Canada’s Greens stand up to pro-Israel bullies

Green Party leader Elizabeth May has failed to grasp the depth of support for the Palestinian cause both within and outside her party. (Laurel L. Russwurm)

The Israel lobby has suffered an epic fail in Canada. An attempt at persuading the country’s Green Party to drop its support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement galvanized many activists. The result was that Canada’s Greens have emphatically demanded that Palestinian rights be respected.

In August, the Green Party’s members voted to back BDS measures targeting those sectors of the Israeli economy which profit from the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. As is par for the course, Israeli nationalist groups labeled the resolution “anti-Semitic.”

Describing herself as “broken-hearted,” the Greens’ leader Elizabeth May threatened to resign if the party didn’t revisit the issue.

May, then, announced that a special general membership meeting would be held at the start of December to discuss its stance on Palestine.

In September, she fired three members of her shadow cabinet for defending the party’s recently passed policy from attacks by the head of the British Columbia Greens.

But May overplayed her hand.

Caught in the Ottawa and corporate media bubble, she failed to grasp the depth of support for the Palestinian cause both within and outside her party. She also underestimated Palestine solidarity groups’ organizational capacities.


In the lead-up to last weekend’s special general meeting, Dimitri Lascaris, one of the three fired by May, spoke in defense of BDS at town hall meetings across Canada.

Support for the Palestine policy was overwhelming during these events.

Despite media claims to the contrary – “Green Party losing members, riding associations as BDS controversy highlights infighting,” according to one National Post headline – the party has more to gain by aligning with the growing number of Canadians critical of the federal government’s support for Israeli violence and colonialism.

Facing the prospect of a humiliating defeat at the special meeting, May and other party leaders backed an alternative resolution, which was approved at last weekend’s meeting.

An explanatory note issued by the Greens claims that the party “explicitly rejects” calls for boycotting the State of Israel. The note indicates that the Greens could not support the BDS movement as its goals do not include “supporting the right of the State of Israel to exist.”

Nonetheless, the new resolution supports the targeted use of boycotts, divestment and sanctions as tactics in response to violence and oppression.

It also backs the three main demands made by the BDS movement: an end to Israel’s colonization of Palestinian lands; full equality between Israeli Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel; and guaranteeing the right to return of Palestinian refugees.

The resolution calls, too, for an end to the siege of Gaza and insists that Canada divests from companies that benefit from Israel’s activities in the occupied West Bank. It also urges the renegotiation of the free trade agreement between Canada and Israel so that goods produced within Israel’s settlements in the West Bank are “explicitly” excluded. The resolution also promotes the “indefinite suspension” of all military cooperation and trade in weapons and surveillance equipment.

The new resolution was swiftly denounced by Canada’s pro-Israel lobby. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Toronto claimed that the Greens had been “coopted by extreme activists.”

Pressure on NDP

The Green vote puts pressure on the historically left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) to take a similar position.

Some political activists associated with the NDP are sympathetic to the Palestine solidarity movement.

Sid Ryan, former head of the Ontario Federation of Labour, signed a recent appeal addressed to members of the Canadian Greens. Also backed by the authors Yann Martel and Rawi Hage and musicians Richard Reed Parry, from the group Arcade Fire, and Bruce Cockburn, the letter urges Greens not to “weaken or reverse the vote to support Palestinian rights” taken in August.

Ryan is being spoken of as a possible candidate for NDP leader. A website urging him to enter the contest for that position celebrates his advocacy for Palestinian rights, including his support for the BDS movement.

No matter who wins the campaign to become NDP leader in October it’s hard to imagine they will be worse than outgoing leader Tom Mulcair, who has described himself as an ally to Israel “in all circumstances.”

For the pro-Israel groups, the Green vote will sting. Rather than forcing party members to cower, their attacks focused attention on the Palestinian struggle for equality and justice.

Yves Engler is the author of Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid and the newly-released A Propaganda System: How Canada’s government, corporations, media and academic sell war and exploitation. His website is




I have never been so proud to be a member of the Green Party of Canada .As much as some would like to make this an anti Jewish issue , it is most definitely not . It is about human rights in Palestine and the taking of Palestinian lands.


In 2010, just before l left to return to the U.K., I volunteered for Ms May in her office in Sidney, BC. I had known her 30 years before when we were both members of the "Friends of the Public Gardens" in Halifax. As an activist for Palestinian rights l shared with Ms May a subsequent action to persuade Margaret Atwood not to go to Israel to collect a cash award. I knew they had shared a stage recently for some reason. Out of concern for her l warned her that close association with an active supporter of Israel who spurned our entreaties may come back to haunt her. She replied with what l would characterize as an 'up yours' response and declared that they had a wonderful time on stage together. These e-mails still exist. Now it seems that her stance and my warning have collided, and she has come off the worse. Although l have always thought highly of Ms. May l felt there was an in-caution in her which wouldn't listen to advice, no matter how much concern for her is behind it. She could have pre-emptied this crisis by showing leadership and exposing the tyrannical intent of this legislation. Now she will have to back out and risk losing her leadership. It was obvious that the Zionist movement will lose support while the Palestinian cause will gain it through time, and that Ms. May should position herself on the side of the future and of justice for the ethnically cleansed rightful inhabitants of the pariah state called Israel. I further reject the notion that Israel has a right to protect itself. Israel stole the land by main force, and the Palestinians are quite entitled to fight to recover what was stolen from them. Israel has always been an illegal and immoral entity. Otherwise, as Norman Finkelstein points out, l would be entitled to go up to anyone's door with a book in one hand and a gun in the other, and require the occupants to move out. You can't keep stolen property.


I doubt anyone could have said it more clearly. Thank you, Mr. Smith for supporting JUSTICE AND ONLY JUSTICE as Naim Ateek has written.


This is my note to Ms May in 2010 after I received a form rejection letter from Margaret Atwood's publicist defending her appearance in Israel to receive the Dan David award. A cool half a million dollar prize. Everybody has their price, I suppose.

"I can tell you Elizabeth that she carries a lot of baggage in the Palestinian, Arab and human rights community. Given a chance to make a powerful statement, in concert with other artists by boycotting the award ceremony and speaking out against the open-air concentration camp that is Gaza, she balked and took the money and the bauble. I have lost all respect for her.

I am very concerned that some of this will stick to you, so feel you should be warned. Then you can make your own decisions. Expect questions about this at your appearance with her.

With admiration and affection


NB (but the Israelis will use her acceptance of the award, not her mea culpa.)"


So proud indeed... only party in Canada to take the principled stand for justice for Palestinians. On the right side of history with this policy...


It is clear that opposition to the rogue nation is increasing exponentially.Reports of BDS successes are making the news far more often and the zionists are shaking in their shoes.The gig is up for these criminals and acts of further theft of Palestinian lands is creating more opposition to Israel.Israel has just refused to attend a peace conference in Paris and in doing so shows the world it is not interested in creating a just peace.

Time is long past due to treat Israel as the Pariah entity that it is.


We really need a Nuremberg Trial for Israeli politicians who are war criminals and blatantly refuse to attend a peace conference. Or do you suppose they are afraid to be stopped and denied entry into France? England has refused entry into the country to Israelis before. The world is definitely getting tired of the Pariah state.


Double edged. While the motion is ok at the same time it removed support for the BDS initiative called for by Palestinian civil society. Not solidarity but capitulation to Israeli McCarthyite hasbara.


This is definitely one of the Green Party of Canada's heroic moments. I've hesitated voting Green before because I've considered it a wasted vote; but no matter what, this time my vote is going to go for the Green Party.
I can't understand the Liberal party. I voted for them last time to get rid of pro-Israeli Harper, only to be screwed by the Liberal party. With Trudeau's continued lies on all of his promises he is in big trouble.


As you probably know Elizabeth has changed her position on the Israeli BDS issue. I listened to the special meeting that they had in Calgary and I was proud of the Green Party taking the right road , read accepting the BDS motion.I have been a member of the Green party since 09 . I did the same ,I voted Liberal last time and it will be the LAST time.I am fed up with the pretty face Trudeau and his broken promises , namely his backtracking on his promise of the last election of first past the post.


To add to my last comment ,I recently read that a pole across Canada found that a huge majority of Canadians believe that BDS is a good way to force human rights obligations on the Israeli government.In the high 70 percentage points.