It certainly isn’t our first instinct to look for a silver lining following the Green Party’s shameful decision to endorse boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) this weekend. To the contrary, it’s downright sickening to see a federal party join the toxic ranks of the BDS movement – the core of which is antisemitic. But with few exceptions, no situation is without its bright spots and redeeming qualities, which is why I wanted to flag three key by-products of this entire episode.
1. 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.
After the party’s decision, Elizabeth May declared that she is “devastated” 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. As is the right of any member, I will continue to express personal opposition to BDS.”
It is perhaps unprecedented in federal politics for a leader to declare that they are “devastated” by and will not support their own party’s position after a vote at convention. Even more astonishing is May’s announcement that she will be reflecting on her future role as party leader given her opposition to BDS, noting that her primary loyalty is to her constituents rather than party.
The Leader of the B.C. Green Party also took the rare move of criticizing the federal party’s decision, calling it “a significant step away from the values that define the BC Green Party. This is not a policy that I nor the B.C. Green Party support.”
A former Green candidate likewise told media: “I’m in a state of disbelief, frankly, that we chose such polarizing language to talk about something that is full of nuance. …I don’t agree with it, I don’t like having that over me going into [the next] election.”
Another said that the decision was “destructive for the party. Any time we polarize things like this … you lose people. I feel marginalized by this vote. Every country has its issues. When we specifically single out Israelis, I worry about the buzzwords and subtext and code language, which is anti-Semitic.”
The theme of a divided party under fire – including by its own leader – dominated post-convention headlines: “Vote to support Israel boycott campaign divides Green Party” (Globe and Mail); “Official support for Israel boycott policy causes some Greens to fear for party’s future” (National Post); “Jewish groups condemn Green Party for supporting Israeli boycott policy” (CBC); “Elizabeth May expresses disappointment with Green Party support for ‘polarizing’ BDS movement” (Global News); “May ‘devastated’ by Greens’ adoption of controversial BDS policy” (Hill Times).
This experience is a powerful warning, both for Greens and other organizations, of the inherently painful, corrosive, self-destructive nature of BDS.
2. BDS may have passed, but the effort to target Jewish National Fund (JNF) failed miserably.
For years, anti-Israel activists have focused substantial energy on a malicious campaign to rescind JNF’s charitable status. While it is disgraceful that they were able to import this hateful agenda to the Greens’ convention, their plans ultimately unraveled as May and other party members rallied against the anti-JNF resolution on the basis that it contained falsehoods.
On Saturday, Greens voted to remove all reference to the JNF in the resolution, and instead issue a general call for Canada Revenue Agency to remove the status of any charity involved in human rights violations. What began as an effort to target a Zionist charity ended in a blanket policy that had nothing to do with Israel, and with which virtually no one could disagree.
3. This issue galvanized and united the Jewish community in an exceptional way.
When we launched our action alert campaign to mobilize community members to email Elizabeth May, we expected perhaps a few thousand responses. More than 7,500 individuals responded in what turned out to be our largest campaign ever.
Numbers cannot convey the many emails we received from individuals – including Greens – who reached out, offered to pitch in, and expressed their feeling that the party had betrayed them. The numbers also don’t reveal the strong support our community received from MPs across the spectrum who condemned the Greens’ decision and affirmed that fighting BDS should remain a point of non-partisan agreement.
We will continue to work with a coalition of the willing within the Green Party to reverse this outrageous decision. At the same time, we remain dedicated to fighting antisemitism wherever it appears and no matter what guise it takes. We will do so in the knowledge that even apparent setbacks can galvanize our community and strengthen our resolve.
David J. Cape
National Chair, CIJA