Is BDS Headed Towards Criminalization in Canada?
Grace Batchoun of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East says Canada’s Liberal government just passed a motion that could stifle or even suppress the voices behind the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in Canada
NADIA KANJI, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Nadia Kanji in Baltimore.
Canada’s Liberal government passed a Conservative-sponsored motion on Monday condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS movement, against Israel. The motion passed by a vote of 229-51, with about a dozen Liberals refusing to vote on the motion and one opposing it. The New Democratic Party voted against the measure, calling it an attack on free speech, as well as the right for individuals to hold diverse political views.
Joining us to discuss this is our guest, Grace Batchoun. Grace is the co-founder and VP Public Relations for Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. Thanks so much for joining us, Grace.
GRACE BATCHOUN: My pleasure.
KANJI: In an interview with the Canadian Jewish News last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who opposes the BDS movement, said it was the new form of anti-semitism in the world, and an example of the three Ds: demonization of Israel, delegitimization of Israel, and double-standard applied toward Israel.
So is this motion a defeat of anti-semitism and an honest defense of Israel?
BATCHOUN: So if we look at what BDS is about–so let’s talk about facts, okay. It’s very easy to say it’s this, it’s this, it’s that. But let’s just talk. What are the demands of BDS? That’s what I ask every single politician to go. When you discuss something, when you debate something, get the facts. Put the positions on the table.
So what are the demands of BDS, okay? Number one, they want the end of the occupation. This is exactly the same demands, the same position, as of our Canadian foreign policy. We want the end of the occupation, and the dismantling of the wall. So the end of the occupation, dismantling of the wall, and the end of the colonization. We are, everyone, everyone is against the illegal colonies. So that’s number one.
Number two, the BDS movement is asking for equal rights for Palestinians, Arabs, inside Israel as the other Israelis and Jews inside Israel. So they’re asking for equal rights. And the third thing is finding a fair and just solution for the resolution of the refugee question, and the respect of resolution 194. What’s interesting, Nadia, is that the demands of BDS are 100 percent aligned with our foreign policy. Just go, I really encourage everyone just to go to the website of Canadian foreign policy, and look out word by word, as if, honestly, the BDS movement had copied the foreign affairs policy of our Canadian government. So that is what BDS is all about.
KANJI: It’s interesting that you bring that up, Grace, because on the other side your organization, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, have, you know, lobbied [in peace] to support BDS. So I’d like to know, in your experience, in this motion, was there political pressure for Liberals and Conservatives to vote in favor of this motion, and can you go into that? To what degree does Canadian foreign policy interest shape this?
BATCHOUN: This is a very good question. We know the Conservatives had put out that motion. We know that Mr. Dion said he’s not comfortable with this motion. But what I find it hard to accept, if you’re not comfortable with something, why are you voting for it? You are the majority government. Don’t forget, you as Liberal party, you’ve got the majority. Mr. Dion said the Conservatives are bullies. So if you know the Conservatives are bullies, why are you letting them to bully you? Why don’t you stand up and say no?
And then I don’t know if people know, but the second part of the motion, it talks about condemning any and all individuals and organizations who are supporting BDS. Since when? How about our Charter of Rights and Freedoms? How about our [inaud.].
KANJI: But going back to this foreign policy element, going back to this foreign policy element, what are Canada’s interests with Israel? Like, what–are you saying that this, Canada’s foreign policy with Israel is somehow part of the reason why this motion has come into place? What are those interests?
BATCHOUN: I really feel Canadians and members of parliament really need to start looking at our Canadian foreign policy. Our Canadian foreign policy, we have a very good foreign policy, but really need to apply it. That’s the problem. We have an excellent Canadian foreign policy. Let’s just apply it. This is a motion that was presented by the Conservatives. We know what are the positions of the Conservatives. It’s all right and wrong, or wrong. There’s no questioning about anything. They call all kinds of name on BDS without really knowing what BDS is.
So if you are someone who cares about justice, if you’re someone who cares about children’s rights, why wouldn’t you want to support, as well, Palestinian human rights?
KANJI: And could this lead to the criminalization of BDS in Canada under hate speech laws?
BATCHOUN: I don’t–I honestly don’t think so. Like, how could you criminalize someone for his right to buy or not buy? I, I have the right to decide how to spend my money. If I don’t want to buy products from Saudi Arabia, no one could oblige me to buy products. So it just makes–honestly, for me, it just makes no sense. Like, who are you? Like, why–what role–. The government has no role in telling Canadians what to buy or what not to buy, what to do or what not to do.
KANJI: So do you think this is an affront to free speech in Canada? I mean, Thomas Mulcair has called it a thoughtcrime–like, has said this motion makes it a thoughtcrime to express an opinion.
BATCHOUN: We really have to go back to our values. What do we believe in? Do people have the right for freedom of expression? And then sometimes I wonder, I got so many emails this morning, and someone said, look, with everything that happened with the Charlie Hebdo, all of us, all of us, we’re Charlie, we’re Charlie, we’re Charlie, because we are for the freedom of expression. But as soon as someone tries to open up his mouth to promote human rights for the Palestinians, right away that person is muzzled. Why? Why? Do we really believe in freedom of expression, or are we just a bunch of hypocrites who are selective and apply freedom of expression as it suits them?
KANJI: Lastly, can you tell us about your campaign? CJPME has come out with a campaign, Make My Day, Condemn Me. What is this, exactly?
BATCHOUN: Well, this has been pretty much to challenge this government to say, like, really that motion, honestly if I could say that, just stupid. It makes no sense. Like, how could you dare to say we’re going to condemn any organization, any individual here and abroad? Like, this is the government who’s saying we’re going to–these are members of parliament who signed on to say this is what we’re going to do. So someone here on our team, he says, I’m ready, please, go ahead and condemn me. If you want to condemn me for promoting human rights, I’m really proud to be condemned, to be known everywhere that yes, I am promoting human rights.
And by the way, we are promoting Canadian foreign policy. So I think it’s time for our members of parliament to start learning what is Canadian foreign policy, [inaud.] at least.
KANJI: All right. So you can check that out if you’re interested on the CJPME website or Facebook page, I assume. Thank you so much for joining us, Grace.
BATCHOUN: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
KANJI: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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