The lineups at local border crossings to the United States over the Canada Day long weekend suggest rhetoric about Canadians avoiding visits to our neighbour have been largely overblown. We may be repulsed by the Trump administration’s treatment of would-be refugees, especially children, but cheap gas, cheese and milk – as well as the plethora of delights at Trader Joe’s – mean many of us just can’t stay away.
Ironically, it is partly because our dairy products are so expensive – because of our supply management system – that the U.S. president is raging at Canada in the first place and why we amped up our tariffs July 1 in a trade war Trump launched.
At the same time, most of us know that our immediate neighbours are much like ourselves. The places we are most likely to drive to – Bellingham, Seattle and smaller centres dotting the American Pacific coast – are inhabited by some of the most liberal voters in that country. These are not places where Trump bumper stickers or MAGA caps are widely prevalent.
Likewise, if we jump on a plane, the destinations we choose tend to be similar in attitudes: the beaches, amusement parks or golf resorts of Southern California, the wine country of Northern California, oases in Arizona that are likely to have as many Albertans as native-born Arizonans. Punishing businesses in these locations because their president has xenophobic views doesn’t seem particularly sensible.
On the other hand, we might have more reticence about stepping out of these familiar spots. We might rethink road-tripping across the country; that generations-tested means of memorable family bonding, backseat battles and boredom. Almost anyone who has traveled through rural America returns with stories of salt-of-the-earth kindness and folksy friendliness. Yet, knowing that some counties in the most picturesque parts of the United States voted for Trump – and still support him by huge margins – one might be forgiven for looking askance at the family in the next booth at the roadside diner. What is behind the smiles and extroverted affability that can turn so mean in the ballot box and when responding to public opinion polls about immigrants and minorities?
Leaving aside whether we would feel personally comfortable in some locations, there is the larger issue of whether Canadians should boycott American products. On social media this week, you can find suggested product choices that make it easier to buy Canadian instead. It’s a matter of individual choice whether this is a productive use of energy, but, if it makes people feel better and helps the Canadian economy in a time of challenge, it seems like a fine enough gesture.
It is notable, though, to compare the nascent cross-border boycott to the BDS movement against Israel. Admittedly, the U.S.-Canada clash is mere weeks old, while the Israeli-Arab conflict has been in high gear for seven decades, giving sides more time to organize. But, while a significant number of Canadians seem to think that a boycott of Israeli products, ideas and people is a legitimate tactic, it is doubtful that a similarly organized movement will coalesce around the idea of boycotting Americans.
Some BDS supporters have maintained that their boycott targets Israeli “policies,” although the founder of the movement, Omar Barghouti, has no qualms about his position that Israel should cease to exist as a Jewish state. In any event, how bad would American “policies” need to become before BDS advocates devoted their substantial energies to boycotting U.S. products? Certainly we are unlikely to see a Canadian consensus that suggests a total economic, cultural, academic and social boycott of America, as the BDS movement promotes with Israel. It would be impossible, of course, given the interconnectedness of our countries, but the question remains: Why do some take the hard line with Israel but not with other countries?
Indeed, consider the approach held by most people, even those who are likely to support BDS: with North Korea, Iran and anyone else with whom we have not insubstantial differences, the consensus approach is engage, mediate, negotiate. It’s the approach we are pursuing with the United States on one hand, while retaliating with tariffs on the other. Yet, when it comes to Israel, in economic matters, academic interactions, sporting competitions and every level of human interface, a sizeable group demands that we make Israel an international pariah, isolate it in every way, exclude it from the global community. What can that possibly be about?