In early August, the Green Party of Canada voted at its national convention to endorse boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) measures against segments of Israel’s economy and society. BDS advocates were quick to claim victory, citing that the Greens are now the first Canadian political party of any significance to support BDS.
But not so fast.
In the wake of the vote, party leader Elizabeth May immediately declared she was “devastated” by the decision and “disappointed that the membership has adopted a policy in favor of a movement that I believe to be polarizing, ineffective and unhelpful in the quest for peace and security for the peoples of the Middle East.” May added that, “as is the right of any member, I will continue to express personal opposition to BDS” – a breath-taking statement to hear from a party leader, particularly when the leader is the party’s sole voice in Parliament.
In the weeks that followed, May openly mused to the media about how this entire episode was causing her to rethink her future in the Green party. In an interview with CBC Radio, May talked about the possibility of walking away from the party: “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. There are a lot of issues I want to be talking about with Canadians, and this isn’t one of them.”
And May wasn’t alone. The leader of the Green Party of British Columbia, Andrew Weaver, issued a scathing statement disavowing the federal party’s decision. “This is not a policy that I nor the B.C. Green party support,” said Weaver. “I think the Green Party of Canada needs to take a careful look at their policy process and ask themselves how a policy that goes against Green party values could have been allowed on the floor of a convention.”
Various Green candidates likewise condemned the decision. One from Ottawa said, “I’m in a state of disbelief.… I don’t agree with it, I don’t like having that over me going into [the next] election.” Another, from Halifax, said the policy is “destructive for the party.… Every country has its issues. When we specifically single out Israelis, I worry about the buzzwords and subtext and code language, which is antisemitic.”
A party torn apart. A leader willing to quit. Controversial headlines eclipsing anything else the party intended to highlight coming out of convention. Is this what a BDS victory looks like?
The fight against BDS revolves around psychology much more than economics. Israel’s economy is strong, with trade and ties growing despite calls for BDS. But, on the psychological level, BDS activities have the potential to poison attitudes toward Israel among civil society organizations and demoralize the Jewish community. On both levels, BDS proponents failed when it comes to the Green party.
While May has since declared she will stay on as leader, every Green voter should be outraged that BDS activists – in using the party to promote their own marginal agenda – nearly pushed the Greens’ only voice in Parliament out of the party. If anything, this initiative has exposed the toxic nature of BDS to those it intended to seduce. As CIJA Chair David Cape recently wrote: “Once again, BDS has proven bitterly and publicly divisive for political parties that contemplate endorsing it. In this case, BDS has sown resentment among Greens and come at a great cost for anti-Israel activists.”
And when it comes to the morale of the Jewish community, this issue has mobilized thousands of Jewish Canadians across the political spectrum (including former Green party members) to speak out and condemn the party’s hostility toward Israel. In a matter of weeks, CIJA galvanized some 7,500 Canadians to email the Green party’s leadership to express their opposition to this initiative. Without question, our united efforts had an impact, with May openly admitting BDS is “very clearly a polarizing movement that leaves most of the Jewish community in Canada feeling that it is antisemitic.”
Hopefully, this will spur May and other Greens to take the steps needed to annul the BDS policy and regain control of the party’s direction from those behind this hateful agenda.
Steve McDonald is deputy director, communications and public affairs, at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.