Ontario activists push back against new anti-BDS measure

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, pictured with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem last May, says her government opposes BDS. (via Facebook)

Last May, lawmakers in Canada’s most populous province soundly rejected a bill that would have created a government blacklist of supporters of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

In doing so, the Ontario assembly made history: this was the first time the type of anti-BDS legislation being pushed by Israel was defeated in a vote of a full legislature anywhere in the world.

But this week, opponents of Palestinian rights are back for a rematch of sorts.

On Tuesday, Gila Martow, a Progressive Conservative member of the Ontario legislature, introduced a motion condemning BDS.

The non-binding measure describes BDS as a movement that encourages “hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance” and promotes “the differential treatment of Israel.”

The motion is being promoted by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, an advocacy group that echoes Israeli government talking points.

Lawmakers will vote on the measure on Thursday.

Uncertain outcome

Although they had little notice of the new anti-BDS motion, Palestine solidarity activists are mobilizing to push back.

Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) is one of several groups that sent out an action alert calling supporters to contact Ontario legislators to urge them to oppose the motion.

IJV calls the motion “an outrageous attack on freedom of political expression in Ontario.”

Other groups urging similar action include the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

The measure is receiving some establishment support. In an editorial on Wednesday, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper urged lawmakers to back the motion, calling it an opportunity to take “a step toward rectifying the misguided thinking of the BDS movement.”

The newspaper says the motion “is gentler and narrower” than the bill that was defeated in May, and that is precisely why it may stand a better chance of success.

Like this week’s motion, the anti-BDS bill in May was supported by the rightwing opposition Progressive Conservative Party. But it was defeated by 39-18 when lawmakers from the Liberal government of Premier Kathleen Wynne joined forces against it with the center-left opposition New Democratic Party.

The Liberals oppose BDS but said the May bill – which was condemned by civil liberties groups for infringing on basic free speech rights – was flawed.

Activists believe that this time the anti-BDS motion may gain enough Liberal votes to pass. They are no less determined to fight it, however.

In response to a question about whether Premier Wynne supports the current motion, her office referred The Electronic Intifada to a statement she gave in the legislature in June affirming her government’s opposition to BDS.

Wynne suggested that lawmakers “figure out if we can craft a motion that is not divisive, that is actually unifying in nature, that is not flawed and chooses to divide people.”

Following Wynne’s June statement, more than 70 civil society groups in Ontario signed an open letter urging the Ontario government “to immediately refrain from defaming and condemning Ontario human rights activists who work in solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

Wynne herself will not be in the legislature to vote as she is currently leading a trade delegation to Japan and South Korea. But it remains to be seen if the rest of her caucus will view Martow’s motion painting Canadians who support Palestinian rights as anti-Jewish extremists as “unifying.”

The Electronic Intifada has learned that the New Democratic Party caucus is likely to maintain its position from May and vote against the motion.

Long view

Even if the motion does pass on Thursday, “the victory in defeating the anti-BDS bill in May would still stand,” Tyler Levitan, campaign coordinator for Independent Jewish Voices, told The Electronic Intifada.

Levitan noted that the motion would “not have any teeth to it legally speaking.” But he said his group was “still concerned by the chilling effect it will have on freedom of expression, since it makes defamatory claims about the BDS movement and calls on our government to reject it.”

“IJV is also disturbed by the motion’s proposal to endorse the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism, which uses a widely discredited definition of anti-Semitism that equates opposition to political Zionism with a hatred of Jews,” Levitan added.

“A motion has symbolic value – so the pro-Israel groups will want to emphasize the fact that a majority of parliamentarians have taken a stance in opposition to BDS,” Thomas Woodley, president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, told The Electronic Intifada.

He pointed to the motion passed by Canada’s federal parliament in February condemning BDS, which Israel lobby groups count as a victory.

“However, from a legal standpoint, a motion has no significance: activists can still promote BDS without fear of penalties or criminal charges,” Woodley added.

Woodley said “we have to take the long view on BDS,” no matter the outcome of Thursday’s vote.

“I believe that BDS has enjoyed amazing success in the 11 years since it was founded. I think we should also be very encouraged that BDS has been discussed and acknowledged as a significant movement by some of the most powerful governments and individuals on Earth,” Woodley added. “That’s a flattering indicator of the success the movement has thus far enjoyed.”

The increased attention to the campaign in his country recently prompted Woodley’s organization to create this video to explain to Canadians why Palestinians have adopted BDS tactics to pressure Israel to end its violation of their rights:

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Despite having "Progressive" in its name, the Ontario Conservative party is essentially the same as the federal Conservatives, who under Stephen Harper decided to delete the word to be more honest. The Ottawa Citizen, sadly, is owned by Postmedia and tends to parrot the National Post's pro-zionist line.

So the right wing is solidly anti-Palestinian as usual; the battleground is over the illiberal Liberals and the wishy-washy, timid NDP.

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Very true. Bravo and kudos to you for speaking up

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