Elizabeth May may or may not (pun intended) be the leader of the Green Party of Canada by the time you read this issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
May – the party’s long-time leader and the only federal MP ever elected under its banner – was put in an awkward, difficult and, in my opinion, unsustainable position at the party’s convention this month in Ottawa when it voted to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel despite May’s fierce and often-stated opposition to the movement.
In June, when it emerged that the proposal to support BDS had been put forth for the convention, May told many media outlets – including the Bulletin – that she would oppose the proposal at the convention.
And May, who was supported by 93.6 per cent of the Green Party membership in a leadership review earlier this year, did stand firmly against BDS at the convention, noting she believes the BDS movement is “polarizing, ineffective, and unhelpful in the quest for peace and security for the peoples of the Middle East,” adding, “I will continue to express personal opposition to BDS.”
May’s position is untenable because the Green Party membership – or at least the majority of voting delegates at its national convention – knowing her strong feelings on the BDS issue, put her in the position of having to represent a party platform containing a policy with which she fundamentally disagrees.
And, indeed, May now says the Green Party’s BDS vote calls into question whether she can stay on as party leader. In a revealing CBC radio interview that was scheduled to air August 13 on “The House,” but posted online in advance, May said she was “heartbroken” and would spend an upcoming vacation thinking about whether she can continue as leader and consulting with her family about her future.
May added that representing her constituents – she is MP for the West Coast riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands – was a much higher priority for her than being leader of the Green Party and that a decision to step down might come very soon.
“I would say, as of this minute, I think I’d have real difficulties going not just to an election but through the next month,” May said. “There are a lot of issues I want to be talking about with Canadians, and this,” referring to BDS, “isn’t one of them.”
This past February, the House of Commons passed a resolution condemning the BDS movement against Israel. The resolution was supported by the governing Liberals and the Conservatives, now the official Opposition, while the NDP voted against. May, herself, did not show up for the vote in the House.
In the debate preceding the vote, NDP members and May spoke against the motion, saying the motion itself was an attack on freedom of speech and dissent while stressing their opposition to BDS and their support for a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
May is absolutely correct in recognizing BDS as “polarizing, ineffective, and unhelpful” in the quest for a solution to the conflict. For one thing, it puts 100 per cent of the onus for the lack of progress in the peace process on Israel and completely absolves the Palestinians of any responsibility.
While the case can certainly be made that certain policies of the current Israeli government stand in the way of progress toward a solution, there are also policies and actions – including incitement to violence and glorification of terrorists – of the Palestinian Authority which, perhaps, do even more damage to the pursuit of peace.
At least Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps calling for direct negotiations with no pre-conditions between Israel and the Palestinians, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas keeps refusing to even come to the negotiating table.
And let us not forget the Palestinians have walked away, refusing further negotiations, when offered peace agreements by previous Israeli governments.
And let us also not forget that Gaza is governed by Hamas, a terrorist group that rejects peace and compromise with Israel.
Groups that advocate for peace between Israel and the Palestinians – for example Peace Now, J Street, the New Israel Fund, etc. – reject BDS as a tactic for the same reasons cited by May: the tactic is “polarizing, ineffective, and unhelpful.”
While some BDS advocates sincerely believe that BDS is simply a tactic to push Israel toward a peace settlement with the Palestinians (May said she thought that was what motivated its support in the Green Party), the reality is that support for BDS comes primarily from anti-Zionist individuals and groups seeking to delegitimize the State of Israel as the Jewish homeland.
And that brings us to the issue of anti-Semitism. As renowned human rights activist Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister of Canada, has pointed out, there is a “new anti-Semitism,” in which Israel is targeted as “the collective Jew” among the nations.
BDS, which singles out Israel, is an aspect of the new anti-Semitism. It is a tactic not meant to bring the sides together; it is meant, as May points out, to polarize them, to drive them further apart.
Even U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a harsh critic of the current Israeli government, rejects BDS and points to its inherent anti-Semitism.
So, what will happen with Elizabeth May? Will she stay on as leader or resign? Will she stay in the party or cross the floor? Could a post in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet be in her future?
And, if she does resign as party leader, will there be a future for the Green Party of Canada?