Elizabeth May: Greens should not identify with a movement 'out of our control'

Photo: David Kattenburg

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Listen to the full exclusive interview with Elizabeth May

Last weekend, delegates at the Green Party of Canada national convention in Ottawa adopted a policy resolution supporting the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The resolution declares Green Party support for "the use of [BDS] that are targeted to those sectors of Israel's economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation of the [Occupied Palestinian Territories] … until such time as Israel implements a permanent ban on further settlement construction in the OPT, and enters into good faith negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian people for the purpose of establishing a viable, contiguous and truly sovereign Palestinian state."

Carried by a large majority in plenary session, the resolution also opposes "all efforts to prohibit, punish or otherwise deter expressions of support for BDS."

Canadian Greens now stand on "the forefront of human rights in this country, on an issue with respect to which it has been very difficult for human rights advocates to speak out," according to the resolution's author and the party's Justice Critic Dimitri Lascaris.

The resolution places Green BDS advocates in glaring opposition to their leader Elizabeth May.

May, the only sitting member of the Greens in the House of Commons, told rabble in an exclusive interview during the World Social Forum, the vote has left her "devastated," and on the verge of stepping down.

May was not present for last February's House of Commons vote condemning BDS -- on the grounds that it "promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel" -- but she declared her opposition to that vote at the time.

"You can't call [pro-BDS] groups anti-Semitic. That is absurd," May told rabble. "But the movement itself has become so polarizing, and the reaction to it is so extreme, that that's precisely why the Green Party of Canada should not have associated itself with this, because we are a party that is firmly imbued with values of respectful discourse and dialogue and a nuanced conversation on tough issues."

May has not been loath to rebuke Israel for its violations of international law, and acknowledges that open discussion has been chilled. It's "obnoxious and offensive that when any Canadian political leader speaks about issues pertaining to [Israel and Palestine], there's a very strong push from right wing, pro-Israel organizations that essentially amounts to gag orders and collective bullying and punishment if a person speaks out," she says.

"I think we have to have a prime minister in Canada who's willing to say to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, 'You have to stop expanding illegally in the Occupied Territories,'" May told rabble. "We as a nation, and your ally and as your friend cannot continue to watch you do this and stay silent."

May favours opening up the Canada-Israeli Free Trade Agreement for public scrutiny. "Products that are labeled 'Israel', but are actually made in the illegally occupied territory on the West Bank, are therefore falsely labeled, and we should have honest labeling," she says.

She believes the Canadian government should be engaging in dialogue with all Palestinian factions, including Hamas. "Whoever is democratically elected, we should be engaging in conversations with them, including Hamas, if they win the election."

May is even prepared to use the A-word. "Powerful voices within Israel" acknowledge that Israeli practices are akin to apartheid, she says.

But she doesn't believe that tactics that ended apartheid in South Africa can be applied to Israel. Israelis feel threatened and victimized, she says. Sanctions would only cause the Israeli public to rally around their permanent occupation of Palestine.

"I don't disagree that one can use sanctions to enforce international law. But a political party such as the Greens should not identify itself with a movement and a slogan that's out of our control; that's not part of our policy," May said.

"And frankly, where I wanted to associate us was with a movement that I think has a chance of success, which is the growing movement within Israel, coming from retired members of the Israeli Defense Forces, saying largely the same things as the BDS movement is saying! … Now that's a movement you can get behind, and call for tougher measures from the Government of Canada."

May is referring to the "Commanders for Israeli Security" movement, made up of over 200 former IDF, police, Shin Bet (state security) and Mossad personnel. According to the group's website, Israel should seek a solution "based on the principle of 'two states for two peoples' and the 1967 line with arrangements and adjustments as dictated by Israel's security and demographic needs. Only this path will prevent the creation of a bi-national state."

Why, in May's mind, Canada's Greens should make common cause with a movement composed of former Israeli security officials -- many of them with potential exposure to war crimes charges -- but not with a coalition of 200 Palestinian unions, political parties, and civil society organizations, is not clear.

Aside from debate over how Canadians can best promote justice and peace in Israel/Palestine, May is incensed that last weekend's BDS vote was at odds with the party's traditional consensus decision-making approach. She wasn't allowed to speak prior to the BDS vote in plenary, she says. She was jeered when she tried. A compromise motion raising sanctions as a method for influencing Israel, without naming BDS, was blocked.

"That resolution had at least two major flaws," says Dimitri Lascaris, Green Party Justice Critic. "It was drafted in a way that suggested that Palestinians were equally to blame and it failed to recognize the colonial nature of the situation and that Palestinians are an occupied and oppressed people. Second, the case for sanctions is now overwhelming, but this resolution only raised sanctions as a possibility for further consideration."

Listen to the full exclusive interview with Elizabeth May.

 

David Kattenburg is a Winnipeg-based audio/web broadcaster and science educator. His Green Planet Monitor site (www.greenplanetmonitor.net) focuses on global environment, development, social justice and sci-tech-med issues.

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