In a turn of events that party regulars and, really, no Canadians anticipated, Elizabeth May is spending her vacation this week considering whether to resign as leader of the Green Party of Canada.
The impetus, apparently, is her party’s decision at its recent convention to adopt a resolution that attacks Israel and calls for boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning the Jewish state. It’s all part of a movement (shorthanded BDS) that hides behind the language of human rights to separate Israel from the community of nations, while ignoring not just the atrocities perpetrated by the Palestinian governments of Hamas and Fatah but also the most serious human rights abuses in the world.
May made it clear before the convention that she opposed the resolution, though most delegates probably did not realize it was a stay-or-quit litmus for the leader. After the vote, May complained that the issue was not subjected to a fulsome debate at the convention and that she did not have the opportunity to explain why she opposed the policy and why delegates should join her in rejecting BDS. Still, most delegates would surely have known how their leader – who earlier this year was endorsed in a leadership review with a whopping 93% – stood on the issue, given extensive media coverage.
There was something odd even in some of the remarks by opponents of the BDS policy, which emphasized the electoral albatross BDS would hang around the party’s neck, rather than the inherent immorality and hypocrisy of BDS. Critics seemed to assume BDS is a vote-loser, but is this assumption based on the fact that informed Canadians would oppose the movement? Or on the stereotype-founded idea that messing with the “Zionist lobby” is a no-win proposition? This may be unfair criticism if we assume rational people equate immoral, hypocritical policies with electoral failure.
May has spent a decade attempting to put the Green Party of Canada on the political map and succeeded, in 2011, in becoming the first Green MP elected to Canada’s House of Commons. She was reelected in 2015. She is almost certainly the only Green party public figure most Canadians can identify. Without her at the helm, the party would lose its sole recognizable face.
After the convention vote, May said there were plenty of issues she was happy to defend going into the next federal election, but BDS is not one of them. The anti-Israel movement has put her in this spot and it is an object lesson for Canadian politics more broadly.
BDS is a parasitic movement, attempting to infiltrate vulnerable hosts like the Green party and other well-intentioned trade unions, academic groups and social justice movements with an ideology that is not progressive at all, but anti-democratic and anti-intellectual.
BDS, and the anti-Israel movement more broadly, has attempted and in many cases succeeded in convincing progressive Canadians that they share values and ideals. Had the Green party engaged in the fulsome debate May says she wishes had happened, there would have been an opportunity to point out that BDS presents a one-sided, unbalanced interpretation of events that does not advance peace, that demonizes Israel and that makes common cause with the world’s most misogynist, homophobic and illiberal forces.
It was when the New Democratic Party of Canada was at its lowest ebb, in the 1990s and early 2000s, that the party’s policy was co-opted by extremists who used the language of human rights to advance an anti-Israel agenda that was anything but rights-oriented. Since then, the anti-Israel movement (because, as we have reiterated here, “pro-Palestinian” does not do justice to the injustices the movement excuses) has tried to graft itself onto any emerging cause.
It began, most visibly, with the eccentric Queers Against Israeli Apartheid – who privilege official Palestinian oppression of LGBTQ people over the reality that Israel is (at the very least) an oasis of freedom for gay people in a desert of sexual repression – and has spread to other movements, including Black Lives Matter.
Black Lives Matter, a desperately necessary effort to confront police violence and systemic discrimination against African-Americans, recently adopted a manifesto rife with boilerplate loathing of Israel and attestations of support for the national cause of Palestinians. Black Lives Matter has no foreign policy, except inasmuch as smearing Israel constitutes a worldview.
Why? Because the anti-Israel movement is adept at playing on the guilt of progressive people and movements to advance an agenda that is, at root, backward, violence-justifying and ignorant of history.
The BDS movement succeeded in co-opting the Green party into adopting its regressive position and now, depending on May’s decision on her future, may have done irreparable harm to the party, as BDS continues to harm the prospect of peace in the Middle East and a better life for Palestinians, the ostensible beneficiaries of the movement.