THE QUESTION BDS ACTIVISTS FAIL TO ADDRESS
The House of Commons’ debates leading up to Tuesday’s 229- 51 vote to reject and condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions ( BDS) movement that has become such high fashion among the anti-Israel crowd in Canada lately, set off all the usual histrionics in all the usual places, and all the usual questions were canvassed and kicked around in exactly the way we have all come to expect.
As always, however, one question about the international BDS campaign was never properly addressed. It is the only question that really matters, especially if one is genuinely concerned about the Palestinians and the torments and humiliations they are routinely obliged to endure in Gaza and the West Bank.
The question is this one: does the BDS strategy truly hold out the promise of improving the lives of the long- suffering Palestinian people, or advance the prospects for peace, or serve the cause of a democratic Palestinian state emerging from decades of antagonism to coexist alongside Israel?
You might not be surprised at who it was who came up with the most convincing answers to that question when I was asking around this week. But if you’ve absorbed the usual popular assumptions that underlie the debates about the Israeli-Palestinian agony, you will be surprised by what he has to say.
Bassem Eid is a prominent Palestinian human rights activist who lives with his wife and four children in the ancient West Bank city of Hebron, in the Judaean Mountains, about 30 kilometres south of Jerusalem. Eid, 58, grew up in East Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp. He cut his teeth as an investigator for B’Tselem, the controversial non- governmental organization that focuses on Israel’s trespasses upon the human rights of West Bank Palestinians.
Ten years ago, Eid founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, an investigative agency with more of an emphasis on the gross and almost universally overlooked human rights abuses Palestinians suffer at the hands of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.
“The BDS campaign is completely contradictory to the Palestinian cause. We will never build peace this way. It has been catastrophic. The Palestinian people want prosperity, and BDS is about a totally different agenda. It is the agenda of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iran. The agenda of the BDS campaign is to try to destroy Israel. What I try to explain to people is that if you support BDS, you are not supporting the Palestinian cause. You are not even aware of the Palestinian cause.”
The National Post’s John Ivison perhaps put it best in summing up the strange Parliamentary dance between the Opposition Conservatives and the governing Liberals ( the Conservatives brought the anti- BDS motion to the House of Commons last week). Both parties oppose the BDS campaign’s efforts to isolate and demonize Israel, and both parties wanted to out- do the other in the debate. “It was like watching Gandhi and Mother Teresa agree on the benefits of non-violence, then bicker about who was thinner,” wrote Ivison.
The NDP, which also officially opposes the BDS campaign ( to the chagrin of no small cohort of well- organized NDP activists), tried to turn things to its advantage with a transparently disingenuous effort to pretend the motion was something that it was not.
“Let’s be clear,” said NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, “the Conservatives are proposing to limit what topics Canadians are allowed to debate. That’s not the role of government. This goes against our fundamental freedoms and the NDP will be voting against it.”
That was hogwash on high heels, as anyone literate enough to at least read the motion should be capable of discerning.
Eid found the free speech bit amusing. You just try and organize events denouncing the BDS campaign on a university campus nowadays. Last Thursday, Eid had to be escorted away from the University of Chicago after pro- BDS activists disrupted a speech he’d been invited to deliver. One pro-BDS protester was heard saying. “I’m going to kill this motherf---er.” Eid faced similar disruptions across town at DePaul University on Saturday night and, on Sunday night, Eid’s speech at Northwestern University had to be moved to a safer venue that excluded non-students.
That’s the BDS commitment to free speech for you. Good luck bringing in speak- ers from Israel. Eid is set to speak at an event at York University in Toronto on March 11. He said he will be in touch with the organizers to ensure that if it’s a public event, they’ll have real police in attendance, not just campus security officers.
In the l ead- up to this week’s House of Commons vote there was also much dudgeon articulated to the effect that the motion was frightfully uncharitable to such arbiters of proper deportment as the United Church of Canada. After all, the United Church supports “pro-Palestinian” boycott initiatives, and what scoundrel would traduce the United Church?
Although t he United Church opposed the House of Commons motion, and the United Church counsels the shunning of goods produced by Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the United Church national moderator, the Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell, wrote this to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “The United Church of Canada does not describe itself as being part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions ( BDS) movement.” By such means, one retains one’s Hipster Jesus thing while avoiding the unseemly Judenstaatrein tendencies of so many of the BDS campaign’s leading windbags.
To recap the history of BDS, without getting into any of the unambiguously antiSemitic Boycott Jews associations from Europe’s recent past:
The movement kicked off before Israel was born, with a preemptive campaign waged by the Arab League against the Jewish population of Palestine, in 1945. The campaign was formalized after Israel’s birth in 1948, and its purpose was unambiguous: to smother the Jewish state in its cradle. As peace talks started to trundle along in the 1990s, the boycott withered, but it was revived at the notorious Durban conference in 2001, which cast boycotts, divestments and sanctions within a suite of strategies — including the “apartheid” smear — explicitly designed to isolate and marginalize Israel.
The objective is to end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, including by means of a “right of return” that proposes to return the several million descendants of the original refugee population to non-existent villages within what is now Israel. That objective was re- articulated in the formal launch of the BDS movement a decade ago, tacked on to other such unachievable demands as “dismantling the wall” that protects Israelis from Palestinian terror attacks.
Another thing making the rounds this week was the proposition that is an unpardonable transgression of decorum to suggest that there might be anything antiSemitic about the BDS campaign. So I asked Eid.
“Of course it’s anti-Semitic. There is no doubt about it. It is because it’s anti- Semitic that the campaign has such energy around it. These activists believe that Israel should not exist, that there should not be a Jewish state, that the Jewish people should not exist,” Eid said. “And by the way, this goal will never benefit the Palestinian people, not in the short term, and not in the long term.”
DOES THE MOVEMENT DO ANYTHING TO ALLEVIATE THE SUFFERING OF THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE?