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B'nai Brith takes its beef with the Green Party out on Independent Jewish Voices

Image: Flickr/Canada 2020

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In August, members of the Green Party of Canada have a convention scheduled and the motions that have been served are posted to their website.

This is a pivotal time for the GPC. Their leader, Elizabeth May, was an important opposition voice in Ottawa during the Harper years. May often voted with the Liberals, and now that the Liberals are in power, and with less than a year away from a provincial election in B.C. where they might make important gains, they need to define where on the political spectrum they are, especially in relation to the NDP.

Many of the motions served will help ground them firmly on the Left. Among the motions that have been posted on the GPC website, one seeks to lend the Green Party's support to the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and one calls for the Jewish National Fund to lose its charitable status. Both motions have raised the ire of B'nai Brith.

The National Post ran an article about the two motions, where Conservative MP Tony Clement was one side of the debate and Elizabeth May was on effectively the same side. She told the newspaper that "I'll do my very best to be as persuasive as I can possibly be" to stop the motions from passing.

The article goes on to remind that May was among the MPs who "disagreed" with the Conservatives' motion that condemned the BDS campaign, though she didn't show up for the vote. It had been co-sponsored by Clement.

B'nai Brith isn't too happy about the motions. In response, they've created a list of ways that people can "help stop Green Party Antisemitism."

What's fascinating about their list is that it seems like B'nai Brith is more on a campaign to demonize another Jewish organization than to confront the Green Party or anti-Semitism.

The motion to adopt BDS was served by Dimitri Lascaris, a lawyer with whom I've often appeared on panels for the Real News to debate Canadian politics. The second motion, to remove the JNF's charitable status, was served by Corey Levine.

Levine has gotten under the skin of folks at B'nai Brith, ostensibly because she's Jewish and an active member of Independent Jewish Voices, a human rights organization that supports Palestinian rights and, more generally, peace. It's the only way to explain why each of the substantive ways they list to "help stop Green Party Antisemitism" actually targets IJV rather than the GPC.

Their first suggestion to "help stop Green Party Antisemitism" is to get Elizabeth May to publicly denounce IJV. They want May, a practicing Anglican, to announce to Canada that Independent Jewish Voices is "not reflective of the views of Canadian Jewry."

Is it really Elizabeth May's role to say who is and who isn't a legitimate representation of Canadian Jews? How would this be an effective way to combat anti-Semitism? Should Gentiles even refer to Jews as "Canadian Jewry?"

IJV has never claimed to be representative of the mainstream Canadian Jewish community, despite B'nai Brith's accusations. But, can B'nai Brith claim this either? Who does such gatekeeping serve? 

B'nai Brith's second action item is even more absurd. They request that B'nai Brith sympathizers alert B'nai Brith to every instance where someone associated with IJV is speaking to media. It's a classic red-baiting tactic that should have ended with the Cold War.

B'nai Brith is using the Green Party to wage a proxy war against IJV. It would be embarrassing and childish, if the stakes weren't so high: the need for robust debate and discussion about Israel's foreign and domestic policy has never been greater.

Of course, the most important thing for Green Party members is to have a debate about the merits of these policies based on the facts surrounding both motions. BDS is a tactic that needs to be debated: there are pros and cons to any boycott, divestment and sanction campaign and I hope that GPC activists aren't intimidated by B'nai Brith's tactics such that they can have a debate on this. 

It's also worth noting that there is a strong argument to be made that the Jewish National Fund's political activity does violate Canada Revenue Agency law for charitable status. In Canada, the JNF promotes itself as the agency that will plant a tree for a loved one in Israel. In Israel, they happen to be planting trees, as Jesse Benjamin describes, to "hide" Palestinian villages.

The JNF owns 13 per cent of the land in Israel and Israeli politicians have fought over whether or not it should be subject to an audit: the organization's books are opaque, which is a problem for a group that owns so much land and has so much money. One of the charges critics in Israel have levelled against the JNF is the inappropriate political influence in the Knesset that it likely wields.

Israel, like all nations, especially ones that espouse to be bastions of Western democracy, is not above criticism and B'nai Brith should be ashamed of this attempt to silence this debate.

This past week, it was reported that Israel's government is working with some African nations to develop a strategy: asylum seekers who have arrived in Israel for a better life will be sent back to their home countries, and Israel will supply these countries with weapons. It's a stunning revelation and it's connected to one of the most controversial and right-wing leaders in the world.

I suspect B'nai Brith won't be among the Jewish organizations that condemn these actions. Which is fine, except the world needs debate on the deeds of the Israeli government.

B'nai Brith's shameful tactics towards Jews that they disagree with aren't just an affront to the rich history of debate within the Jewish tradition, they create a climate where legitimate, free speech is demonized at the exact time when legitimate, critical discussion is absolutely necessary.

 

Correction: The original article stated that May had voted against the Conservatives' motion against BDS. While the reference in the National Post article claimed that May disagreed with the policy, it failed to mention that she was not actually present for the vote. The article has been updated to reflect this.

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Image: Flickr/Canada 2020

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