Palestinian Civil Society Condemns Canadian Government Disinformation and Repression Against Boycott Movement
The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition of Palestinian civil society organizations that leads the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, has condemned the Canadian government’s ramped up disinformation campaign and repressive measures against the BDS movement for Palestinian rights.
BDS is a global, Palestinian-led nonviolent human rights movement that aims to apply pressure on Israel, as was done on apartheid South Africa, to fully comply with its obligations under international law.
Canada and Israel signed a series of cooperation agreements recently, one of which included an unprecedented commitment to work jointly to counter the continued growth of BDS.
On January 22, Canadian public safety minister Steven Blaney gave a speech at a meeting on anti-semitism at the United Nations General Assembly, convened in the wake of the Paris criminal attacks, that smeared the BDS movement as “anti-semitic.”
Rafeef Ziadah, a secretariat member of the the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the broad coalition of Palestinian civil society organizations that leads the BDS movement, said:
“Rather than seeking to hold Israel to account for its war crimes during the recent military assault on Gaza and its intensified colonization of the occupied West Bank, particularly in Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, the Canadian government is further deepening its collaboration with Israel’s occupation and launching a shameful, propagandistic attack on free speech in the process.
“The Canadian government’s continued unconditional support for Israel’s colonial policies and its smear campaign against BDS highlight the deeply ideological and reactionary character of this government. Canada is sending Israel the message that it can act with total impunity in violating human rights and international law.
“Sadly, while claiming to defend free speech the current Canadian government is among the most repressive in the west; it has gone farther than most in suppressing free speech and infringing the rights of its own civil society, including trade unions, community and faith groups, to participate in human rights campaigning, as in boycotts against Israel’s injustices.”
As a matter of principle, the BDS movement has consistently and categorically opposed all forms of racism, including anti-semitism and Islamophobia. The movement’s anti-racist, human rights platform is growing into the western mainstream and attracting growing support among Canadians, including many Jewish Canadians who join conscientious and progressive Jewish Israelis in rejecting Israel’s claim to commit its atrocities in their name.
In her 2009 article endorsing BDS against Israel’s regime of occupation and oppression, the world best-selling author Naomi Klein wrote:
“It’s time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa.”
The award-winning Canadian filmmaker John Greyson, who has produced some of the BDS movement’s most creative videos, has justified his support for BDS and boycott of the Tel Aviv queer film festival saying:
“[BDS] is the only peaceful means right now that can have an effect on the Israeli state that has gone completely out of control. … A line in the sand has been drawn.”
South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a great supporter of the BDS movement, after presenting a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council about an Israeli war crime in the occupied Gaza Strip in 2008 said:
“I think the West, quite rightly, is feeling contrite, penitent for its awful connivance with the Holocaust … . The West is penitent, the penance is being paid by the Palestinians. … I just hope that ordinary citizens in the West will wake up and say, ‘we refuse to be part of this’.”
Rafeef Ziadah concluded,
“At a time when people of conscience the world over are joining the Palestinian BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality and connecting it with their own struggles for social and economic justice, equal rights, indigenous rights, minority rights, and environmental protection, the Canadian government is standing on the wrong side of history, supporting a pernicious regime of Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.” •
Palestinians Condemn Canada’s Repression
of Boycott Movement, Free Speech
The largest Palestinian civil society coalition has condemned Canada’s escalating “disinformation campaign and repressive measures against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.”
“Rather than seeking to hold Israel to account for its war crimes during the recent military assault on Gaza and its intensified colonization of the occupied West Bank,” the Canadian government “is further deepening its collaboration with Israel’s occupation and launching a shameful, propagandistic attack on free speech in the process,” Rafeef Ziadah, a member of the Boycott National Commitee (BNC) secretariat, said in statement.
The BNC, the steering group for the international BDS campaign, cited a recent speech by Canadian public safety minister Steven Blaney vowing that Canada would continue to combat “anti-Semitism including attempts to delegitimize Israel such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”
The government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper also recently signed a series of cooperation agreements with Israel. In one, Canada and Israel vow to:
“work together to oppose efforts to single out or isolate Israel by developing a coordinated public diplomacy initiative to oppose boycotts of Israel, to oppose those who call into question the Jewish state’s right to exist and to work to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”
The BNC’s Ziadah continued:
“The Canadian government’s continued unconditional support for Israel’s colonial policies and its smear campaign against BDS highlight the deeply ideological and reactionary character of this government. Canada is sending Israel the message that it can act with total impunity in violating human rights and international law.”
Infringing Free Speech
Ziadah also pointed out that Canada, “while claiming to defend free speech,” has been “among the most repressive in the west; it has gone farther than most in suppressing free speech and infringing the rights of its own civil society, including trade unions, community and faith groups, to participate in human rights campaigning, as in boycotts against Israel’s injustices.” She noted that as “a matter of principle, the BDS movement has consistently and categorically opposed all forms of racism, including anti-semitism and Islamophobia.”
French leaders too have recently threatened harsher repression of Palestine solidarity activism under the guise of combating anti-Semitism.
Retaliation Against MIFTAH
On Wednesday, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), accused Canada of “indulging in political blackmail at the expense of our civil society institutions.”
According to a PLO statement, Ashrawi’s remarks were issued in response to a Canadian government “decision to terminate a contribution agreement it had between MIFTAH and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs.” MIFTAH is a nongovernmental organization chaired by Ashrawi that runs projects related to “reform,” women and youth. According to its 2013 financial statement, much of MIFTAH’s funding comes from the governments of Norway, U.S., UK and other European foundations.
“The project was terminated shortly following Dr. Ashrawi’s response to Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird’s insistence that the Palestinians are making a ‘huge mistake’” by going to the International Criminal Court, the statement says.
Ashrawi had said “the huge mistake is allowing Israel to persist in its violations and war crimes … Israel is enabled by apologists like John Baird to persist with the support of self-appointed advocates who become complicit in these war crimes.”
According to the PLO statement, the Representative Office of Canada in Israeli-occupied Ramallah “had requested that Dr. Ashrawi accompany the Canadian Representative on a visit to the project, and later, she was asked to write a letter expressing gratitude for this specific Canadian project.”
She apparently refused on the grounds that as “head of the Board of Directors, Dr. Ashrawi has no executive authority nor has she ever issued such statements or carried out such visits in relation to MIFTAH’s projects.”
The breakdown in Canada’s relations even with Ashrawi, a figure close to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas, is one measure of how extreme Canada’s anti-Palestinian policies have become. •
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, where this article first appeared.