Ontario law would blacklist BDS activists

This article has been updated with comments from the office of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Lawmakers in Canada’s most populous province are voting this week on a bill to blacklist supporters of the Palestinian-led grassroots campaign for human rights, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Tim Hudak, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for the right-wing Progressive Conservative opposition, introduced the so-called Standing Up Against Anti-Semitism in Ontario Act on Tuesday.

The bill, co-sponsored by veteran Liberal lawmaker Mike Colle, passed its first reading.

Using language characteristic of the Israeli government’s attacks on the movement, Hudak claimed that the goal of BDS is “to sponsor the de-legitimization of the state of Israel as well as to foster hatred and animosity against those of Jewish faith in support of Israel.”

The bill is scheduled for debate and another vote on Thursday.

While it would still have to pass a third vote to become law, passage on Thursday would significantly boost its prospects, especially if it gains backing from more members of the ruling Liberal Party.

Palestine solidarity campaigners in Canada appear to have had no notice of the bill. Its quick introduction and vote may be an effort to circumvent public debate and opposition.

The bill may also have been timed to coincide with the visit to Israel this week by Ontario’s Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, who is leading a business delegation aimed at “building partnerships between Ontario and Israel.”

In response to a question from The Electronic Intifada, Wynne’s spokesperson wrote, “Our office wouldn’t determine the timing of introduction and debate or comment on [the bill] at this time.”

The spokesperson also provided a transcript of a statement Wynne made in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

“I entirely oppose the BDS movement,” Wynne said and implied that it promotes anti-Semitism.

Wynne also emphasized that “Freedom of speech is something that all Canadians value and we must vigorously defend.”

“But,” she added, “it’s unacceptable for students, or parents, or children to feel unsafe or discriminated against.”

Pro-Israel hardliner

If passed into law, Hudak’s bill would effectively create a blacklist of persons and organizations who would be barred from contracts with the provincial government.

“If a public body discovers that a person or entity with which it has entered into a contract supports or participates in the BDS movement, the contract shall immediately terminate,” the draft bill states.

This would be an open invitation to anti-Palestinian groups to investigate people for their political views and report them to the government with the aim of having them punished.

The law would also bar public bodies, including universities and pension funds, from investing “in an entity that supports or participates in the BDS movement.”

The bill also states that “No college or university shall support or participate in the BDS movement.”

In his statement to parliament, Hudak asserted that the draconian bill in “no way infringes on free speech.”

Hudak, a hardline supporter of Israel, has previously lavished praise on Ariel Sharon, the late Israeli prime minister who long championed and accelerated the colonization of the occupied West Bank, a war crime under international law.

As defense minister in 1982, Sharon was the architect of Israel’s catastrophic invasion of Lebanon, which among other atrocities included the massacre of Palestinians by Israeli-backed militias in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

According to Hudak, Sharon “courageously dedicated his life to establishing and then defending his beloved Israel.”

McCarthyite

Hudak pointed out that this is the first legislation of its kind in Canada, but similar laws have been passed or proposed in several US states, with the backing of the Israeli government and its lobby groups.

Hudak’s bill appears to take a leaf from one in New York State that would have required the government to maintain a blacklist of persons and organizations accused of backing BDS.

But in the face of a massive backlash against what civil libertarians saw as a blatantly McCarthyite measure, the version of New York’s anti-BDS bill including the blacklist provision was effectively killed.

In the United States, the Supreme Court has recognized that the right to boycott is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

While Hudak represents the right wing of Canada’s establishment political spectrum, his support for Israel is mirrored in the centrist Liberal Party, which currently holds power in Ontario and at the federal level.

In February, the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau backed a parliamentary motion condemning the BDS movement.

In a March statement, the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) described the Canadian parliamentary vote as “the latest in a string of government-backed attacks on the BDS movement and infringements on free speech that have also seen government politicians condemning campus activism and smearing BDS as ‘anti-Semitic.’”

The BNC also noted that the previous Conservative federal government signed a cooperation agreement with Israel that included a specific commitment to fight the BDS movement.

As Canadian journalist Davide Mastracci has noted regarding Trudeau’s positions on Palestine, “the Liberals have continued down the Conservatives’ troubling path, violating Canadians’ wishes and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms along the way.”

Update: Ontario premier on BDS

The Electronic Intifada sent an inquiry to the office of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne on Wednesday as to whether she would support the anti-BDS bill currently before the provinicial parliament.

Her spokesperson replied that the office would not comment specifically on the bill, but sent a transcript of comments Wynne made in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

Wynne expressed her opposition to BDS and implied – echoing Israeli government charges – that the nonviolent movement for Palestinian human rights and accountability for Israel’s violations of international law promotes “anti-Semitism.”

At the same time, Wynne stated that: “Freedom of speech is something that all Canadians value and we must vigorously defend.”

Here’s the transcript provided by Wynne’s office:

We both want to achieve a strong inclusive society where every child has an opportunity to thrive. 

And I know there’s been an issue that has been worrying many of you here. The ambassador referenced it in her remarks. 

I’ve been very clear on this issue. The BDS position is certainly not mine, nor is it that of our government. I entirely oppose the BDS movement. In fact, any position that promotes or encourages anti-Semitism in any way - we have to stand against that. 

And I am not a national politician. I am the premier of a province. But I am a human being who lives in this world. 

So taking this position, as I would take any position against something that promotes homophobia, that promotes sexism, that promotes islamophobia, if we are going to have a world that is capable of supporting humanity then we have to find a way to stand against all of these positions. 

So, if I am asked, and I have not been asked yet, I will say that I support all rights to freely express their views, freely expressed without fear of discrimination or persecution, whether in Ontario or in the Middle East. 

Freedom of speech is something that all Canadians value and we must vigorously defend. But, it’s unacceptable for students, or parents, or children to feel unsafe or discriminated against. 

So I oppose movements that are attempting to divide our society ‎and are attempting to promote anti-Semitism, homophobia, anti-Islamism, all of those ‘isms’ that create fear and hate in our communities. 

And I will just go back to what I said earlier. All of that is with the system with the inclusive system that we are trying to create. 

So, I’m an optimist. I believe Ontario and Israel can work together. Not just for our own jurisdictions but for the world.

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Comments

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Go ahead, condemn me! Free speech is one of the most fundamental of freedoms, and France has jailed someone for just wearing a #BDS t-shirt. (Where can I buy one of those!??)

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No, she wasn't jailed, just summonsed to the police station for questioning, which is bad enough.

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As an ashamed Canadian, rest assured: this legislation does NOT reflect the views of most Canadians. Like its counterparts in the US, this kind of legislation is pushed by the Israel lobby and corrupt, corporate-backed Zionist politicians. Politicians like to rant about the threat of terrorism, but when the wretched of the Earth practices peaceful activism, they are silenced, attacked and repressed. What is the effect of this policy? Death, destruction, and despair.

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Welcome to Canadian McCarthyism, where people are blacklisted for speaking out against illegal occupation and denial of human rights.

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Based on its past performance, the Ontario NDP may support the bill, as a few years ago it vociferously backed a motion condemning Israeli Apartheid Week. The federal NDP also opposes BDS, though it plucked up its limited courage and voted against the recent federal BDS motion on civil liberties grounds.

This bill looks more draconian, so some Liberals* as well as NDPers should shy away from it. But the Israel lobby is unreasonably strong in Ontario.

* a centrist neoliberal party in Canada, not to be confused with leftish liberals in the United States.

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The goal of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is to get Israel's murdering military and Israel's settlers and settlements out of Palestine, to allow exiled Palestinians to return to their homes and towns, and to accomplish this by international economic pressure only. Anything else we hear about the BDS movement is Zionist lies. Anyone in doubt about the rights and wrongs of the Palestine-Israel conflict and why BDS exists, should research the "conflict" on line and find out for her/himself. Caution: Be prepared to find out how much your own Canadian politicians and media are lying to you. Be prepared to discover how and why. Fear not, for you will acquire so discerning an education in being a citizen of your human community that you will be very glad you've taken the trouble.

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We believe that BDS is the last best chance of salvaging something from the moral wreck that is Israel.

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It was entirely predictable that the reply of Israel and its apologists would be that the BDS movement is "anti-semitic". This is the lie that Israel perpetrates against anyone who criticizes their politics, their illegal occupation, their apartheid-like treatment of the Palestinians. Except Israeli Jews - or any other Jews - who criticize Israel are "self-hating" Jews. What's astonishing is how many people buy into this crap. It's truly a shame that the two most significant Liberal leaders in Canada - the Prime Minister, and the Premier of Ontario - are among those who peddle this mean-spirited, anti-democratic BS. Shame!

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What of the rights to safety, security and free speech of the Palestinian people? They don't have any? Why not? There are two sides to every issue and I am only seeing one side spoken of by the Premier of Ontario. How Canadian is that? :(

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We must congratulate Ontario politicians for this important and highly positive decision. I hope we will see Quebec and British Columbia take similar steps in the near future.

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I just want to understand one thing. A movement like BDS is a peace promoter that uses Boycott as a way to stop settlers from stealing more land, a government from acting with arrogance, and a whole country from killing and savagely placing 2Million people in Gaza under siege. Isn't this what human rights activists should do? What is wrong with this? Time to wake up Canada and stand up for the truth. To support BDS, you just have to be a human.

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I am in shock reading this... This is so obviously an infringement on free speech! I am not anti semetic, vut I do strongly believe that what is happening to Palestinian people is wrong. The checkpoints, illegal occupation of palestinian land and the brutality of Israeli soldiers and police is certainly not related to Judaism, any more than ISIS is related to Muslims. I hope to see this challenged in the Supreme Court if it does pass through this corrupt government.

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Violence is defined as acts causing or threatening “physical, sexual or psychological abuse,” including actions generating fear. It can also be economic, political, verbal, and in other forms by anyone, including occupiers, settlers, security services members or others.

Deprivation of basic rights is also included “such as shelter, food, drink, clothing, education, freedom of movement and loss of self-determination and self-security.” Life in Palestine is harsh and intolerable. Imagine being repressively occupied under a system of institutionalized racist persecution.

As a result, Palestinians have no power over their daily lives. They live in constant fear. They’re collectively punished and economically exploited. Free expression, assembly, movement and other basic rights are denied.

Gazans are besieged. West Bank and East Jerusalem residents face militarized state terror, cantonized separation, closed borders, imposed curfews, roadblocks, checkpoints, electric fences, Separation Wall land theft and isolation, neighborhood incursions, other forms of land theft, home destruction, dispossessions, targeted assassinations, mass arrests, torture, and virtually all other forms of abuse and cruel indignities.

Crimes against humanity occur daily by Zionist psychopaths. Israeli Troops, tanks, heavy armor, and other militarized equipment enter neighborhoods dozens of times weekly. Middle-of-the-night arrests are made, including children young as 10 treated no differently than adults. Under siege, Gazans experience regular air, ground, and sea attacks, as well as suffocating isolation.

Throughout the occupied Palestinian Territories, mostly civilians suffer horrifically. Blamed for the crimes of their occupier, they’re criminalized for their faith, ethnicity and presence in a land Israel wants only for Jews.

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I recall that Justin Trudeau's father Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was asked by a reporter during the FLQ Crisis- an anti-terrorism panic- how far he was prepared to go in suspending constitutional protections. He snapped, "Watch me!"

With respect to these proliferating anti-BDS laws in the US and Canada, even were it agreed by the courts that such restrictions on basic freedoms were permissible, no rational standard could be advanced for detection of violations. How in the world will it be possible to determine that a company has joined the boycott if the firm merely cites standard business reasons for a given decision? And that's what they'll do. It's what they've always done when confronted with dicey situations. What method is a judge to apply in assessing whether a company intentionally eschews relations with Israeli firms and does so in observance of the boycott? It's impossible to prove. The whole exercise is futile and counterproductive from the Zionists' own standpoint. You can't force companies to trade with Israel.

These measures only serve to expose a set of dwindling options. The escalation we're seeing on Israel's part is a sign of vulnerability and increasing desperation- not strength and confidence.

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There is nothing anti Semitic in the BDS charter. They simply asking for the boycott of a country that is in breach of several international laws and persistently violating human rights.

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With a united front, this bill is now dead! CONGRATS! What Hudak and apologists for Israel's occupation of Palestine seem to forget is the historic legacy that boycott's, sanctions and divestment has on solidifying international morality. Far from denying Israel the right to exist, BDS is non-violently, "shaped by a rights-based approach and highlights the three broad sections of the Palestinian people: the refugees, those under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians in Israel. The call urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by: Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall; Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; & Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194. No surprise, Hudak failed to cite the occupation of Palestine in the private members bill, the illegal wall & settlements & what recently resigned Israel defense minister Moshe Yaloon warned of the radical minority that is actually disabling the future of Israel, stating, "...to my great dismay, extremist and dangerous elements have taken over Israel, also over the Likud Party, and are shaking the house and threatening to hurt its inhabitants. I fought with all my might against manifestations of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society that threatens its sturdiness and is seeping into the army and already damaging it.” Click: https://www.thestar.com/news/w...
What critics of BDS fail to grasp is the democratizing elements within the BDS campaign which may actually make Israel stronger and more vibrant because it addresses the extremist hate of settlers and racists Zionists who are isolating Israel from within & on the world stage.

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A hearty congratulations to the Ontario politicians for this commonsense decision. I trust your peers in Quebec and British Columbia will see fit to do the same.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.