Green Party of Canada Leader Reaffirms Leadership Following Row Over BDS

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While Elizabeth May says no to other parties, a strong stand for Palestinian rights includes making Israel pay the appropriate economic and political penalties for its clear violation of international law, says Dimitri Lascaris

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KIM BROWN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown.

Canadian MP Elizabeth May told reporters on Monday that she will stay on as leader of Canada’s Green Party after saying she was considering stepping down because of her opposition to the party’s recently-adopted policy of endorsing the strategy of Boycott Divest and Sanction against Israel.

Joining us today to discuss is Dimitri Lascaris. He is the attorney that does legal work in the fields of human rights and environmental law. He’s also the justice critic in the shadow cabinet of the Green Party of Canada and he is a board member of the Real News Network. Dimitri, thank you so much for joining us.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Thank you for having me.

BROWN: Dimitri, the Green Party adopted the BDS resolution during their convention this summer because they support a two state solution between Palestine and Israel. Elizabeth May seems to really want to have the party revisit this. Can you bring us up to speed on this issue?

LASCARIS: Right, well she – Elizabeth, I think, has been very clear about the party support for the two-state solution, a sovereign Palestinian state along essentially the 1967 borders. And in fact, the international community, including the current predecessor Canadian governments, have been very clear in their support for the two state solution. One of the fundamental obstacles if not the biggest obstacle by far to the two-state solution is Israel settlements in the West Bank its punishing siege and inhuman siege on Gaza which is creating a humanitarian crisis.

Ms. May, our leader, has quite rightly acknowledged the illegality of the settlements and that our party in 2014 adopted a policy which explicitly recognized that they were an obstacle to peace. Where Ms. May and I part company is how best to achieve a two-state solution. And my simple proposition, and the one I think was clearly embraced by a substantial majority of the members of the party on three occasions in the last 6 months in an online vote, in a workshop at the convention, and in the full plenary vote in the convention, is that we’re never going to have a two-state solution unless we ensure Israel’s respect for human rights law. And that means that there have to be penalties, appropriate penalties imposed on those sectors of Israel’s society and economy that are profiting from the occupation and the settlements.

That’s all that this resolution does. It says we want to bring about an end to the settlements and a real negotiation toward a two-state solution by imposing peaceful economic and political sanctions on those sectors of Israel’s society and economy which profit form the occupation. Ms. May I think – I don’t want to speak for her, but I think her view is that there are other methods that I think are more likely to be successful. I think all other methods have been exhausted and quite some time ago in fact, they were all exhausted and this is the only real hope remaining to the Palestinian people. That’s my perspective.

BROWN: So a couple of questions here, Dimitri. So how does the Green Party of Canada, how would you party be able to implement a strategy of BDS, Boycott Divest and Sanctions, against Israeli interest, I imagine, in Canada? Explain to me how this would work.

LASCARIS: Well what this resolution is, it’s an expression support for the BDS movement. Which I think has quite significant moral and symbolic force for the Canadian public. We are operating in an environment here in Canada, and this is true in other western countries like the United States and France, in which apologists for the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, an extreme, violent, and racist government are creating very powerful disincentives to oppress support for BDS.

In this country we had a resolution passed with the support of, I think to the shame of, the Liberal government and the Conservative government, who seemed to have virtually no concern whatsoever for the plight of the Palestinian people. They adopted a resolution which came very close to describing support for BDS as anti-semetic. As I said, you’re seeing this in other countries and what you’re doing through this and I think quite properly and quite bravely as a party is we are breaking the taboo which the apologists for the Netanyahu government are trying to build around the BDS movement. They’re trying to make it taboo to even talk about it, express support for it.

So we are saying that the party that has representation in the Canadian parliament is prepared to express support for the BDS movement. This taboo is illegitimate and people should be free to come forward and to give support by for example refusing to buy products that are manufactured in the West Bank. So this is really an important symbolic expression of support. It will ignite and has ignited an important and essential conversation about how we bring about a two state solution after all of the failed attempts and Israel’s ongoing settlement activity in the West Bank.

That’s where I think we have something to contribute and I think that the push back that we’re getting from the government of Israel and its apologists like the B’nai B’rith demonstrate quite clearly that the government of Israel is quite concerned about the BDS movement. The government of Israel knows that this could actually have an impact on its economy and its trying to shut down debate about BDS precisely for that reason.

BROWN: And there was some pushback within Canada, even within the Green Party of Canada, about adopting the BDS resolution. And Elizabeth May said that the reason that she is not stepping down from the party as a whole is because she didn’t see another political party that would be a suitable home for her. But she did say she gave serious consideration about stepping down form her leadership position. What does it say to you that she did not elect to do that today?

LASCARIS: I think it’s good news for the Party. Elizabeth has many wonderful qualities. She has Deputy leader Daniel Green comment to them, television today. She’s developed an institutional knowledge about parliament. Something that we need in this party because we’;ve only had one seat. We’ve only won one seat in parliament, Elizabeth’s seat. So it’s a positive development that’s certainly very good news for the party that she’s staying on at the helm. And I think it does reflect the fact that Elizabeth’s core values are consistent with the core values of the party, and she understands that. Where else is she going to find a party that respects those core values? The liberals that support bill C-51, the anti-terror law that’s highly oppressive, that to want to see tar sands pipelines constructed that support democracy destroying trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership and the [CEDA].

No, this is the party where a fine individual like Elizabeth May is most at home. I’m hopeful that at the end of the day she will see the wisdom and support for BDS. I’m going to do all that I can to impress upon her that it is the right thing to do. And she commented today that she doesn’t believe, and I respect her opinion, but she doesn’t believe that we should be endorsing social movements like BDS. This is exactly what our party did when it endorsed the Leap Manifesto. The Leap Manifesto is fundamentally a social movement. It’s an expression of will, of social movement. It isn’t a partisan political document.

And if we’re prepared to endorse something as important and socially constructive as Leap manifesto, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t take in my view a strong stand for Palestinian rights and say that Israel should be made to pay appropriate peaceful economic and political penalties for its clear violation of international law.

BROWN: And Dimitri, lastly is the Green Party of Canada sort of alone politically when it comes to BDS as a strategy, as something to endorse even symbolically? What about the Trudeau administration? Have they shown any appetite for wanting to pressure Israel into a more equitable two state solution?

LASCARIS: None whatsoever and it’s shameful. I was just looking today at the government of Canada website and it says explicitly that the settlements quite properly recognized, that the settlements are a violation of international law, an obstacle to peace, and that the occupation should come to an end as quickly as possible. But he’s saying these things, Justin Trudeau, and his predecessors out of one side of his mouth. And out the other side of his mouth every time somebody like Benjamin Netanyahu comes to this country, they roll out the red carpet and the embrace him as one of Canada’s dearest friends on the international stage.

The Justin Trudeaus of this world are paying mere lip service to the plight of the Palestinian people. But I think that this is going to start changing now. If we hold firm and we stick with the resolve of the majority, the clear will of the majority, there’s going to be an impetus in other movements and I think particularly other parties. I think particularly the NDP where I know there to be a very broad base support for BDS amongst the grassroots. There’s going to be an impetus in that party to cause the leader, the new leader whoever it’s going to be, to adopt a position that reflects the will of its members. Then we can start a snowball effect, as it were. And then think at that point, once the NDP signs on then I’m confident that eventually the grassroots will prevail in that debate. Then we can start working on the liberal party and the grassroots of the liberal party.

BROWN: Alright. Well we’ve been joined with Dimitri Lascaris. He is an attorney who does legal work in the fields of human rights and environmental law. He is also the justice critic for the shadow campaign of the Green Party of Canada. We’ve been discussing Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party of Canada announcing on Monday, her decision to stay on as leadership there in spite her opposition to the adaptation of BDS by the Green Party of Canada at their convention. Dimitri we appreciate your time today. Thank you.

LASCARIS: Thank you for having me.

BROWN: Thanks for watching the Real News.

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