National Post (Latest Edition) - - CANADA - Terry Glavin

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.”



Bassem Eid


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