Architects and Organizers of BDS Reflect on Global Success, Fate Within Canada
Participants at the World Social Forum earlier this month in Montreal, Canada took up the questions of tactics, organizing, and the role of political parties in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel
THOMAS HEDGES: At the World Social Forum earlier this month in Montreal, Canada where progressives from around the globe gathered to discuss justice and resistance in the face of neoliberal forces. Activists reflected on the progress the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions or BDS movement has made over the last 10 years as it tries to place economic pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land.
OMAR BARGHOUTI: In the last couple of year we’ve transcended the academic and culture isolation of Israel’s regime to start to have an impact on Israel’s economy.
ALI ABUNIMAH: BDS stands for Boycott Divestment Sanctions. Boycott has been incredibly successful because it’s popular, it’s civil society. Divestment is coming along. We’ve seen it in churches. Again because it’s something that people are pushing for in the grassroots. The S in BDS requires government action but we know that governments don’t act without real pressure from the grassroots.
HEDGES: In the US many states have sought to limit the effectiveness of the BDS movement. New York and New Jersey for example recently put an end to doing state business with groups that support the movement. But at the World Social Forum activists had gathered just days after Canada’s Green Party moved to adopt BDS into its policy platform becoming the first major party to do so in Canadian history. The resolution to adopt hasn’t gone without condemnation. The party’s leader Elizabeth May denounced the decision to embrace BDS.
ELIZABETH MAY: I’m quite certain that most of our members don’t support this policy but weren’t fully engaged in the consensus building process we normally would have had.
SCOTT WEINSTEIN: You know politically we won. But tactically and strategically we might have been ahead of ourselves. And now the Green Party’s in crisis.
HEDGES: Scott Weinstein of Independent Jewish Voices in Montreal has worked with a number of groups to get them to adopt BDS. But he fears efforts to force the measure onto the Green Party platform may have been premature.
WEINSTEIN: Because Generally speaking, when we work with organizations in one capacity or another to approve BDS as a tactic, we do a lot of education for a year or so with them, with their membership and all that. So by the time they take the vote they really know what they’re voting on. We did not do that with the Green Party. I think that was a tactical mistake on the part of the people who introduced and the groups behind and who introduced the resolution.
HEDGES: But others blame the leadership unequivocally for not adopting a measure that they feel is overdue on the left in Canada.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Because polls have shown that some 60 and 70% of Canadians sympathize with the Palestinian people. Roughly equal percentages from a poll in 2014 sympathize with Israel. And the rest don’t declare themselves to be more sympathetic to one side or the other. And this was before the war on Gaza in 2014 when 551 Palestinian children were killed.
HEDGES: Dimitri Lascaris, the Green Party justice critic and board member of the Real News Network, is among a group of Green Party officials who’ve grown frustrated with the Green Party and its reluctance to fully embrace progressive positions.
LASCARIS: In our parliament there is no voice for the millions of Canadians who care deeply about the plight of the Palestinian people.
HEDGES: Alex Tyrrell, leader of the Green Party of Quebec is also disappointed with the stance Elizabeth May has taken and says the disagreement reflects a larger schism within the party.
ALEX TYRRELL: There’s definitely a certain amount of divide in the Green Party of Canada right now. And I think that the person that’s really pushing this divide is the leader of the party. I’ve faced a lot opposition for being a socialist within the Green movement, especially from the Green Party of Canada. The thing in both the Green Party of Canada is that the membership is actually far more progressive than the leadership. And we saw that when all these people supported BDS even though the leader had been speaking at the microphone quite aggressively against the resolution. So there’s definitely connections to be made between the way that the eco socialist Green Party of Quebec has been marginalized and the way that the people who support BDS are now being marginalized.
HEDGES: The question now for Canada along with many other countries around the world is can that pressure be sustained to the point of victory for the BDS movement? In the end the BDS movement which is 10 years old now has gained momentum as some of the world’s largest pension funds, for example, have started to pull out their investments from Israeli and international organizations involved in the occupation. Omar Barghouti a cofounder of the BDS movement along with Palestinian American Journalist Ali Abunimah say that recent efforts on the part of many governments to crush BDS is a reflection of just how potent the movement has become.
BARGHOUTI: As Martin Luther King Jr. said, at a basic level boycotting is withdrawing support from evil system. Think about that. That is not heroic. That is not charitable. It’s a profound moral obligation to end complicity in an unjust system.
ABUNIMAH: But I think it will be an outgrowth of popular pressure. Governments respond to that. They don’t give anything away for free. For example, the European Union requiring labeling of settlement goods. It’s a very minimal step. But it only came because of pressure. So the more that pressure is, the more we can demand of governments and the more they’ll have to give. The key demand from governments really is to end the arms trade with Israel because its’ that arms trade that commits Israel to steal Palestinian land to build settlements to besiege and bombard Gaza. So that’s one of the key ways governments are complacency and we’re seeing a lot of pressure of for an arms embargo.
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