consultation circus. When something is this obvious, you don’t discuss “pros and cons”. That open letter is misguided at best, IMO.

    1. Hey Denis,
      Thank you for your thoughtful letter disagreeing with me. I appreciate your taking the time to argue straightforwardly and clearly why you think the letter is “misguided”.

      Our differences may lie in part in my view is that while it is “obvious” to you and me that BDS should not be condemned, I think it is far from obvious to most Canadians.

      Even progressive, humanitarian Canadians, like those represented by the United Church of Canada, for example, cannot bring themselves to support BDS. Their reasons are varied but I think the main ones are that they don’t know what BDS is asking for, exactly, and are prey to the allegation that it is motivated by anti-Semitism.

      I think we should seize this opportunity to explain the 3 demands of the BDS movement, and disabuse worried vacillators of their misunderstanding of the motives and objectives of the movement.

      Best wishes, and thanks again for sharing your views.

      1. Hi Peter,

        You are wrong on this. A public consultation will communicate the wrong message, that there are tenable arguments on both sides. Strong unambiguous opposition would provide opportunities to communicate a clear message that would have more probability of changing and making minds. The sort of thing you advocate would only muddle because the government has already made up its mind and would not provide a level playing field. I’m surprised by your campaign. It would flop, help the other side, and draw energy away from what is needed in the circumstances. I guess it’s your thing, it’s what you do.

        –Denis

    2. I agree with Peter’s letter. The goal is to increase public discussion and dispel myths in many people’s minds about BDS. For example, it’s about humanitarianism, not antisemitism.

  6. thanks for your interrogation of Peter’s letter Denis but I thought it is premier Wynne calling for consultation and Peter holding her feet to the fire with hopefully some light. As a former MLA myself and a democrat committed to getting misguided hidden policies out into wider informed public discourse what Peter is seizing upon as an educational opportunity I applaud. Wasn’t it hitter who said ‘ thank God for us leaders that the people do not think’…..

    1. No, William. She plans to “consult” MPPs, not hold public consultations: “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.” Therefore, a useful campaign might be to publicly contact individual MPPs and make the “BDS is political participation!” truth most clear to our representatives. The best is to make this adventure as costly as possible for those MPP anti-democracy idiots that end up supporting this stunt.

  7. Peter, In my view, the parliamentary attempts to criminalize or delegitimize BDS are so obscene (these are MPs and MPPs, not uneducated citizens) that we must react strongly with disgust and strong disapproval. There is no room for “dialogue” when MPs and MPPs show contempt for democracy. Plain and simple. Otherwise, you are collaborating with them and playing into their hand. These are not complicated ideas. Wrong is wrong.

    1. Indeed, what I am describing as the best way to treat MPs and MPPs on this issue is exactly the concept of a boycott, as a tactic to change the behaviours of those with power, which is the historic origin of the method.

  8. I think that one of the arguments to be used when combating the ones who are against BDS using anti semitism as a reason should be: How about all the Jews in Israel and all the Jews elsewhere, who support the BDS, even in the Israeli parliament.

    1. That argument is rather vacuous. The slavery industry was primarily black. Even in the United States there were black slavers. That doesn’t make American slavery non racist.

      During the holocaust there were Jewish collaborators with the Nazis. Even in the death camps you had Jews who liked the opportunity the camps provided for sadism. They delighted in being able rape women in front of the husbands and children or sadistically torture Jewish prisoners into working themselves to death. Are you going to argue the extermination camps weren’t antisemetic because

      Further there are 0 Jews in the Israeli parliament who support BDS. Heck almost all Arabs in the Israeli parliament don’t support BDS, most want a clear delineation between anti-occupation (which they believe is politically achievable) and dismantling the zionist entity through RoR (which they don’t believe is politically achievable).

  9. Your letter to the Premier is chock full of errors and one-sided.
    BDS is as anti-Semitic as they come-just speak to its founder and promoter Barghouti, a doctoral student at Israel’s Tel Aviv University who seeks to annihilate the Jewish state.
    Why any politician should give you and your retinue of retired cranks a hearing is beyond me.

    1. Hey Baldev,
      Thanks for your note. If you could point out any of the errors you detect in my post, I would be happy to consider them, and revise if you are right.

      With respect to Omar Barghouti, I have spoken to him on a couple of occasions both in Canada and in Palestine.

      I have found him well mannered and well spoken. You are right that he is (or was) a student at Tel Aviv University. He is opposed to the idea of a “Jewish State” in which Jews get rights not available to non-Jews. He has repeatedly said he has no problem with, or opposition to Jews.

      I take it from your post that you support the idea of a discriminatory state in which Jews get special privileges. Is that right?

      1. Barghouti and his BDS movement is anti-Semitic as he admits he is against self – determination for the Jews of Israel. This position is illegal under international law. that is error no.1.

        Error no. 2 – Ontario, Manitoba and the feds already have anti-boycott laws since 1977 – I do not believe you could persuade the people of Canada that their freedom of speech was lost as of that date.

        Error no. 3 – list of groups you want to be included in consultations are on the CSIS watch list, that is to say they are rabidly anti-Semitic with links to Islamic radical groups. None of them have intervened to stop the chemical gas attacks by the Syrian Arab regime of Assad against the 539,000 Palestinians in Yarmouk because Arabs naturally slaughter their own people. This is what the United Church executive has told me.

        Error no. 4 – It follows it is false to claim as you do that they have a strong commitment to human rights (sic).

        Error no. 5 – The groups you listed are not for justice and equality since they all hate Israel and you have never published a nice word about Israel as a country and people emanating from the mouths of these irredeemable scoundrels.

        Error no. 6 – What you falsely call the “West Bank” is really Judea and Samaria where Jesus Christ preached. Soon you will be calling the Galilee the “North Bank.” and the Negev the “South Bank”.

        Error no. 7 – The Jewish cities and towns of Judea and Samaria are legal under international law, not “illegal” as you state. You are completely ignorant about the international treaties governing these areas.

        Error no. 8 – The Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre is a mainstream Jewish organization dedicated to combatting Nazism, Holocaust denial in all the Arab states and their evil spin-offs. Being a “pro-Israel” lobby group is not its main focus.

        As for Barghouti having gentlemanly accoutrements, may I respectfully remind you that Neville chamberlain said the same about Herr Hitler at Berchtesgaden in 1938.

        You know, I have played a part in the beautiful alliance that has been reached between the countries of India and Israel. Both are countries under the rule of law, democratic and vigorously protect their minorities. We in India guarantee constitutionally the basic rights of the Tamils and Muslims. Israel does the same for its Arab citizens. Israel hasgone somewhat further – having Arabs in its diplomatic corps and on its High Court. So there is no discrimination there in both countries.

        Contrast this with the Arab world – the Palestinians deny Christians their basic rights, forcing them to leave by stealing their lands in Bethlehem and killing them in Gaza. In the Palestinian Authority, the constitution states that it is governed by Sharia law of the Muslims. In Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, North Africa, Christians, Kurds and Yazidis are beheaded and their churches burnt. You do not seem to care about this savage discrimination since you have been long a dupe of the Palestinian propaganda machine.

        We here in Canada are facing a terrible terrorist threat that is percolating among our First Nations. The Anglican Church and the United church, in particular, mercilessly discriminated against these peoples with a merciless cultural and physical genocide. You and your christian Protestant cohorts cannot deny you implemented a vile apartheid regime in Canada, which is still ongoing despite your mealy-mouthed “apologies.”

        I am here to make you confess that the diatribes and vilification that you spout against the Jewish state are palpable distractions to salve your consciences over the crimes you committed against our aboriginal peoples. These crime are war crimes, gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and first-hand evidence that will bring you and the institutions you represent before the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

        This letter is being circulated to Premier Wynne, all MPPs in the Ontario Legislature, to Prime minister Trudea and his entire Cabinet and to your listed organizations who will quickly detach themselves from you as a veritable liability.

  10. Premier Wynne , you have distroyed our beautiful province, please stop,before you distroy our Country. If you have any respect for human rights you need to start standing up for them. If you want to run in another election I respectfully suggest that you start,listening to,the people of Ontario and Canada , A boycott is a peaceful way of showing our displeasure. Isreal is not working in a peaceful manner.Canadians are peacekeepers and Proud of it but we also have fought for what is right. I belive we will continue to do so.

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