The Green Party of Canada (GPC) will convene a special general meeting of members in Calgary on December 3 and 4 to reconsider contentious resolutions adopted at its August convention, including a motion to support the movement to boycott Israel (called BDS). The email from Executive Director Emily McMillan also revealed that an internal survey of members appears to show that while boycotting Israel does not have majority support in the party, a significant minority (29%) of GPC members does approve of it. What happens next? read more….
The Green Party has been in an uproar since its convention which was held in Ottawa in early August. At issue is a vote to support BDS, the international call to boycott and apply sanctions against Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians.
The motion to support BDS was brought to the convention by GPC members concerned about human rights for Palestinians. Party leader Elizabeth May initially seemed to approve of having the issue go to a vote, but under attack by Israeli lobby groups later changed tack and devoted quite a bit of energy trying to head it off.
May seemed to have three main reasons for opposing the motion:
- Firstly as a leader, she was not convinced that most GPC members would approve of BDS even if it was adopted by the convention.
- Secondly, she was concerned over what impact adopting the resolution might have on the Green Party’s financial or electoral support.
- And finally, while May says she agrees with the BDS demand to end the occupation, she may have a problem with the other 2 BDS demands (equality for non-Jews in Israel, and the right of return for the refugees) which challenge the idea of Israel as a state based on preference for Jews.
In any event, despite May’s efforts, the motion was duly adopted by a wide margin at the convention.May considered resigning, but the GPC leadership instead has called for a special meeting to reconsider “non-consensual” motions, including that on BDS.
Internal survey of members on BDS
The decision of the leadership was in part influenced by an internal GPC survey of members on their support for BDS taken immediately after the convention. Over 2000 GPC members participated, of whom about 29% (or about 600 people) indicated support for the resolution. However, 44% indicated they thought the motion should be repealed. Another 28% had a different opinion, not necessarily opposing the motion, but clearly uncomfortable with the fact that the motion had targeted Israel.
What path forward?
Many human rights activists in the party feel betrayed by the leadership. They argue that they followed the democratic process, and their motion was carried by a significant majority of delegates at the convention. (There had also been strong support expressed during an on-line vote prior to the convention.) So they feel that attempts by the party brass to undo the decision are highly irregular and undemocratic.
But on the other the GPC survey results seem to indicate that among the broad membership, there is much less support than the activists might have hoped.
How to move forward? Three broad options present themselves to GPC members interested in both environmental protection and promoting human rights for Palestinians.
- The most obvious option is to continue to forge ahead, and try to win a second vote at the Calgary convention. This would entail encouraging as many activists as possible to attend the special convention and arguing that the party has already engaged in an open and democratic decisionmaking process. It is not clear that a second vote would pass, as the opposition to it will be better organized. This approach risks creating even more acrimony in the party.
- A second option might be to accept some kind of “broadening” of the resolution. Based on the survey results (which may or may not be representative of the whole party), it would seem that a majority of members might be open to a resolution that commits the GPC to condemning all governments which ignore human rights and international law. While this does not specifically target Israel, it would not let Israel off the hook entirely either.
- A third option might be to call for “putting aside” the emotionally charged resolution until the next regular convention of the GPC on condition that a longer term consensus building process of education and discussion be undertaken. Faced with a similar situation in 2012, the United Church of Canada decided to create a special commission to investigate the issue and report back. The commission, which included some church “heavy weights”, consulted with members across Canada and even visited Israel/Palestine. Its final report, which recommended a boycott of goods produced in the illegal settlements, formed the basis of church policy. (It did not, however, embrace the entire BDS program.) This kind of approach would appear to be consistent with Elizabeth May’s call for a return to the GPC’s traditional consensus based decisionmaking.
GPC members who are interested in changing Canadian policy toward the issue of Palestinian human rights will have to decide which option is most promising. Whatever happens, it seems that the issue of Palestinian human rights will be up for discussion in the Green Party between now and December.
REMINDER: THERE IS STILL TIME TO WIN $1000 IN OUR ESSAY CONTEST!! A $1000 prize is available for the best essay by a Canadian under 30 on whether Canada should support BDS. Get more info by clicking on this link. Contest ends September 30th.
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