The Problem with Andrew Weaver

(This op-ed originally appeared in Ricochet Media on May 8, 2017.)

When I travelled to Ottawa for the Green Party of Canada’s biannual convention in August 2016, I didn’t know much about Andrew Weaver.

I knew that Mr. Weaver was the leader of the B.C. Green Party, as well as the B.C. Greens’ only member of the provincial legislature. I knew he was a climate scientist who had done important work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I knew he had successfully sued Postmedia, Canada’s largest newspaper publisher, after a Postmedia newspaper published false and defamatory statements about Mr. Weaver’s work as a climate scientist.

Based on these facts, I had a positive opinion of Mr. Weaver. I had never spoken a critical word about him, whether privately or publicly.

At its Ottawa convention, the Green Party of Canada (GPC) adopted a human rights policy resolution that I had authored. A few months before the convention, while serving as the Justice Critic in the GPC’s shadow cabinet, I had travelled to the West Bank and had witnessed with my own eyes Israel’s brutal and suffocating occupation of Palestinian territory. I returned to Canada determined to advance a resolution calling for the application of boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, to those who profit from that occupation.

In drafting the BDS resolution, I studiously avoided reference to the most controversial aspect of the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel – namely, the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. I also avoided the use of terminology which, although completely justified, might inflame the GPC’s debate over BDS, such as “war crimes”, “racism” and “apartheid”. The BDS resolution was a modest defence of Palestinian rights, and one that a party ascribing to the values of non-violence, social justice and respect for diversity should have no difficulty espousing. A large majority of those who attended the GPC’s biannual convention agreed. The BDS resolution was adopted. So strong was members’ support for the resolution that it passed over the strong objections of the GPC’s leader, Elizabeth May.

The human rights abuses that motivated me to author and advance this resolution have been documented for decades by reputable human rights organizations, including U.K.-based Amnesty International, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, and Israel-based B’Tselem. Those abuses include Israel’s settlements, which are almost universally recognized (including by the Canadian government) as a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel also engages in collective punishment, the indefinite detention without due process of peaceful dissenters, and torture, including the torture of children.

Despite Israel’s well-documented and decades-long contempt for human rights, Andrew Weaver immediately criticized the GPC for adopting the BDS resolution. Within hours of the conclusion of the GPC’s convention, the B.C. Green Party issued a press release in which Mr. Weaver was quoted as stating that the adoption of the BDS resolution “represents a significant step away from the values that define the BC Green Party. This is not a policy that I nor the B.C. Green Party support… BDS is a politically motivated movement that damages any attempt at peace in the Middle East by assigning blame to one party.”

Upon learning of Mr. Weaver’s criticism, I was reminded of the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has compared Israel’s occupation to South African apartheid: “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I nevertheless decided that, by engaging in a dialogue with Mr. Weaver, and by sharing with him the views of Archbishop Tutu and other human rights defenders who have condemned Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, I might be able to persuade him that the BDS resolution was not a “significant step away” from the values of the B.C. Green Party, but that it was fully consonant with, and indeed mandated by, those values.

I therefore sent a private message to Mr. Weaver requesting the opportunity to discuss the BDS resolution with him. Mr. Weaver responded to my invitation by refusing to speak to me and by condemning the BDS resolution as “discriminatory”.

In light of Mr. Weaver’s refusal to engage in dialogue, 24 GPC members who had sponsored and supported the BDS resolution, including 12 former GPC candidates and 3 sitting members of the GPC shadow cabinet, decided to author an op-ed responding to Mr. Weaver’s public criticism of the resolution. In our op-ed, we commended Mr. Weaver for his work as a climate scientist but argued that his criticism of the BDS resolution was “misguided.”

Mr. Weaver swiftly reacted to this op-ed with bitter attacks upon its authors. In comments to Postmedia (the giant newspaper chain that Mr. Weaver had successfully sued for defamation), he described us as “a rogue group with an agenda” and asserted that the GPC had been “hijacked by extremist fringe elements.” He warned that members of the B.C. Green Party were considering changing the party’s name to distance itself from the GPC. He also pronounced that he’d be shocked if GPC leader Elizabeth May did not take action against me and the other two members of the GPC shadow cabinet who had signed the op-ed.

On the same day that the op-ed was published, Ms. May did indeed take action against us. She demanded that we apologize to Mr. Weaver or be removed from shadow cabinet. In good conscience, I could not apologize for defending a humanitarian policy from Mr. Weaver’s misguided attacks. Ms. May therefore removed me from shadow cabinet. She also removed shadow cabinet members Lisa Barrett and Colin Griffiths, who had signed the op-ed with me.

Six months later, EKOS Research Associates, a well-respected Canadian polling firm, conducted a poll on Canadian attitudes toward Israel/Palestine. I sponsored that poll along with political commentator Murray Dobbin and two human rights organizations, Independent Jewish Voices Canada and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. The poll found that 78% of those who expressed a view believed that a Palestinian call for a boycott on Israel was reasonable. More tellingly, it found that a whopping 91% of respondents who identified themselves as supporters of the GPC felt that the Palestinian call for a boycott was reasonable. One could hardly imagine a more powerful refutation of Mr. Weaver’s claim that the GPC supporters of the BDS resolution were “extremist fringe elements.”

Mr. Weaver’s conduct during the GPC’s BDS debate raises a serious question about his commitment to progressive values. For 50 years, Israel has been stealing Palestinian land in flagrant violation of international law. In 2004, the International Court of Justice unanimously ruled, with the concurrence of a United States judge, that Israel’s settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. After decades of dispossession, the Palestinian people remain stateless. Their prospects for a viable sovereign state are more remote than ever.

In the face of such facts, it is unfathomable that an individual of Mr. Weaver’s intelligence could claim that the imposition of peaceful economic sanctions on those who are responsible for these crimes is ‘stepping away’ from the values of social justice, non-violence and respect for diversity – three of the B.C. Green Party’s six core principles. It is even more remarkable that Mr. Weaver would smear the proponents of this humanitarian policy as a “rogue group” comprised of “extremist fringe elements.”

To be fair to Mr. Weaver, when it comes to the plight of the Palestinian people, he is no worse than B.C.’s current leader. In 2014, as Israel’s military rained bombs down on 1.8 million Palestinians trapped in the densely populated and besieged enclave of Gaza – a bombardment that ultimately resulted in the massacre of 500 Palestinian children and the wounding of 3,000 more children — B.C.’s current Premier, Liberal Christy Clark, showered praise on Israel, calling it “a vibrant, culturally rich democratic nation committed to maintaining the rights of its citizens, regardless of gender or religion.” “Israel is an example not only to the region,” Clark gushed, “but the world.”

Nothing obliged Christy Clark to laud Israel even as it committed war crimes in Gaza. Indeed, in Canada, foreign policy lies within the jurisdiction of the federal government, not provincial governments. But it is equally true that nothing obliged Andrew Weaver to insert himself into a foreign policy debate within the federal Green Party, a party of which he was not even a member.

Unfortunately, Mr. Weaver’s refusal to take a stand for Palestinian human rights is far from the only reason to doubt his commitment to progressive values.

On the day that he all but demanded our dismissal from the GPC’s shadow cabinet, Mr. Weaver told the right-leaning Vancouver Sun that the B.C. Green party is “centrist” in its ideological approach. ‘Centrism’ is little more than a euphemism for the preservation of the status quo. At best, it is a call for incrementalism. As a climate scientist, however, Mr. Weaver surely understands – or ought to – that decades of political inaction now oblige us to take radical action to transform the provincial, national and global economies. The system of ruthless, crony capitalism prevailing in much of the Western world lies at the core of the climate crisis. As stated by Naomi Klein:

We have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe — and would benefit the vast majority — are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.

In British Columbia, the guardians of deregulated capitalism are the incumbent Liberals. Yet Andrew Weaver is offering an economic plan that he unabashedly declares to be “much closer” to that of the Liberals than the NDP. Mr. Weaver argues his plan is superior to that of the NDP because “their economic plan is to have government retrofit its buildings with union workers. You know, that doesn’t incentivize industry. You need to send a signal to the market and let the innovation and creativity happen there in the market.” That sounds a lot like a politician who wants to distance himself from organized labour while perpetuating the myth that markets can save us from a looming climate catastrophe.

Mr. Weaver raised further concerns about his commitment to organized labour when he recently met with two members of the Greater Victoria Teachers Association (GVTA) to discuss current issues in public education. In a Facebook Post, one of those teachers wrote that Mr. Weaver complained in the meeting that the GVTA “grieves everything. That’s all you do is grieve, grieve, grieve. It’s the wrong approach. The [B.C. Teachers’ Federation] has some responsibility for this because you protect these bad teachers.” The teachers say they left the meeting “feeling shocked and surprised by the disrespectful treatment they experienced.” They added that “many British Columbians perceive the Greens as a progressive party but many of their policies are libertarian and not aligned with the values people think they represent.”

Other aspects of Andrew Weaver’s record raise serious questions about his political orientation. As Murray Dobbin recently observed:

[Andrew Weaver] supported two Liberal Party budgets. He supported the Liberals’ run-of-the-river hydro privatization that will keep hydro rates sky-high for the next two decades. He supported the idea of an oil refinery at Kitimat to refine tar sands bitumen — when most environmentalists are saying we have to keep most of it in the ground.

And just this week he came as close as possible to endorsing Clark when asked in a Global News interview which leader he would be “most comfortable” working with. Weaver would not answer but repeatedly referred to Horgan’s temper and how he would have to control it if Weaver was to work with him. And then he praised Clark: “[Y]ou can have a respectful disagreement in a one-on-one conversation and it’s not personal.”

Both the B.C. Greens and the NDP oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, whereas the B.C. Liberals support it. Both the B.C. Greens and the NDP support a proportional representation electoral system, whereas the B.C. Liberals have no interest in abandoning a first-past-the-post electoral system that has been very generous to them. Both the B.C. Greens and the NDP want to prohibit corporate political donations, whereas the B.C. Liberals are awash in corporate money.

As the May 9 election day approaches, polls indicate that the B.C. NDP has a slight lead on the Liberals, with both parties hovering near 40%. Mr. Weaver’s Greens are a distant third at around 18%. Thus, there is no realistic prospect of Mr. Weaver’s Greens winning this election, but his Greens might influence whether the Liberals are returned to power or are replaced –mercifully – by the NDP.

As B.C. voters head to the polls, they would do well to ask: what matters more to Andrew Weaver – John Horgan’s manners, or Christy Clark’s slavish devotion to big business?

At the People’s Climate March in Washington, Avi Lewis Discusses the Leap Manifesto and Justin Trudeau’s Climate Hypocrisy

As 200,000 climate marchers gathered in the heart of Washington, I talked to Canadian activist and film-maker Avi Lewis about the Leap Manifesto and Justin Trudeau’s failure to live up to his government’s lofty rhetoric on climate change. The interview can be seen here:

Does Canada have a Foreign Policy that is Independent of U.S. Foreign Policy?

On April 4, just before Trump’s attack on the Syrian government, I interviewed Yves Engler for the Real News. The question which Yves and I discussed was whether Canada truly has an independent foreign policy. As Yves explains in this interview, there are few if any material differences between Canadian and U.S. foreign policy on the key foreign policy issues confronting the Canadian government. Sure enough, within days of this interview, the Trudeau government expressed unqualified support for Trump’s attack on the Syrian government. Trudeau declared his support for Trump’s attack despite the facts that Trump has demonstrated utter contempt for human rights, and Trudeau had just acknowledged that it was not yet known who had committed the gas attack in Syria. It therefore appears that Trudeau will continue Canada’s inglorious tradition of reflexive and unqualified support for U.S. foreign policy. With a man like Trump in the White House, this should be deeply worrying to all Canadians.

My interview of Yves can be seen here:

Standing Up For Human Decency

[A slightly modified version of this op-ed first appeared in The Gazette, the student newspaper at Western University in London, Ontario.]

In June 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israel began its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Less than six months later, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 242. Resolution 242 invoked the foundational international legal principle of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and called for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”

Almost 50 years later, the occupation grinds on. Most Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have spent their entire lives under the jackboot of Israeli military oppression.

Not only has Israel’s brutal occupation endured for half a century, but throughout that time, Israel has forcibly confiscated more and more occupied territory to make way for Jewish-only settlements. In 2004, the International Court of Justice unanimously ruled (with the concurrence of the United States judge) that Israel’s settlements violate article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 49 states “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”

The international community has repeatedly condemned Israel’s settlements. The most recent example is U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted in December 2016 by a vote of 14-0. Resolution 2334 “reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” Consistently with Resolution 2334, Canada’s government acknowledges on its Global Affairs website that the settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and constitute a “serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”

On February 6, 2017, Israel’s Knesset responded to Security Council Resolution 2334 with an act of supreme chutzpah: it passed a ‘Settlement Regulation’ Law which purported to legalize retroactively dozens of wildcat settlements.

Israel’s violations of international law are by no means limited to its ever-expanding settlements and its endless occupation. Internationally renowned human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, have long documented Israel’s torture – including the torture of children, its use of collective punishment (another violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention), its indefinite detention without due process of peaceful Palestinian dissenters, and its ‘extrajudicial assassinations’ (a euphemism for murder).

How has Israel gotten away with these crimes for so long? The answer is simple enough: a law that is never enforced is a dead letter. Although the international community has repeatedly condemned Israel’s human rights abuses, Western governments have shielded Israel from any meaningful sanctions, and have accorded to it a privileged status. Indeed, in 2016, the Obama administration granted Israel, a wealthy state possessing the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, the largest military aid package in United States history.

In response to Israeli impunity during decades of lawlessness, over 170 Palestinian citizens’ organizations have called for the use of boycott, divestment and sanctions, or “BDS”. The BDS movement is a peaceful, anti-racist movement modelled on the boycott movement that helped to bring an end to South African apartheid. Yet Western governments, anxious to perpetuate Israel’s impunity, have sought to demonize the BDS movement. Recently, Conservative and Liberal MPs and MPPs voted to condemn the BDS movement in Canada’s Parliament and Ontario’s legislature.

But Canadians aren’t buying it. This year, a new poll conducted by EKOS Research Associates shows that 78% of those who expressed an opinion believe that a boycott is a reasonable measure to ensure Israel’s respect for international law. Sixty-six percent of those who expressed an opinion said that Canadian government sanctions on Israel would also be a reasonable deterrence measure. The EKOS poll showed that most Canadians oppose Parliament’s condemnation of the boycott movement, while only 26% support it.

It is in this context that students of King’s College have brought forward a resolution supportive of the boycott campaign. King’s students will vote on that resolution on March 13 and 14. In advance of the vote, Israel’s apologists on Western’s campus have sought to misrepresent the nature of the BDS movement. They falsely conflate the state of Israel with all Jews, and assert that boycotting companies that are complicit in violations of Palestinian human rights is tantamount to persecution of the Jewish people.

But this claim conveniently ignores that that the boycott movement does not target the Jewish people, and never has. On the contrary, it targets – peacefully – human rights violators. Indeed, the BDS movement is supported by many Jewish intellectuals, and by rapidly growing Jewish organizations that advocate for Palestinian rights, including Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Independent Jewish Voices Canada, and Jewish Voice for Peace. More and more, members of the Jewish community declare that the government of Israel does not speak for them, and that its inhumane oppression of the Palestinian people is an affront to Jewish values.

Indeed, Israel’s regime of occupation and dispossession is an affront to our most basic sense of human decency. By supporting a boycott of those who profit from that regime, the students of King’s would do nothing more – and nothing less – than stand up for human decency.

Building Pipelines Leads to Growth – Not in Jobs, But Carbon Emissions

In 2012, NASA scientist James Hansen wrote in the New York Times that, if Canada continues to exploit the vast oil reserves in its tar sands, then it’s “game over for the climate”. In this interview on The Real News, I explain that Canada’s Trudeau government seems hell-bent on bringing the game to an end:


EKOS Poll Part 2: The vast majority of Canadians are receptive to sanctions and boycotts on Israel

March 1, 2017

A second batch of results from an EKOS survey of Canadians’ attitudes towards Israel reveals a dramatic schism between Canadian government policy and Canadians’ deep concerns about Israel’s violations of international law. The first release on February 16th revealed Canadians’ mostly negative opinion of the Israeli government and their feeling that Canada’s government was pro-Israel. This release reveals overwhelming acceptance of sanctions and boycotts as “reasonable” means to pressure Israel to adhere to international law.

For example, 91% believe that sanctions are a reasonable way to censure countries violating human rights and international law. That number drops to 66% when respondents were asked whether “government sanctions on Israel would be reasonable.”

“The number of respondents who support sanctions drops when talk turns to Israel, but that number is heavily skewed by Conservative supporters, 70% of whom reject sanctions on Israel,” said Diana Ralph of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV). Receptiveness to sanctions on Israel from supporters of other parties ranged from 75% for Liberals to 94% for the Bloc Quebecois. Eighty-four percent of NDP respondents regarded sanctions on Israel as reasonable.

Similar openness to the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel was revealed in the survey. Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed believe the Palestinians’ call for a boycott is “reasonable.”  Again, Conservative supporters expressed radically different views from respondents of other parties: 51% rejected a boycott.  Supporters of other parties who were receptive to the Palestinian call for a boycott ranged from 88% for Liberals to 94% for the Bloc Quebecois.

“These results are particularly stunning in light of the vilification of those calling for sanctions and boycotts by leaders of both the Conservative and Liberal parties,” said Tom Woodley of CJPME. “While calls for boycotts and sanctions have been denounced as ‘the new anti-Semitism,’ two thirds of Canadians apparently disagree; 66% of respondents were receptive to sanctions and 78% to boycotts.” Results from the earlier survey release cast serious doubts about acceptance of the notion of a ‘new anti-Semitism’: 91% of respondents rejected the notion that criticism of Israel was necessarily anti-Semitic.

In February, 2016, the House of Commons passed a resolution condemning those who support sanctions and boycotts against Israel. When asked whether or not they support this condemnation, 53% of survey respondents said no and 26% answered yes. Almost twice as many Conservative supporters answered yes but a significant number – 33% – said no.

Former Green Party Justice critic Dimitri Lascaris highlighted the enormous gap between the Trudeau government’s blanket support for the Israeli government and the very critical position of a strong majority of Canadians. “Since taking office in late 2015, the Trudeau government has voted against United Nations resolutions that were critical of Israel on over twenty-five occasions. It has never voted in favour of a U.N. resolution that is critical of Israel, putting Canada at odds with all but the US, Israel and four tiny island states.”

The survey, conducted in the last week of January and early February, was co-sponsored by a coalition consisting of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV), Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), Dimitri Lascaris and political commentator Murray Dobbin.

A detailed report on the second batch of the EKOS survey results can be viewed here: