The Green Party of Canada has adopted a policy of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel into its official platform after a hard-fought resolution successfully passed at the party’s annual convention over the weekend.
Despite pressure from pro-Israel lobby groups, supporters of the BDS resolution within the party say they hope it will break down the stigma in Canada around using BDS to fight for Palestinian human rights.
“We are, I think, raising serious questions in the minds of the public and we’re breaking down that taboo,” said Dimitri Lascaris, the Green Party’s justice spokesman and the sponsor of the resolution.
Launched in 2005, over 170 Palestinian organisations have called on supporters to use boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel to conform to international law, end discriminatory practices against its Palestinian citizens, and stop the occupation.
The resolution states that the Green Party will support using BDS to target sectors of the Israeli economy and society that profit from the occupation, until such time that Israel stops building settlements in the occupied territories and enters into negotiations with the Palestinians for a solution to the conflict.
It also says the Greens will oppose efforts to prohibit or punish support for BDS.
Lascaris said that successfully passing the resolution constitutes “an extraordinary moment in the battle for Palestinian human rights” in Canada, especially given recent attempts to demonise the BDS movement.
Canada’s parliament passed a non-binding resolution condemning BDS earlier this year.
That motion, supported by the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, described BDS as “anti-Israel” and “a form of discrimination” and called for the government to condemn any individuals or groups that promote it within Canada.
“I think people are going to stand up and take notice,” Lascaris told Middle East Eye.
“They’re going to ask this question: ‘Why is this party, in the face of all of these attacks and despite the opposition of its own leader, adopting this resolution?’ …This is adding to the impetus for citizens in the West to inquire about what is really happening.”
Party leader opposed
Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who holds the party’s only seat in parliament, said she was “pretty devastated” that the BDS resolution was passed.
May had come out against the BDS resolution and another Green Party motion debated during the convention that sought to strip the Canadian branch of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) of its charitable status.
But while May was personally opposed to the initiatives, she said she understood the motivations other party members had in bringing them forward. “I’m allowed to say I agree with our party’s policies 99 percent. I don’t have to agree 100 percent,” she said.
Pro-Israel lobby groups in Canada came out forcefully against the Green Party for even considering the resolutions ahead of the convention.
Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, condemned the BDS resolution after it passed, saying the movement “seeks to censor and blacklist Israelis” and “is fundamentally discriminatory and utterly at odds with Canadian values”.
“We are appalled that the Green Party has endorsed BDS against the only liberal democracy in the Middle East and a country that is a world leader in environmental technology and solutions,” added JNF Canada CEO Josh Cooper in a joint statement.
But, in a letter published last week, in Canada’s right-wing National Post newspaper, May criticised Cooper for painting the Greens as “anti-Israel” for debating these ideas.
“Our convention next weekend will be the first time in decades that any Canadian political party has permitted a discussion on Israel’s foreign policy. This is not a sign that we are anti-Israel. Rather, it is proof that we have faith in respectful democratic discourse and free speech,” May wrote.
“What has been sorely lacking in Canadian political discourse is an acceptance of the plight of the Palestinian people. Why is it taboo for Canadians to discuss foreign policy in the Middle East unless they omit certain aspects of Israeli policy? We can criticise any other country’s decisions respectfully and diplomatically, why not Israel’s?”
Jewish National Fund resolution amended
The second resolution, proposed by Green Party member Corey Levine, sought to strip the Canadian branch of the JNF of its charitable status “for contravening public policy against discrimination and for its failure to comply with international human rights law”.
Founded in 1901 before the State of Israel was created, the JNF’s mandate was to secure land in British-mandate Palestine for exclusive Jewish use. The group has a main body in Israel, known as Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (JNF-KKL), and branches in various countries abroad, including Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“The JNF was the principal Zionist tool for the colonisation of Palestine,” Israeli historian Ilan Pappe wrote in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. “It served as the agency the Zionist movement used to buy Palestinian land upon which it then settled Jewish immigrants.”
At the party convention, the resolution was only passed after the explicit reference to the JNF was removed. The updated version called on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to strip the status of any charitable organisation found to be in violation of Canadian or international law.
“I’m obviously feeling a bit disappointed,” Levine told Middle East Eye about the amendment, “but I recognise that it has been a victory overall because this issue was raised and discussed and debated in a public forum.”
Levine also said that May, the party leader, promised publicly to write to the CRA about the JNF’s status specifically, and she intends “to hold her to account to that”.
“I ultimately consider it an absolute victory,” Levine said.
The JNF-KKL currently enjoys quasi-governmental status in Israel. It controls approximately 13 percent of the land under the umbrella of the Israel Land Administration, which it continues to only lease to Jews. As of 2014, its land holdings were worth approximately $2 billion.
By leasing land only to Jews, the JNF-KKL’s policies ensure that Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20 percent of the population, are denied access to 13 percent of the land.
“This discriminatory policy contributes to the institutionalisation of racially segregated towns and villages throughout the state,” wrote Adalah, the legal centre for Palestinian citizens of Israel, in a 2006 submission to the United Nations.
The JNF has also been involved in forestation projects that Palestinians say aim to cover up Israeli human rights abuses.
In the 1970s, for example, JNF Canada donated funds to build a park over three Palestinian villages in the Latrun area near Jerusalem (Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba) whose residents were forcibly displaced by the Israeli army in 1967. Plaques erected near the entrance to the park – known as Ayalon Canada Park – display the names of JNF-Canada donors from cities and towns across Canada.
The JNF-KKL is also presently involved in the destruction of the Bedouin village of al-Araqib. Located in Israel’s southern Negev desert, al-Araqib has been demolished over 100 times since July 2010 to make way for a JNF-KKL forest.
“The JNF is using environmentalism and the fact that they are reforesting lands to cover up human rights violations and dispossession of people from their land. And given that the Green Party does have the environment as a central platform, I thought it appropriate for the Green Party to take this on,” Levine said.
Setting an example
Meanwhile, Lascaris said that by adopting BDS into its official policy, the Green Party might influence other Canadian political parties to pass similar measures, especially the left-leaning New Democrats (NDP).
Under the influence of leader Thomas Mulcair, the NDP has adopted a more pro-Israel stance than it traditionally espoused.
“I think that the leadership of the NDP does not reflect the views of the grassroots, and the grassroots is now going to be asking some very tough questions of the leadership,” Lascaris said.
“That hopefully will lead to their adoption of a resolution of a similar nature and the snowball effect, we will build on it from there.”