Two votes were held on February 22 – one in Ottawa in the House of Commons and the other at McGill University in Montreal – on the issue of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
The Commons voted on a motion, put forward the week before by Conservative MPs Tony Clement and Michelle Rempel, which read, “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.”
Clement led off the House debate on February 18, calling BDS a form of discrimination, “just like boycotts that have targeted Jews throughout history.”
It quickly emerged in the debate that the Liberal government would support the motion.
“The world will win nothing for boycotting Israel but depriving itself of the talents of its inventiveness,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion said, adding, “We must fight anti-Semitism in all its forms,” signalling the government’s recognition that there is – as former justice minister Irwin Cotler points out – a “new anti-Semitism,” in which Israel is targeted as “the collective Jew” among the nations.
In the lengthy debate, Liberal and Conservative MPs rose to support the motion, while NDP MPs and Green Party leader Elizabeth May spoke against the motion because they said it was an attack on freedom of speech and dissent. At the same time, though, the NDP and May stressed their opposition to BDS and their support for a two-state solution.
Among the most eloquent voices in the debate were new Jewish MPs Michael Levitt (York Centre) and Anthony Housefather (Mount Royal).
“BDS is about intolerance. It is a broader movement to demonize and delegitimize Israel and collectively punish all Israelis by holding Israel alone responsible for the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Levitt.
Housefather gave a speech on the history of anti-Semitism in Canada and explained how the BDS movement has taken its place in that history. Housefather also showed how the elimination of the State of Israel as a Jewish state was one of the BDS movement’s actual goals.
The motion passed easily by a vote of 229-51. The Bloc Québécois joined the NDP in opposing the motion.
Of Ottawa’s MPs, the motion was supported by Andrew Leslie (Orléans) and Pierre Poilievre (Carleton). Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa West-Nepean), my own MP, abstained.
For some reason or another, the rest of Ottawa’s MPs were not in the House to vote on the motion. These included Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre), who, as a Cabinet member would have voted in favour, had she been present; Mauril Bélanger, who is facing serious health issues; Karen McCrimmon (Kanata-Carleton); Chandra Arya (Nepean); and David McGuinty (Ottawa South).
A few hours later, an assembly of the Student Society of McGill University voted 512-357 to support BDS. The assembly attracted less than three per cent of McGill’s 30,000 undergraduate students. The assembly result then needed to be ratified by an online vote open to all McGill undergrads.
And, true to the motion passed that day in Parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted a statement in reaction to the McGill vote: “The BDS movement, like Israeli Apartheid Week, has no place on Canadian campuses. As a @McGillU alum, I’m disappointed. #EnoughIsEnough”
And enough was enough in the McGill ratification vote when when students voted 2,819-2,119 (57 per cent to 43 per cent) to reject BDS.
As a side note, there was a recent Jerusalem Post report – quickly withdrawn because it was incorrect – that Israeli pop singer Achinoam Nini, a.k.a Noa, who is headlining the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration, supports BDS.
But, following the report, the Jewish National Fund of Canada withdrew its sponsorship of the event saying, “The entertainer that has been hired does not reflect, nor correspond to the mandate and values of the Jewish National Fund of Canada.”
However, the Embassy of Israel in Ottawa and the Consulate General of Israel in Toronto have stepped in and will sponsor the event.