For Your Information
Transcript of Selected Interventions on Conservative Motion Condemning BDS
– House of Commons Hansard, February 18, 2016 –
The following are the full remarks of selected interventions from those parties who spoke on February 18 in the debate. They are not in order and are the main interventions from each Party delivered on the motion. Debate will continue on February 22. The full debate from February 18 can be found here.
Tony Clement (Conservative Foreign Affairs Critic)
That, given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.
He said: Mr. Speaker, at the outset, I seek to divide my time with my hon. colleague and seatmate, the member for Calgary Nose Hill. I am glad that the House will be discussing and debating this very important issue. For those who are watching or listening in, I will be talking a lot about something called BDS, which is an acronym for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement that seeks to delegitimize and isolate Israel, and quite frankly single Israel out around the world.
The premise behind this movement is the promotion of the odious narrative that Israel is uniquely responsible for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Further, the activists who are involved in this movement push for a complete worldwide boycott of the only Liberal democracy in the Middle East, while simultaneously exempting some of the worst human rights offenders in the world from equivalent attention.
These boycotts manifest themselves in many ways, from pressuring consumers not to buy Israeli products to calling on universities to cut ties with Israeli academia, to calling for Israeli athletes to be banned from international sports competitions. By advocating these things, these activists are assaulting all Israelis of all political persuasions and of all opinions within that country. They use the discourse that is uniquely reserved for pariah states, and apply this standard, uniquely and singularly, to the Middle East’s only Liberal democracy and the world’s only Jewish state. It is clear that the intent of those in favour of this movement is not to resolve the conflict but to single out Israel and contest the Jewish state’s right to be treated with fairness.
I would put it before this House that this BDS movement is actually a form of discrimination. In targeting all Israelis, BDS is a present-day blacklist and a form of discrimination, strictly based on national origin. Just like boycotts have targeted Jews throughout history, today BDS activists call on boycotting people who come from the Jewish state. I would stress that it is in no way pro-Palestinian; it is in fact anti-Israel. I would put it to my colleagues and members of this chamber that BDS actually undermines peace. It does nothing to bring the two sides together, to promote peace or improve the quality of life for Palestinian citizens. Indeed, BDS absurdly lays the blame completely on Israel, and completely refutes any other responsibilities, including Palestinian responsibilities. If BDS were successful, the livelihood of thousands of Palestinians employed by Israeli companies would be in jeopardy. In addition, BDS imports the conflict by illegitimately targeting businesses, universities, and civil society institutions. BDS tries to bring the conflict in the Middle East to Canada. Canadian organizations should never be used as a vehicle for social exclusion and the demonization of Canadians based on their national origin.
As I said, this movement imports the conflict. By illegitimately targeting businesses, universities, and civil society institutions, it tries to bring the conflict in the Middle East to Canada. Canadian organizations should never be used as a vehicle for social exclusion and demonization of Canadians based on their national origin.
Already this movement has had some consequences which are injurious. An example of this is the BDS target of the company SodaStream. In September 2015, SodaStream moved its factory out of the West Bank and into the Negev as a direct result of this boycott movement. The Palestinian employees were the victims of this move. Yet these misguided activists claimed it as a win. This is just one example of how this movement can be used for nefarious purposes.
We on this side of the House value our freedoms. We value our rights and value the ability to speak freely and to act freely. This is not what this debate is about. This is not a motion that would seek to shut down people expressing themselves either in the marketplace or in the political commons. We should take a stand. This is an important issue not only for Israelis, but for Canadians of all points of view who value the proper discourse and value a democracy in, let us be frank, a very bad neighbourhood of the world. I seek all members of all political parties to side with us. This is not a partisan issue. Side with us on this motion. Send a strong message to our fellow Canadians and to freedom lovers around the world and support this motion.
Stéphane Dion (Liberal Minister of Foreign Affairs)
Madam Speaker, on behalf of the Prime Minister and the entire government, I will begin by saying that the government will be supporting the motion by the official opposition. We will support it because we agree with the substance of it, although we do have some reservations about its form and about the Conservative Party’s real intentions.
The motion reads: That, given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad. Let us review the terms of the motion, “That, given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations…”. I will stop there.
We agree that Canada and Israel share a friendship and economic and diplomatic relations. Who in this House does not agree with that? Is Israel not more than just an ally, but also a steadfast friend to Canada? How could we not admire a country that is so small in size, but mighty when it comes to courage, determination, resourcefulness, and solidarity? How can we not hope for this democracy to spread in a region that is grappling with all sorts of authoritarian abuses? The Jewish people were persecuted for thousands of years. How can we not be happy for them, knowing they have found a place where they will always feel at home?
We as Canadians have every reason to show solidarity with Israel, first because we bear the burden of history. Canada turned Jews back at its borders; remember “none is too many.” Canada excluded Jews from decision-making bodies and universities and, sometimes openly and sometimes in a covert manner, discriminated against them in many ways. Let us look at where Jews in Canada stand today. How can we help but congratulate ourselves for having welcomed what has in fact become the fourth largest Jewish community in the world after the United States, Israel, and France? Moved by the music of Leonard Cohen, amazed by the architecture of Moshe Safdie, enchanted by the stories of Mordecai Richler, convinced by the judgments of Jean Beetz, or inspired by the dedication of Irwin Cotler, we can measure the momentum of the Jewish presence in every sphere of our national life.
Since we owe so much to our Jewish communities, should we not show solidarity with Israel, a country that is under intense military pressure and the constant threat of terrorism, and needs our support? In any case, it is in our interest to do so. We would agree, for example, that it is in our interest to connect with the second largest research and development investor among OECD countries. Let us continue to look at the motion before us: “…the House reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement…”
There again, we completely agree. Rejecting the boycott of Israel is in keeping with Canadian tradition. Canada has been firm in its opposition to the Arab boycott of Israel since it began in the 1970s. Opposition to the BDS movement was firmly expressed by the Liberal leader and the Liberal Party before and during the election campaign. During the campaign, The Canadian Jewish News ran an election ad signed by the Liberal candidate in Papineau, our Prime Minister, and the candidates in Mount Royal, Outremont, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce – Westmount, Pierrefonds – Dollard, and Saint-Laurent, which read as follows: The Liberal Party of Canada believes that: Canada has and must always be a friend of Israel. We must fight anti-Semitism in all of its forms We must oppose Boycott, Divest, and Sanction campaigns in our communities and continue to speak out forcefully against them The Liberals do not support this boycott movement because we do not believe it is conducive to achieving peace in the Middle East. We must never give up on seeking peace, and we must make no mistakes in our solutions for achieving it. The status quo is untenable for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. The demographic trends will make the situation in the occupied territories increasingly unsustainable. We must find a peaceful solution that, through negotiation, will lead to the advent of two states: Israel and Palestine, living side by side in security and peace. Boycotting Israel will not lead to this much-desired just peace.
Peace emerges from building bridges between peoples, not from rejection. Peace emerges from more interaction, more collaboration, not the opposite. A boycott creates victims. Boycotting businesses thrusts workers — Israelis, Jews or Arabs; Palestinians, Christians or Muslims — into unemployment. Stemming the flow of investment can only create more misery and despair. A poignant example is that a world-renowned Israeli company, SodaStream, was forced through threats of a BDS boycott to close its factory located in the West Bank. This resulted in the loss of hundreds of well-paying jobs for Palestinians. This negative effect on the Palestinian people in this economy is wrong. In itself, it provides nothing good for peace.
Canada believes that supporting the economic prospects of the Palestinian people is a vital goal for ensuring their dignity. It has the valuable side effect of creating stability and security in the region. In this spirit, Canada funds a host of projects to better the livelihood of the Palestinians. Working toward that goal is the sort of activity that will advance prospects for the peace process. The BDS movement, however, is exciting already high tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, to their detriment. The world will win nothing from boycotting Israel but depriving itself of its talents and inventiveness. It would be unjust and counterproductive to deprive our students of the contribution of Israeli professors, or deprive researchers of the collaboration of their Israeli colleagues, or deprive businesses of their partnerships with Israeli companies. That would not contribute in any way to peace, but would create a lot of injustice and be an affront to free speech. It is wrong and counterproductive to pressure musicians, writers, poets, and artists not to perform in or visit Israel. Instead of dialogue and understanding, we would only be spreading distrust and intimidation. There are disturbing reports of Jewish students feeling unsafe at Canadian universities. That is unacceptable.
We do not need fewer ties between Canada and Israel; on the contrary, we need more. We must implement the Canada-Israel free trade agreement in order to reduce technical barriers, enhance co-operation, increase transparency in regulatory matters, and reduce transaction costs for businesses. That is the way forward. We must oppose anything that stands in the way of stronger ties between Canada and Israel.
The one-sided nature of the BDS movement is in itself a problem for the search for peace and justice. It targets Israel alone. It calls on Israel alone to act. Once again, instead of a recipe for achievement of a lasting peace settlement, the BDS movement in fact creates a form of collective punishment at the expense of both Israelis and Palestinians. As Canada considers the Middle East peace process and seeks opportunities to move to pursue our role in the eventual resolution that meets the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, we should not be asking ourselves how we punish one people. Instead, we should ask ourselves how we can re-motivate these two peoples to get into a dialogue again, how we can start a positive process with the Israelis and Palestinians to relaunch a peace process.
Now let us finish our review of the motion before us: “…(BDS) movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.”
This rhetoric elicits mistrust and it comes from the Conservatives, who in recent years have constantly tried to transform support for Israel into a partisan issue in Canada. Yes, some supporters of the boycott have bad intentions, do not want peace, and are working against Israel. Their real goal is not to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but to delegitimize and single out Israel. In this movement there are certainly some hate-filled extremists, racists and anti-Semites as well. We must strongly condemn those individuals.
However, it cannot be denied that many of the boycott supporters are mistaken in good faith. Many organizations and individuals in Canada and abroad support the BDS movement out of the belief that it will somehow accelerate the peace process and be a non-violent initiative that leads to a lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their goal ultimately is the same as ours: a two-state solution with a secure, stable, and democratic Israel, living side-by-side with a secure, stable, and democratic Palestinian state. However, they are mistaken in the way this goal may be achieved.
We will not convince the people acting in good faith that they are mistaken by hitting them over the head and condemning them at every turn. Intimidation, name-calling, and accusations will not lead to constructive dialogue with them. We must talk to them with respect and explain why boycotting Israel is a false solution. We have had this debate and many others, and we will continue to have it, in Canada and elsewhere, with people we respect, who in some cases are themselves Jewish. Dialogue and honest and firm debate, not ostracism and intimidation, will rally support for truly promising solutions.
Canada and Israel are strong, vibrant democracies where legitimate criticism within legitimate discourse is expected and accepted as the way to build consensus. Do our Conservative colleagues have any interest in this dialogue or in seeking consensus? When they were in power, they did quite the opposite. They made threats, hurled invective, and systematically painted people with the same brush for crass partisan purposes. They made support for Israel and the Canadian Jewish community a partisan issue. That did not work for them, but they do not seem to have learned anything from it. They have come back to us today with this motion, and we are well aware that its purpose is to create division.
There are no winners in this type of game. We would like to tell our colleagues and Conservative friends that many Canadians have had enough of their simplistic Manichaeism and hyperpartisanship. That is one of the main reasons why Canadians relegated them to the opposition benches. It is up to the Conservatives to learn from that. If they do not, they will remain in the opposition. I would like to close by pointing out what really matters: Canada’s lasting friendship with Israel; our constructive, long-term partnership with the Palestinian Authority; the pursuit of justice for all, including the Palestinian people; the pursuit of security for all, including the Jewish people; and the creation of two states that can live side by side in harmony. Those are the goals that we should be tirelessly and resolutely pursuing, using insight and common sense. We need to work together with all people of good faith to find peaceful and fair solutions that do not involve the boycott of Israel.
Hélène Laverdière (NDP Foreign Affairs Critic)
Madam Speaker, we have a very bizarre motion in front of us today, to say the least. The first part rejects BDS, and I will come back to that afterwards. Then there is the second part that calls upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups, or individuals who promote the BDS movement both here at home and abroad. I have a serious problem with that. It is not the role of Parliament to limit topics Canadians are allowed to debate, or to condemn opinions.
The NDP does not support BDS. We think it detracts from the work of achieving real progress in the region. Let me read a quote of Jack Layton’s from 2010. He said, “…our party has never, nor would we ever deny that Israel not only has a right to exist but a right to exist in secure borders in a safe context.” Similarly with the BDS proposal, this is not party policy, and we do not support it. It would be better to work positively with partners for peace on both sides to find a lasting solution for all. As I said, the motion is not about BDS; it is about the politics of division and freedom of opinion.
I would like to read the second part of the motion. “…call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.” We are not talking about attempts by extremists. As I just said a moment ago, I firmly believe that it is not the role of Parliament to prohibit anyone from debating ideas or having an opinion. Parliament’s role is actually the exact opposite of that. Its role is to defend the freedom of opinion and freedom of expression of all Canadians, whether we agree with them or not.
If we were debating a motion here today that asked me to condemn any group that opposes a woman’s right to choose, I would not support it, because it is not our role to condemn people for their opinion. Has it become a crime in Canada to have an opinion? The Conservatives would probably like that, but I do not believe that Parliament should head in that direction. At the same time, I am not terribly surprised that the Conservatives have brought forward such an idea and such a motion. We have seen similar things from them in the past. Just think of Bill C-51. It is interesting to see that the Liberals, who are going to support this motion, also voted in favour of Bill C-51, which limits our freedom of expression.
The Conservatives are well known for their use of gag orders. Any time the opposition disagreed with their position, they would impose a gag order. They muzzled bureaucrats and scientists, and limited access to information. They kept journalists from doing their job properly, even though that is one of the tenets of our democracy. They harassed and intimidated a range of civil society organizations, particularly through the Canada Revenue Agency, organizations whose biggest crime was not to agree with the government’s policies. This reminds me of George Orwell. What is this world coming to when here in Canada we are attacking the fundamental right to disagree? Ironically, the Conservatives are the ones who introduced private members’ bills to undermine our protections from the hate speech that often targets cultural minorities and those with different sexual orientation. It is rather odd. This motion is typical of the Conservatives in that it seeks to muzzle those with whom they disagree. Personally, I reject that. In the words of Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
There are some who think this is a good idea, but I do not necessarily agree. I think we must focus our efforts on working with partners for peace, from both sides, to come up with a just, lasting, and equitable solution for the well-being of everyone. However, there are people who have other ideas. There are some in Israel and some in my own riding. They know we disagree, but we can talk about it. Discussion and dialogue are the road to moving forward with these thorny issues.
It is very sad to see the Conservatives playing politics with such an issue. I do agree with what the Minister of Foreign Affairs said. They are obviously playing the politics of division again, and that type of policy does not help anyone. It does not help our friends. They have done that so often. The result of the approach of the Conservatives in the Middle East, in particular, for years is that Canada lost its reputation and it was damaged. Then Canada lost its ability to act as an honest broker and to help our friends, including Israel. Canada has no power and no influence in the region because it has lost its credibility with too many actors who want to be agents for change and peace and have to be part of the process. The Conservatives have utterly have cut off our bridges. Yes, we must play a positive role, but we will not play a positive role if we adopt politics of interdiction and shutting up debate.
Let me give a quote that I quite like and that I endorse: I am a Canadian…free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind. This was said by the Progressive Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, and I think he would be very sad. If he could see what the Conservatives are trying to do here today, he would turn in his grave.
Instead of creating even more division, let us work together on finding positive solutions to this rather difficult situation and let us stand up to defend our values, our rights, and our freedoms, including the right to free speech and the right to have an opinion. It is for that last right that I will say no to this motion.
Monique Pauzé (Bloc Québécois Party Whip)
Mr. Speaker, the BDS or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a citizens’ response that is non-violent and not anti-Semitic. It does not target Jews for being Jewish. It targets questionable policies of the State of Israel. For example, this could include all the successive governments’ policies on the Palestinian people: occupation, colonization, blockade. The Bloc Québécois recognizes boycotting as a democratic right of people who want to criticize a state’s policies in a non-violent way. Disagreeing with the colonization of Palestine, for example, is not anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist. It is a legitimate political opinion that one can agree with or not. There has been a lot of talk about demonization. Are we not in the process of demonizing anyone who does not think the way we do?[ ]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to look back in history a little. On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice ordered that the wall between Israel and Palestine be torn down, saying that it violated international law. On July 9, 2005, the BDS movement began. I think there is a link between the two.
Peaceful groups such as PAJU, Palestinian and Jewish Unity, promote the BDS campaign, claiming that it constitutes peaceful action. I can give names. There have been calls to boycott in the past. There was a boycott against South Africa during apartheid. There was one against Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, during the military junta. France called for a boycott against Mexico when Florence Cassez was kidnapped. There was also a boycott against California grapes. I did not eat those grapes for many years.
However, during the years that we were boycotting California grapes, the Liberal government, then led by Pierre Elliott Trudeau, never prohibited or condemned anyone. The hate propaganda argument amounts to censorship. If I understand what my colleague is saying, Canada would be one of the few democratic countries in which calling for a boycott, a peaceful action by a citizen movement to criticize another state, would be condemned.
The Bloc Québécois believes in freedom of expression, whether a person is for or against the campaign. Freedom of expression takes precedence, and that is what we must protect from this motion. Does my esteemed colleague not agree?
Elizabeth May (Green Party Leader)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to rise on this motion. I will not be supporting it, but I want to make it very clear that the Green Party and I personally do not support the BDS movement. There is a Green Party in Israel which is consulted with frequently, and its view is that it would prefer that Green parties around the world do not support calls for boycotting Israel. Similarly, Green Party members do call for free speech and respect the right of Canadians to organize as they wish on issues that disturb them. There is no question that the plight of the Palestinian people is an issue that concerns many Canadians. I do not think that this is tactically an appropriate choice.
However, I ask the hon. Member — and I think he tried to tread this water carefully in his speech — that we not assume that a campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the state of Israel is based in hate, nor have we assumed that it is anti-Semitic. If the United Church of Canada carries forward such a campaign, it is not an anti-Semitic organization; it is not a hate-filled organization. I put to the hon. member this interesting vote count from the Israeli Knesset. In July 2011, that parliament of Israel voted on a question of whether to condemn calls for boycotts against Israel as a civil wrong. The vote carried, but it was not overwhelming. There were 47 members of the Knesset who voted for it, and 38 members voted against it. The 38 members who voted against it were certainly not hate filled against the State of Israel.