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Green Party of Canada takes historic step of supporting BDS campaign against Israel
The Green Party of Canada have become the country’s first political party with parliamentary representation to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. They also passed a resolution at the recent convention calling for the removal of the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund. Below, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal is republishing two articles on the topic from ricochet by Canadian activists Derrick O’Keefe and Yves Engler that provide some context to this historic decision.
Greens make history with support for Palestinian human rights
By Derrick O’Keefe
August 8, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from ricochet — Members of the Green Party of Canada made history over the weekend, passing a resolution at their convention in Ottawa to support boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting economic activities in the Occupied Territories. In the sometimes parochial sphere of Canadian politics, this is a big deal.
For years, open discussion about the occupation of Palestine — and of the broader Middle East conflict in general — has been suppressed by both governing and opposition parties. In Feb. 2016, a motion targeting BDS activism was passed in the House of Commons. The motion, initiated by the Conservatives and supported by a majority of Liberal MPs, condemned “any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.” The NDP voted against the motion on free speech grounds.
During the 2015 federal election, however, the NDP banned a number of aspiring candidates from seeking nominations due to past statements deemed to be too critical of Israeli government policies. Some NDP MPs who had previously been outspoken advocates of Palestinian rights have been quieter in recent years under Mulcair’s leadership. The outgoing NDP chief had a notorious dust-up in 2010 with his then fellow deputy leader, after MP Libby Davies suggested she personally supported BDS against Israel.
Even as global public opinion, and UN resolution after UN resolution, condemned the Netanyahu government’s bombing campaigns and siege against Gaza, and ongoing illegal settlement-building in the West Bank, the expression of solidarity with Palestinian human rights has virtually disappeared from parliamentary politics in Canada.
“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.
The idea for an international BDS campaign targeting Israeli policies stems from a call by a coalition of Palestinian civil society groups in 2005.
Leader May "disappointed" in party vote
At their convention this weekend, the Greens also passed a resolution calling for the removal of the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund, although the resolution was ultimately amended to remove specific references to the JNF, and instead call for removal of charitable status from any organization involved in human rights violations.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May spoke against the BDS resolution. In an official party statement at the conclusion of the convention, May said, “I am disappointed that the membership has adopted a policy in favour of a movement that I believe to be polarizing, ineffective and unhelpful in the quest for peace and security for the peoples of the Middle East.” In the same statement, the party’s federal council president Ken Melamed said, “The Party membership also voted to express support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. I want to be clear — the GPC supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and we continue to advocate for good-faith negotiations. This support is intended to further advocate to that end.”
The thing is, in the case of so much injustice being so universally ignored by Canada’s political class, a little polarization of the Middle East debate is necessary. Quibbling or disagreement around the specific tactics of BDS is fair game, but let’s be honest: this call to action from the Greens’ membership comes amidst a deafening silence from all major Canadian political parties in the face of immense human suffering.
The utter failure of western governments
The official Canadian government policy (although it was almost never mentioned by the Harper government) is in fact to oppose illegal Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, but the Netanyahu government continues building new settlements in blatant violation of international law. This is the real context for the international movement for BDS; it’s a call for non-violent, civil society action in response to the utter failure of western governments allied with Israel to rein in its policies of occupation and dispossession.
This democratic decision by Green Party members will no doubt draw the ire of Canada’s corporate media editorial boards, not to mention politicians who vehemently support Israel’s discriminatory policies and military occupation of Palestinian territories.
First out of the gate, unsurprisingly, was Conservative MP and sort-of-would-be-Alberta-premier Jason Kenney, who tweeted all too common slanders of those who advocate for Palestinian human rights. In recent years especially, political courage on this issue has been in short supply, leaving the likes of Kenney emboldened to push the limits of his own zealous advocacy of Israeli state policies.
Regardless of the blowback, this weekend’s vote by the Green Party will hopefully spark more serious debate about Middle East policy in Canada. As IJV’s Levitan puts it, “The Green Party of Canada has passed two resolutions of historic importance that can only have a positive impact on the pursuit of justice and peace in the Middle East, as well as on Canadian democracy.”
As long as Palestinian dispossession and oppression continues unabated in defiance of international law and human decency, Canadian parliamentarians have a responsibility to speak up. This conversation has been suppressed for too long.
Greens should stand their ground on Israel
By Yves Engler
August 3, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from ricochet — Imagine that during the period of Jim Crow, a Canadian political party had polled its members about pressing Ottawa to stop subsidizing U.S. racism, only to be smeared by an organization driving the discrimination. But, instead of relishing the attacks, party leaders sought to placate the racist group by inviting it to address their convention, which the said group refused, while claiming discrimination.
This hard-to-fathom scenario mirrors the scrimmage between the Jewish National Fund of Canada and the Green Party since members put forward a Links International Journal of Socialist Renewalresolution calling for the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke the JNF’s charitable status because it practices “institutional discrimination against non-Jewish citizens of Israel” by purchasing tracts of land and leasing only to Jews, excluding Palestinian citizens. It controls 13 per cent of Israel’s land.
The first round of a multipronged voting process resulted in over 60 per cent of voters approving the resolution, which means it could be adopted at the party’s convention in early August. (A concurrent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution received nearly 60 per cent approval and will be subject to amendments at convention.)
In a last-ditch bid to overturn these results and circumvent the Green Party’s use of one member, one vote, the head of the JNF penned a furious National Post op-ed last week.
“Among the various reasons I won’t be addressing the Green Party of Canada’s upcoming convention is the fact that I was invited by the party to do so on a Saturday — a surprising (and some would say insensitive) invitation for a Jewish organization,” wrote Josh Cooper, JNF’s chief executive officer. It takes nerve for the leader of an explicitly racist organization to claim that an opportunity to defend his institution is discriminatory because it takes place on a weekend.
A Green Party spokesperson said the party “was first made aware of Mr. Cooper’s concerns regarding our Convention timing via his oped in the National Post. The Party subsequently reached out to Mr. Cooper and offered to discuss an alternative time in which he could attend; Mr. Cooper declined this invitation.”
Unable to respond to charges of discrimination in the JNF’s land-use policies, Cooper all but accused the Greens of anti-Semitism. He claimed a Jewish official with the Green Party had faced an “onslaught of hateful accusations” a couple of years ago, cited a former Green candidate who denies the Nazi Holocaust and questioned whether the party is inclusive. Cooper also argued that the JNF resolution would damage the Greens, “driving the party to the far margins of Canadian discourse” and turning it into “a marginal activist group.”
“What’s ultimately at stake is the Green party’s future in Canadian politics,” warned Cooper. “Will the Greens reclaim their party from fringe anti-Israel ideologues and conspiracy theorists?”
Cooper’s “conspiracy theorists” include the U.S. State Department, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Israeli Supreme Court and 70 British MPs. They are all on record regarding the JNF, which discriminates against the 20 per cent of Israelis who aren’t Jewish.
JNF racism manifests not as the all-too-common personal or even structural variety, but as a legalistic form largely outlawed in North America half a century ago. And today’s primary victims of JNF racism are not the exiled Palestinians, nor those locked up in Gaza or under military occupation in the West Bank, but the small number of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.
The strongest legal argument for rescinding JNF–Canada’s charitable status is that its parent organization’s discriminatory land-use policies contravene the Canadian Human Rights Act and a Canada Revenue Agency policy statement that names racial equality as an objective of charitable policy.
But, as mentioned in the Green Party resolution, JNF Canada also built a park on land that Israel illegally occupied after the June War of 1967. Three Palestinian villages were demolished to make way for what is called Canada Park.
JNF Canada has also been directly complicit in at least two other important instances of Palestinian dispossession. In the late 1920s JNF Canada spearheaded a highly controversial land acquisition that drove a thousand-person Bedouin community from territory it had tilled for centuries, and in the 1980s the organization helped finance an Israeli campaign to “Judaize” the Galilee, the majority Arab northern region of Israel.
Established internationally in 1901 and nine years later in Canada, the JNF was the principal tool of Zionist colonization before the creation of the Israeli state. In the early 1900s it bought land from absentee property owners and drove out the Palestinians working it. In 1940 a director with the JNF, Yossef Weitz, said, “The only solution is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries. Not a single village or a single tribe must be let off.” Much of the JNF’s land, on which a large part of Israel’s population now lives, was stolen from Palestinians during the 1947-48 war.
Embracing the call
While Shabbat is the reason Cooper gave for bypassing the Green convention, the Jewish Defense League won’t be resting Friday to Saturday evening.
Banned in the United States and Israel for a series of killings, the JDL promotes a violent form of Jewish nationalism. The recently formed Canadian chapter of the JDL has announced that it will protest the Green convention. “The Green Party of Canada has been taken over by hard core Jew haters,” says a post on its website. “The Jewish Defence League will always confront anti Jewish gangs whereever [sic] and whenever they appear.”
In the face of these wild attacks, Elizabeth May and rest of the Green leadership need to stop equivocating on Palestinian rights. Past efforts to mollify groups such as the JNF and JDL have only emboldened them. It is time to show these bullies that the Greens won’t be intimidated by respecting the will of the membership and embracing the call for the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke the JNF’s charitable status.
Yves Engler is the author of eight books. His latest is Canada in Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation.