Highlights of the BDS debate in Parliament, Feb. 18, 2016
The Feb. 18 debate in the House of Commons on Israel and BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is one of the most complete and thorough discussion of Israel's relation to Canada ever.
We have reformatted the debate into a free 95-page ebook. Our version makes the remarks of Members of Parliament as recorded in Hansards more readable by removing procedural interruptions, hundreds of technical annotations, and remarks that aren't related to the BDS debate.
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The resolution introduced by Tony Clement (Parry Sound—Muskoka, CPC) on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada was
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.
Stéphane Dion (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lib.) stated the government's position (page 7 in the ebook).
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 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.
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.
Stemming the flow of investment can only create more misery and despair.... 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.
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.
All parties supported the sense of the resolution. The disagreement was largely related to whether it was appropriate for Parliament to "condemn" positions taken in good faith by members of the public and thereby stifle debate on the issues.
Hélène Laverdière (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, NDP) put the case this way (page 13 in the ebook):
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.
Peter Kent (Thornhill, CPC) replied it was not a free speech issue at all.
The boycott, divest, sanctions campaigners claim it to be a human rights movement. In fact, it is nothing more than a thinly disguised, multi-dimensional hate campaign.
On one hand, it targets the economy and citizens of the only democracy in the Middle East. It seeks to delegitimize and demonize Israel with hateful, hypocritical anti-Semitic attacks.
On the other hand, on Canadian university and college campuses, the BDS movement focuses the new anti-Semitism on pro-Israel and Jewish students, disrupting with hate what should be a happy, uplifting student experience.
The most forceful condemnation of BDS came from Tom Kmiec (Calgary Shepard, CPC). He began by quoting a Yiddish proverb: “The smallest vengeance poisons the soul”.
The BDS movement is vengeful, petty, counterproductive. It poisons the olive branch of peace that individuals on both sides of the conflict are attempting to nurture. It discriminates based on nationality and ethnicity. It undermined peace by endangering Palestinian jobs linked to Israeli-owned companies. It imports a foreign conflict to Canada.
It achieves none of the goals of its supporters. It is not pro-Palestinian; it is anti-Israel, anti-Jewish and, in many cases, anti-Semitic. It poisons whatever potential for goodwill there exists between these two competing sides. It shields the anti-Semites behind a veil a righteousness to pretend to fight for the weak and the downtrodden, while actually promoting hate, a hate that poisons the soul.
Michael Levitt (York Centre, Lib.) also denied the motion was about free speech.
No one is claiming that Israel should be above the law. The issue is not that universal human rights standards should not be applied to Israel; they should be applied equitably to the same extent they are applied right here in Canada. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The cause of human rights, for which Canadians care so deeply, is being hijacked and abused, with Israel being denied fair and equal treatment.
The BDS movement is anti-Semitism, and I am proud to stand in the House and condemn it as such.
Omar Alghabra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Consular Affairs), Lib.) said it was the BDS movement that created hostility to dialogue (page 40 in the ebook).
I want to be clear. In order to create a hospitable environment for dialogue, we must actively fight against hate, racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia in all of their forms. Our challenge is that we must also ensure we encourage constructive and meaningful conversation.
I do not believe a boycott is a constructive approach. I did not enter politics to promote boycott but to encourage engagement and dialogue between parties for the purpose of reaching long-lasting peace.
Some BDS advocates believe its an important non-violent approach to raising awareness about the situation over the last years in the region and the lack of progress. As mentioned previously in the House, we must be careful not to paint everyone with one brush. Many BDS advocates are human rights champions who want to see progress on this issue. We should be intolerant toward hate, but find ways to tolerate passionate disagreements.
Yet, we must recognize that some BDS advocates may have anti-Semitic motives. Some are blinded by their passion. I firmly believe that double standards should and must be called out in every instance. For example, criticizing the government of Israel for certain behaviour while excusing it when committed by others is unacceptable. Equally, we should be able to criticize the Israeli government for similar actions that we criticize other governments for.
One of the most eloquent speeches (page 50 in the ebook) was made by Anthony Housefather (Mount Royal, Lib.), who gave a short history of the Jews in Quebec and anti-Semitism in Canada along with a complete refutation of the BDS position.
BDS is clearly singling out Israel. It is clearly a new form of anti-Semitism. We in the House have always condemned racism. We have always condemned xenophobia, and we condemn those who promote it. It does not mean that everyone who supports the BDS movement is an anti-Semite, but the movement itself is anti-Semitic. The end result is, that is what it does. It makes Jewish and pro-Israel students feel uncomfortable on Canadian campuses. It makes them feel uncomfortable to go to school. That is not right.
Therefore, in the end result, I would ask those people who are opposed to BDS to support the motion and not to say they are not doing so because of a violation of freedom of expression.
Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, CPC) responded:
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member on what I thought was an excellent speech, the best speech I have heard from a Liberal in a very long time.
I dare say he got much more applause on this side of the House than he did on his own.
After nearly 55,000 words had been spoken, Judy Sgro (Humber River—Black Creek, Lib.) concluded the debate (page 94 in the ebook).
It is evident that new forms of anti-Semitism are being revealed alongside older iterations in many countries where Jews, Jewish businesses, synagogues, and Jewish institutions continue to come under attack. This can often occur in violent form, as we have witnessed in the attacks against the Jewish Museum in Brussels, in May 2014, and the attack against the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen just over a year ago.
In fact, a 2015 study by the widely respected Pew Research Centre reported that there has been a marked increase in the number of countries where members of the Jewish community were harassed. In 2013, the harassment of Jews, either by government or social groups, was found in 39% of countries, which was a seven year high.
Discrimination and intolerance causes suffering, spreads division, and contributes to a climate of fear and stigmatization. Anti-Semitism, given its long history, is a particularly pernicious and chronic form of discrimination. Actions motivated by intolerance have no place in any country and are in opposition to values that we in this House hold so dear, such as pluralism, diversity, and inclusion. Canada supports efforts to combat all forms of racism and discrimination.
However, the Government of Canada understands that hatred can manifest itself in specific forms that requires differing degrees of responses.
Anti-Semitism is indicative of a unique form of racism, one whose extreme manifestations has led to some of the darkest hours in the history of humankind. In January 27, 2016, all parties in this House remembered the atrocities and crimes against humanity committed against the Jewish people during the Holocaust.
As we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and as the Minister of Foreign Affairs indicated in his statement on January 27, we must remember the six million Jews and millions of other victims of the Holocaust, and we must be ever mindful of the dangers of anti-Semitism and intolerance that continues to persist in this world today.