In a major self-inflicted wound, Israeli nationalist groups recently turned support for a BDS motion targeting Israel’s occupation into overwhelming approval. In addition, the resolution also demanded action to address the plight of Palestinian refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
In a further bizarre twist, Elizabeth May and others within the Green Party leadership have tried to obfuscate the extent of the membership’s support for Palestinian rights.
In August, the Green Party of Canada voted to support “the use of divestment, boycott and sanctions (BDS) that are targeted at those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation of the [Occupied Palestinian Territories].” While the new policy drops the BDS formulation, it supports “economic measures such as government sanctions, consumer boycotts, institutional divestment, economic sanctions and arms embargoes” and encompasses the Palestinian civil-society-led BDS campaign’s three demands.
It calls for the Green Party to “respect the intent of UN Resolution 194,” on the right of Palestinian refugees to return, as well as an “accord to the Arab-Palestinian population of Israel equal political and civil rights.” It also calls to “end Israel’s illegal occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and the Golan Heights, and Israel’s siege of Gaza.”
The new resolution also details Canadian complicity in dispossessing “the indigenous people,” calling on Ottawa “to divest from any companies which are directly benefiting from activity within Israel’s illegal settlements or its occupation of the OPT” and “to ask the International Criminal Court to prioritize its investigation into charges of potential war crimes by members of the Israeli forces.”
Supported by 84.5 per cent of those at the special general meeting on Saturday, it also calls for the “renegotiation of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement” and “termination and indefinite suspension of all military and surveillance trade and cooperation.”
At the closed-door meeting, May spoke in favour of the new policy, which makes her expressed position on Palestinian rights the strongest of anyone with a seat in the House of Commons. Yet immediately after the vote passed, May sought to distort the motion. She tweeted “we just repealed BDS policy” while a press release noted, “Green Party explicitly rejects the notion of boycotting the state of Israel.”
Over the past three years May and other Green leaders have battled members over Palestine (and by extension whether the Greens will be a progressive, grassroots, party). Seeking to maintain her standing within a wildly anti-Palestinian Canadian political establishment, May has repeatedly been at odds with party activists no longer willing to accept blatant anti-Palestinian sentiment.
In November 2013 a Jewish Tribune reporter challenged May over her planned participation in a fundraiser for Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CPJME). Apparently thinking the interview wouldn’t be read outside pro-Israel circles, May told the Tribune CJPME was “anti-Israel” and noted she recently attended a recent Jewish National Fund fundraiser, even lauding “the great work that’s [the JNF] done in making the desert bloom.” (An explicitly racist institution, the JNF has helped dispossess Palestinians and Judaize historically Arab areas.)
May’s comments sparked a pro-Palestinian backlash that jolted the party’s only member of parliament and pushed the party towards a better position on the issue. A few months later, the party adopted a resolution critical of Israeli expansionism and when party President Paul Estrin published an anti-Palestinian screed in the midst of Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, he was forced to resign.
In a sign of the growing power of the Palestine solidarity movement, at the August convention members ignored May’s vociferous opposition to the BDS resolution. May responded by threatening to resign if the party didn’t revisit the issue and organizing a special general membership meeting to reconsider the issue. A month after the convention 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.
In response to May’s authoritarian, anti-Palestinian, moves, party activists organized aggressively for this weekend’s special general meeting. The author of the resolution and ousted Green justice critic, Dmitri Lascaris, spoke at 18 townhall meetings across country. Support for the Palestine policy was overwhelming and drew many new individuals to the party. Facing the prospect of a humiliating defeat at the special meeting, which would have all but forced her to resign, May backed a “consensus resolution” that strengthened support for Palestinian rights, but eliminated explicit support for BDS.
Though she’s unable to control members’ position on this issue, May can shape what the public learns about it. In conjunction with a pro-Israel press, she has worked to downplay the depth of Green support for Palestinian liberation.
Notwithstanding the “two steps forward one step back” character of the struggle within the Green Party, their recent vote puts pressure on the NDP. Alongside Yann Martel, Rawi Hage, Bruce Cockburn, Richard Parry and numerous high profile lefties, the former head of the Ontario Federation of Labour Sid Ryan signed a recent appeal to Green Party of Canada members “not to succumb to political pressure to weaken or reverse [their] vote to support Palestinian rights.”
Sid Ryan for NDP Leader, a website encouraging him to run for the head of the party, notes: “Sid Ryan’s advocacy for the Palestinian people, starting in his days in CUPE where he endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, shows that an NDP leader could muster broad support for a process where Canada is non-aligned, expresses solidarity with Palestinians and other oppressed nations in the Global South, and champions a foreign policy based on peace, democracy, social justice and human rights.”
No matter who wins the campaign to become NDP leader in October, it’s hard to imagine they will be as hostile to Palestinians as outgoing leader Tom Mulcair — who once said “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances.”
The Canadian Jewish News is already fretting over the new NDP leader. With a change in NDP leadership on the horizon, the Green vote will sting. Rather than forcing members to cower, Israel nationalists’ attacks focused attention on the Green campaign and helped solidify the most significant pro-Palestinian victory in Canadian political history — notwithstanding May’s effort to obscure it.