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.”
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.”
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.