Q. Is this statement an endorsement of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel?
A. No, this statement is not an endorsement of BDS. The statement focuses on the issue of BDS because the Canadian government has been equating BDS with a form of anti-Semitism and claiming that there will be “zero tolerance” towards BDS in Canada. This statement points out that it is purposefully misleading to equate the tactic of BDS with a hatred of Jewish people. It makes the point that anyone ought to be able to support non-violent tactics such as boycotts of any country, including the State of Israel, without fear of criminalization or other forms of state repression.
Q. Why does the statement refer to criminalization? When has the government said that it will be illegal to criticize the State of Israel?
A. The Canadian government has repeatedly characterized criticism of— and boycott efforts targeting—the State of Israel as “discrimination” and a form of Jew-hatred, has made changes to the criminal code through Bill C-13 that parallel changes made to the penal code in France—where numerous Palestinian human rights activists have been convicted of inciting racial hatred—and has made clear that it seeks to implement a “zero tolerance” approach to those who engage in this form of freedom of expression. “Zero tolerance” will be employed against “rhetoric towards Israel” and attempts to “delegitimize” it. We believe that these actions by the Canadian government constitute a tangible threat to criminalize criticism of the State of Israel in Canada.
Since the statement was drafted, this pattern of governmental behaviour has intensified. A motion has been passed in the House of Commons which “reaffirms the importance of the Ottawa Protocol on Combating antisemitism as a model for domestic and international implementation.” The Ottawa Protocol called on “parliaments and governments to adopt the EUMC working definition and anchor its enforcement in existing law.”
The European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) working definition on anti-Semitism has been rejected by the EU itself, and was in fact, never implemented by the EU. In Canada, nonetheless, the House of Commons recently passed a motion which embraces it. The EUMC working definition lists “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and “applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” as instances of anti-Semitism.
The passage of this motion followed a take-note debate in the House of Commons on the global rise of anti-Semitism, in which Conservative and Liberal MPs defamed Palestinian human rights activists—and especially students— as hateful, and even as anti-Semitic.
Q. Isn’t it anti-Semitic to call for a boycott of Israel, since Israel is the world’s only Jewish state?
A. While Israel claims to be a Jewish state, it is not a representative body of all Jews in the world. Israel is a sovereign state, and as such, represents its citizens. The majority of Jews in the world have chosen not to obtain Israeli citizenship, and live outside of Israel as proud citizens of their respective countries. Many Jews oppose Israel’s claim to speak for them, and do not identify with the political ideology of Zionism. It is essential to bear in mind that more than 20% of Israel’s citizenry is non-Jewish, and mainly Palestinian. It is they who are demanding that Israel be a state of all its citizens, rather than a state that allocates resources based on one’s ethnic and religious background—as Israel currently does—in favour of its Jewish citizens.
The movement to exert pressure on Israel through campaigns of boycotts, divestment and sanctions was initiated by over 170 Palestinian organizations, representing a wide spectrum of Palestinian civil society. Because the State of Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ rights and flout international law with impunity, Palestinians and their supporters around the world are increasingly embracing the non-violent tactic of BDS as a means of changing Israel’s behaviour.
There are three demands in the BDS call: 1) For Israel to dismantle the Separation Barrier and end its occupation of all Arab lands occupied since June 1967; 2) For Israel to grant full equality to its Palestinian citizens; and 3) For Israel to respect the right of displaced Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties, as stipulated in UN Resolution 194. Once these three demands are met, there will be no need to call for BDS to be used against the State of Israel.
All three demands are enshrined in international law, and the first and third demands are echoed in official Canadian public policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Memorandum of Understanding signed by Canada and Israel declares that both parties will develop a “coordinated, public diplomacy initiative … to oppose boycotts of Israel, its institutions, and its people within three to six months”. But it should be noted that the BDS call is clear in opposing boycotts of Israeli individuals on the basis of their citizenship. Cultural and academic boycotts are part of the BDS call, but the guidelines are unequivocal in calling for a boycott of Israeli state institutions, rather than boycotts of Israeli academics or artists based on their country of origin.
The tactic of BDS targets not only complicit Israeli companies, but any company that is complicit in the violation of Palestinians’ rights.
Q. What does Canada mean by agreeing to implement a “public diplomacy initiative” to “oppose boycotts of Israel”?
A. The Canadian government has yet to make clear precisely how it will “oppose” those who employ the tactic of boycott, ranging from liberal Zionist supporters of Israel who are calling for a boycott of goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements, to others who, for example, call for severing ties with Israeli academic institutions. Regardless, we must guard against attempts by the Canadian government to silence Israel’s critics, either through Bill C-13 or Bill C-51.