Despite a backlash evocative of those who defended the Jim Crow U.S. South, Green Party members recently voted in favour of a resolution calling on Ottawa to stop subsidizing racist land covenants. The Greens will make a final decision on whether they support the principles underlying a half-century old Supreme Court of Canada decision outlawing discriminatory land-use policies.
Two months ago Green Party member Corey Levine put forward a resolution calling on the party to pressure the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke the Jewish National Fund’s charitable status. The Independent Jewish Voices activist crafted a motion criticizing the JNF’s “discrimination against non-Jews in Israel through its bylaws which prohibit the lease or sale of its lands to non-Jews.”
In response to this exercise in party democracy, B’nai B’rith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs asked their supporters to email Party leader Elizabeth May to condemn “anti-Semitism.” After thousands denounced the Green Party, the Jewish Defence League, a far-right group banned in the U.S. and Israel for a series of killings, said it would protest at the party’s August convention in Ottawa.
Backlash aside, the Green’s JNF resolution affirms a principle enunciated by the Supreme Court 60 years ago. Into the 1950s, restrictive land covenants in many exclusive neighbourhoods and communities across Canada made it impossible for Jews, Blacks, Chinese, Aboriginals and other “non-whites to buy property.
In 1948 Annie Noble decided to sell a cottage in the exclusive Beach O’ Pines subdivision on Lake Huron to Bernie Wolf, who was Jewish. During the sale Wolf’s lawyer realized that the original deed for the property contained the following clause: “The lands and premises herein described shall never be sold, assigned, transferred, leased, rented or in any manner whatsoever alienated to, and shall never be occupied or used in any manner whatsoever by any person of the Jewish, Negro or coloured race or blood, it being the intention and purpose of the Grantor, to restrict the ownership, use, occupation and enjoyment of the said recreational development, including the lands and premises herein described, to persons of the white or Caucasian race.”
Noble and Wolf tried to get the court to declare the restriction invalid but they were opposed by the Beach O’ Pines Protective Association and both a Toronto court and the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to invalidate the racist covenant. But Noble pursued the case — with assistance from the Canadian Jewish Congress — to the Supreme Court of Canada. In a six-to-one decision, the highest court reversed the lower courts’ ruling and allowed Noble to purchase the property.
The publicity surrounding the case prompted Ontario to pass a law voiding racist land covenants, and in 2009 the federal government defined the Noble and Wolf v. Alley Supreme Court case “an event of national historic significance” in the battle “for human rights and against discrimination on racial and religious grounds in Canada.”
Six decades after the Supreme Court delivered a blow to racist property covenants, 62 per cent of Green members have voted for a resolution calling on Ottawa to end its support for a charity that discriminates in land use abroad.
An owner of 13 per cent of Israel’s land, JNF bylaws and lease documents contain a restrictive covenant stating its property will not be leased to non-Jews. A 1998 United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights found it systematically discriminated against Palestinian citizens of Israel (Arab Israelis) who make up a fifth of the population.
According to the UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.” Echoing the UN, a 2012 US State Department report detailing “institutional and societal discrimination” in Israel says JNF “statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”
Yet JNF Canada, which raised $29 million in 2014, is a registered charity. As such, it can provide tax credits for donations, meaning that up to 25 per cent of their budget effectively comes from public coffers.
The Green Party should ignore the right-wing backlash and uphold the principle that discriminatory land-use policies are wrong.