Despite pressure from pro-Israeli groups and opposition from its own party leader, Canada's Green Party Monday endorsed a growing international boycott against Israel's occupation as part of its official platform.
After hours of contentious debate in the final plenary session of the party’s national convention in Ottawa, the Green Party passed a resolution to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement which targets sectors of the Israeli economy in much the same fashion as international sanctions targeted South Africa's white minority apartheid government in the 1980s. The party also agreed to oppose efforts to sanction the BDS movement.
Created in 2005, the BDS movement is an attempt by more than 170 Palestinian organizations to pressure Israel to conform to international legal norms, cease new settlement construction, end discriminatory practices and enter into good-faith negotiations to end its nearly 50-year occupation.
But as the movement has gathered momentum internationally, so too has the backlash against it. Just in the last two months, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation banning state agencies from doing business with any vendors who supported the BDS movement, and New Jersey followed suit just a week later. 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.
Monday's debate also triggered profound debate within the party as well.Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who holds the party’s only seat in parliament, told the Middle East Eye that she was “pretty devastated” that her party approved the BDS resolution.
“I’m deeply disappointed,” May said after the vote, as reported in Haaretz. “The party policy on this issue is a position I can’t support.”
Other party members disagreed. “I’ve never felt prouder to be a member of this party,” said Dimitri Lascaris, the party’s justice critic who was the one responsible for tabling the motion. “We took a brave stand today for human rights,” adding that some Jewish delegates supported the position.
Richard Zurawski, a former Green party candidate, said the vote was “distressing” and “destructive” for the party.
“Any time we polarize things like this … you lose people. I feel marginalized by this vote,” said Zurawski, as reported by Haaretz.
The party also made the decision to revoke charitable status from organizations that are complicit in violating international human rights law. The resolution initially referred specifically to the Jewish National Fund at first, but was later revised to refrain from referring to any group by name.
The decision, however, is unlikely to produce a change in attitudes towards Israel by Canada’s political elite. While Canada's New Democratic Party, or NDP, which is slightly left of Trudeau's Liberal party, did vote against the non-binding resolution on free speech grounds, their position is hardly pro-Palestinian. During the 2015 federal election, the NDP leadership banned a number of candidates from seeking nominations as a result of public statements that were deemed too critical of Israeli government policies.
In addition, during Israel’s assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014, all four major federal issued statements standing with Israel and its right to self defense.
The decision has already sparked condemnation from conservative elites, including former Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and current Conservative party MP Jason Kenney.
Still many Palestine solidarity movements are hopeful about the Green Party’s new stance.
“This is the first time a Canadian political party with representation in the House of Commons has taken a strong and positive position in solidarity with the grassroots Palestinian movement for freedom, justice and equality,” noted Independent Jewish Voices Canada spokesperson Tyler Levitan in a press release.
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