Canada’s Pro-Israel Lobby Uses Fake News and Specious Assumptions to ‘Demonize and Delegitimize’ the BDS Movement
On November 8, 2017, the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) reported that Dr. David Kattenburg had commenced an application for judicial review in the Federal Court of Canada.
In his application, Dr. Kattenburg impugns a decision by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to allow the importation and sale of wines produced in Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements.
In his original complaint to the CFIA, Dr. Kattenburg correctly noted that wines produced in Israel’s illegal settlements are labelled as “Product of Israel” even though they are produced in Occupied Palestinian Territory, and that no state – not even the state of Israel – claims that the West Bank forms part of Israel’s sovereign territory.
CJN’s article also reported that Avi Benlolo of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) purports to be “confident” that the Federal Court of Canada will dismiss Dr. Kattenburg’s application for judicial review. In explaining his confidence, Benlolo offered to the CJN no analysis whatsoever of the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) even though the CFIA explicitly based its decision on CIFTA.
Rather, according to Benlolo, Dr. Kattenburg’s application is “one more attempt to promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, which has been recognized by provincial and federal governments as anti-Semitic.”
Whatever Dr. Kattenburg’s view of the BDS movement may be, Dr. Kattenburg has never argued that the CFIA has the authority to impose a boycott of settlement wines. On the contrary, his position before the CFIA and in his application for judicial review has consistently been that, for these wines to be sold to Canadian consumers, their true country of origin must be disclosed, and that Canadians are entitled to have accurate information when deciding whether to purchase these wines. This is a proposition with which we should all be able to agree – including Avi Benlolo.
Even more misleading is Benlolo’s claim that the BDS movement “has been recognized by provincial and federal governments as anti-Semitic.”
On February 22, 2016, Canada’s Parliament adopted a resolution rejecting the BDS movement. Although the resolution was supported by the leadership of the Liberals and Conservatives, the resolution received no support from three of the five parties having representation in Parliament – namely, the NDP, the Green Party of Canada and the Bloc Québécois. In addition, three Liberal MPs distinguished themselves by voting against this unconscionable resolution. For the record, those principled Liberal MPS were Nick Whalen of St. John’s East, Larry Bagnell of Yukon and René Arseneault of Madawaska—Restigouche.
Despite Benlolo’s claim that the federal government has “recognized” the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, Parliament’s anti-BDS resolution contains no reference at all to anti-Semitism. The resolution simply declares that:
given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.
The only way to construe this resolution as a “recognition” that BDS is anti-Semitic is to assume that the State of Israel is synonymous with the Jewish people, and that those who ‘demonize and delegitimize’ the State of Israel are necessarily demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish people.
But that assumption is patently false. One need look no further than the comments of Dr. Kattenburg himself to appreciate the falsity of Benlolo’s unstated assumption. As explained by Dr. Kattenburg:
I am the child of Holocaust survivors and I grew up being taught that justice is everything, that the rule of law counted for more than anything else in the world. I don’t feel that 250 members of my family died in Sobibor and Auschwitz concentration camps so that some self-professed ‘Jewish state’ can deny 4 million people their fundamental rights in the name of Judaism. And I don’t believe the State of Israel represents me or represents Judaism.
Moreover, when it comes to disavowing Israel’s misconduct, Dr. Kattenburg is no outlier in Canada’s Jewish community. In an EKOS poll conducted in early 2017, 51% of respondents who declared their ethnicity to be Jewish agreed that it would be “reasonable” for the Canadian government to impose sanctions on Israel in order to ensure its compliance with international law, while 82% of such respondents agreed that the Palestinian call for a boycott was “reasonable”.
Avi Benlolo’s claim that provincial governments have recognized the BDS movement as anti-Semitic is equally disingenuous.
In 2016, Mr. Benlolo and two MPPs, one Conservative and the other Liberal, drafted a bill entitled the “Standing Up Against Anti-Semitism in Ontario Act”. Their bill would have called on the province to stop doing business with companies that support BDS. It also described the BDS movement as “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel globally…”
On May 19, 2016, however, Benlolo’s bill was decisively defeated in the Ontario legislature, by a vote of 39-18.
At the time, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was on a trade mission to Israel. The timing of the vote thus seemed calculated to bring maximum pressure on Premier Wynne to support the measure, but the tactic failed. Although she was then travelling in Israel, Ms. Wynne declared that she opposed the BDS movement, but added that freedom of speech is “something that all Canadians value and we must vigorously defend.”
Six months later, Conservative MPP Gila Martow introduced a less aggressive and non-binding motion in Ontario’s legislature. Her motion passed with the support of Liberal and Conservative MPPs, but was opposed by NDP lawmakers. The motion called on Ontario’s legislature to stand “firmly against any position or movement that promotes or encourages any form of hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance in any way; recognizes the longstanding, vibrant and mutually beneficial political, economic and cultural ties between Ontario and Israel, built on a foundation of shared liberal democratic values; endorses the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism; and rejects the differential treatment of Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”
Thus, like Parliament’s anti-BDS resolution, Ms. Martow’s motion did not describe the BDS movement as anti-Semitic.
It is nonetheless true that Parliament and the Ontario legislature have now adopted resolutions condemning the BDS movement. Avi Benlolo and other advocates for Israel never tire of pointing this out to the media. By constantly invoking these anti-BDS resolutions, Israel’s advocates are clearly implying that Canadians should be guided by the moral judgment of the Conservatives and Liberals who supported these resolutions. That unspoken premise cannot be reconciled, however, with Canada’s inglorious foreign policy record.
A few examples will suffice to make the point abundantly clear.
Exhibit 1: Both Liberal and Conservative governments supported arms sales to Saudi Arabia, arguably the worst human rights violator on the planet. According to Amnesty International’s 2016/2017 report on Saudi Arabia:
The [Saudi] authorities severely curtailed the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, detaining and imprisoning critics, human rights defenders and minority rights activists on vaguely worded charges. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained common, particularly during interrogation, and courts continued to accept torture-tainted “confessions” to convict defendants in unfair trials. Women faced discrimination in both law and practice and were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence. The authorities continued to arrest, detain and deport irregular migrants. Courts imposed many death sentences, including for non-violent crimes and against juvenile offenders; scores of executions were carried out. Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia committed serious violations of international law, including war crimes, in Yemen.
Even worse, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has continued to allow arms to flow to the Saudi autocracy despite mounting evidence that those arms are being used to oppress Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority.
Exhibit 2: Both Liberal and Conservative governments have supported the dictatorship of Egyptian strong-man Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Virtually from the time that Sisi assumed power, reputable human rights organizations have meticulously documented his regime’s astonishing savagery.
In August 2014, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a 188-page report detailing “the systematic and widespread killing of at least 1,150 demonstrators by Egyptian security forces in July and August 2013.” According to HRW’s Executive Director, “This wasn’t merely a case of excessive force or poor training. It was a violent crackdown planned at the highest levels of the Egyptian government. Many of the same officials are still in power in Egypt, and have a lot to answer for.”
Less than six months after the issuance of HRW’s shocking report, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government declared its “strong support” for Sisi, claiming — with a straight face — that Sisi’s regime was pursuing a “transition to democracy and the inclusion of human rights and the rule of law.” Harper’s government also announced a $2 million contribution to Egypt’s counterterrorism and border security efforts, as well as increased police collaboration between Canada and Egypt.
At around the same time, Harper’s grinning Foreign Minister John Baird posed for the cameras at Davos while shaking hands with the Egyptian mass murderer:
Less than two years later, by which time Justin Trudeau had replaced Harper, Canadians learned just how Egypt’s “transition to democracy” was unfolding. In September 2017, HRW again accused Sisi’s regime of crimes against humanity, but this time for operating a torture “assembly line.” According to HRW, the Sisi regime’s torture techniques include electric shocks, beatings, “excruciating” stress positions that consist of treating detainees like “a chicken on a rotisserie spit”, rape and threats to torture family members of detainees.
How has the Trudeau government responded to Sisi’s well-documented barbarism? Within weeks of the Liberals’ 2015 electoral victory, Trudeau’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajan travelled to Egypt to discuss military cooperation with his Egyptian counterpart. Although Trudeau’s government is less inclined than Harper’s to publicize its cooperation with Sisi’s regime, the Egyptian press dutifully reported that Egypt’s Defence Minister “stressed on [sic] the deep and friendly relations between both countries and expressed hopes for increased cooperation in different fields.”
Exhibit 3: To grasp the extent to which Liberal and Conservative governments have exhibited contempt for human rights, one need look no further than their dealings with the State of Israel itself.
In the 2015 election campaign, Harper proclaimed that “we recognize, unequivocally, the right of Israel to be a Jewish state.” Trudeau responded by assuring Canadians that “all three of us support Israel and any Canadian government will.”
Yet neither Harper nor Trudeau has deigned to address the vexing question of how a state that privileges one ethnicity over another could possibly constitute a democracy. Nor have the Liberals or Conservatives ever explained why they refuse to contemplate any sanction on Israel despite the Canadian government’s long-standing acknowledgement – which enjoys near universal support — that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, and notwithstanding Israel’s torture of Palestinian children, collective punishment, extrajudicial assassination, and its imposition of an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.
The Canadian government’s record of support for egregious human rights abusers is prodigious and is by no means limited to the cases of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.
The Conservative and Liberal Parties have thus forfeited any claim to be the moral conscience of our nation. Their human rights pronouncements are bereft of credibility and carry no weight.
Indeed, were it not for the countless victims of the heinous regimes Canada’s Liberals and Conservatives have coddled, Avi Benlolo’s suggestion that Canadians should care about Parliament’s anti-BDS resolution would be comical.