On February 22, 2016, Canada’s parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a Conservative Party motion condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS). The motion, which was passed 229 in favour to 51 opposed, reads: “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.”
With the sweeping victory of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party into majority power in Canada, many people breathed a sigh of relief at the end of Stephen Harper’s Conservative ten-year reign. However, the passing of this anti-BDS motion is a good indication that significant issues like the suppression of freedom of speech/expression and flagrant war mongering were not sacked along with the Conservatives in the last election. But should we be surprised?
Canada & Israel
Canada and Israel’s relationship began with the illegal theft and occupation of Palestine by the Zionist movement and its imperialist allies, especially Britain, in 1948. Canada was one of the first countries to recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli State and began diplomatic relations in 1949 under the governments of Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent, both Liberal Party governments. This could have been seen as an interesting move at the time, as just ten years before the establishment of the State of Israel, in 1939, the government of Canada denied entry to 907 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, also while under the Liberal Party leadership of Mackenzie King. The refugees were sent back to Europe where 254 of those refugees were killed in concentration camps.
Over the years both Liberal and Conservative parties continued to foster a strong relationship with Israel.
In the 1967 War Israel captured dozens of Palestinian villages and towns in the West Bank. The towns were plowed down to make room for Jewish settlers, and the thousands of Palestinians who were removed from their land became refugees. Today on top of the bulldozed and occupied village of Imwas, one of those captured in the war, sits “Canada Park,” located outside of “legally” recognized Israeli territory in the West Bank. The Park still exists as a popular tourist destination. It was built with more than $15 million dollars raised by the Jewish National Fund of Canada (JNF). The JNF is a Canadian Charitable organization, meaning that every donor received a tax break, paid for by the Canadian tax payers.
Harper’s Conservative government was a period of a continuing and expanding relationship between Israel and Canada. According to the government of Canada website, in 2014 joint trade tripled to $1.6 billion with the expansion of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA). In that same year, Israel launched a brutal assault on the people of Gaza destroying 20,000 homes and killing more than 2,200 innocent Palestinians. Harper’s government gave unequivocal support to Israel at the time, even criticizing the United Nations for asking Israel to show restraint. When UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay criticized Israel’s constant 50-day bombing of Gaza, Conservative Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said her comments were neither “helpful nor reflective of the reality of this crisis.”
Where does the NDP Stand?
Although New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Tom Mulcair was not present for the debate on the anti-BDS motion, he wrote the following note leading up to the vote "the Conservatives are proposing to limit what topics Canadians are allowed to debate. That's not the role of government. This goes against our fundamental freedoms and the NDP will be voting against it." That’s a tough statement to swallow after Mulcair fired three NDP candidates leading up October 2015 election due to their sympathy with the Palestinian cause. Morgan Wheeldon, Jerry Natanine and Paul Manly were all disqualified by the NDP leading up to the election for their comments on Palestine. And when the NDP can’t disqualify a candidate outright, they bully them into apologizing as their provincial party did in B.C. in 2009. Former antiwar activist and current NDP MLA Mable Elmore apologized for using the term “Zionists” in an interview about antiwar activism. "At the time, I didn't realize the term was so loaded, that it carried an anti-Semitic meaning in the North American context,” Elmore stated. "I wasn't intending to offend anyone and I apologize if anyone was offended by the comments." After that comment the only ones left “offended” are the people of Palestine and millions of their Jewish and non-Jewish supporters around the world.
What is the BDS Movement?
BDS is an international movement of Palestinians, Jews and allies whose aims are, according to their mandate, “To strengthen and spread the culture of boycott as a central form of civil resistance to Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.” Their campaign is waged in an attempt to follow the popular and successful boycott of South Africa during the apartheid epoch. Although it is true there are many similarities that can be made between apartheid South Africa and Israel’s occupation of Palestine, there are also some big differences. Israel, unlike South Africa is not a real country. Their economy, and therefore survival, is not based on import, export, trade etc. Israel’s survival is based on U.S. tax payer’s money from the U.S. government and the billions of dollars directly and indirectly being pumped into it by Zionist organizations.
According to the Congressional Research Service's report ‘U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,’ in 2015 the Obama administration gave Israel $3.7 billion, or about $10.2 million per day, in military aid alone. What this means is that if there was a complete boycott of Israel in all possible departments, Israel would remain capable of continuing the occupation.
BDS has made many positive steps in educating and mobilizing against the occupation of Israel. Their annual “Israeli Apartheid Week” has gained wide support and backlash even from Justin Trudeau himself who last year tweeted “The BDS movement, like Israeli Apartheid Week, has no place on Canadian campuses. As a @McGillU alum, I’m disappointed. #EnoughIsEnough”.
So Why Such a Tough Stance from Canada’s Parliament?
The BDS movement represents the most symbolic manifestation of the struggle against the Israeli occupation of Palestine in Canada. This parliamentary motion is meant as a warning not unlike “anti-terror” legislation Bill C-51 and other similar measures. They are meant to sow fear into the fabric of society in Canada in order that we don’t take a stance against the interests of the Canadian ruling class and their allies. In other words, so we don’t take a stand and unite with oppressed people around the world, especially the heroic Palestinian people. Motions like this, alongside laws like Bill C-51, threaten us with fear of being targeted or imprisoned for being socially conscious and, even worse, consciously active defenders of human rights and social justice.
What to Do?
The anti-BDS motion passed by Canada’s parliament needs to be protested by all peace loving people in Canada and around the world. Defending the heroic Palestinian people or any oppressed people is a human right that we should not allow to be taken away. If we’ve learned nothing else from the almost 70 years of Palestinian people fighting against the brutal occupation by Israel let it be this: Let’s not give up! Let’s fight for an end to the occupation of Palestine by Israel! Let’s fight for freedom of speech and expression!
Follow Noah Fine on Twitter: @noahfine
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