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?

The Great Divide: Public Opinion vs. Canadian Government Policy on Israel/Palestine

(This op-ed was originally published in Ricochet Media)

In the first all-party leaders’ debate in Canada’s 2015 federal election, Stephen Harper, arguably the most pro-Israel Prime Minister in Canadian history, challenged Justin Trudeau to clarify his attitude toward Israel. Harper asserted that “there is a movement at the United Nations to isolate and denigrate the state of Israel… The best friend and ally this country has is in a very dangerous region, and we will never go along with that anti-Israel position.”

Justin Trudeau’s response? “All parties are in agreement on this.”

Since taking office, Prime Minister Trudeau has demonstrated that, when it comes to Israel, he is indeed in agreement with Stephen Harper.

In less than 18 months in office, the Trudeau government has voted against no less than sixteen United Nations resolutions critical of Israel. Perhaps the most notable example is a General Assembly resolution which reaffirmed Palestinians’ right to self-determination, including the right to have an independent state. Adopted in December 2015 with the support of 177 countries, that resolution was opposed by Israel, the United States and Canada, along with the tiny island states of Palau, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Nauru.

One year later, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution declaring that Israeli settlements on territory intended for a Palestinian state were a “flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of…peace” between Israel and Palestine. The unanimous Security Council vote (with the U.S. abstaining) reflected a decades-long international consensus on the illegality of the settlements.

Although that resolution enjoyed overwhelming support of Security Council members, including Canadian allies France, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, the Trudeau government remained conspicuously silent after its adoption. As the Canadian Jewish News reported, “amid the controversy surrounding last month’s UN Security Council resolution slamming Israel for settlement activity and calling all territory it captured in the 1967 war illegal, Canada has kept a low profile and reiterated its support for a two-state solution.”

Then, on February 6, 2017, Israel’s Knesset passed a ‘Settlement Regulation’ Law which purported to legalize settlements. The law was plainly intended to flout the Security Council’s unanimous will, so Trudeau’s government was left with no option but to admonish Israel, albeit meekly. In a statement issued quietly, Canada’s new Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said that the Settlement Regulation law was “unhelpful to the advancement of the peace process in the region.” At the same time, she reiterated that Canada is a “steadfast friend and ally of Israel” and reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to “Israel’s right to live in peace with its neighbours within secure boundaries and free of terrorism…”

It is instructive to compare the Trudeau government’s response to Israel’s ‘Settlement Regulation’ law to another foreign policy hotspot, Crimea. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea after a violent revolution toppled its pro-Russian but democratically elected President, Viktor Yanukovych. Prior to the annexation, a referendum was held in Crimea in which 97% of Crimeans voted for integration into the Russian Federation. The turnout was 83%. Trudeau’s reaction to the annexation was to describe Vladimir Putin as a “bully” whom he would “confront” and to impose economic sanctions on Russia.

Much of the international community regards the Crimean referendum as invalid, primarily because it was held while Russian troops occupied Crimea. But in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, there has been no referendum at all in which occupied Palestinians have voted to live under Israeli rule. Indeed, if such a vote were held today, it is virtually certain that Palestinians would vote overwhelmingly for independence from Israel, notwithstanding the presence of Israeli troops on occupied Palestinian territory. Yet the Trudeau government regards Putin as a ‘bully” whose country deserves to be sanctioned, while it considers Israel’s government, which by Canada’s own admission has illegally annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, as Canada’s “best friend and ally” whose “flagrant violation under international law” is merely “unhelpful.”

Israel’s apologists often complain that Israel is subjected to a double standard. That is true, but what those apologists aren’t telling you is that the double standard favours Israel.

Why does this double standard prevail in Canada? In a country that purports to be a democracy, one would expect the answer to be: ‘because Canadians want it that way.’ Yet a new survey done by EKOS Research Associates makes it crystal clear that Canadians do not want it that way.

The survey asked respondents whether they had a negative or positive view of Israel’s government. Of those who had an opinion, 46% had a negative view and only 28% had a positive view. Conservative Party supporters were on the fringes of public opinion, with a 58% positive view. The average for supporters of the other four parties was 11% positive and 63% negative. Remarkably, 55% of supporters of the governing Liberal Party had a negative view of Israel’s government – 2.5 times as many Liberal supporters who had a positive view (22%).

When asked whether they believe Canada’s government was biased towards Israel or Palestinians, 61% of respondents said pro-Israel and 16% said pro-Palestinian. Excluding Conservative Party supporters, 74% viewed Canada’s Government as having a pro-Israel bias while only 9% saw it as pro-Palestinian.

The divide between public and elite opinion is even greater on the question of whether criticism of Israel’s government is anti-Semitic. Both federally and in Ontario, elected officials of the Liberal and Conservative parties recently supported motions condemning the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS. Although neither of those motions explicitly described BDS supporters as anti-Semites, the debates that led to their adoption were rife with explicit allegations that that is precisely what BDS supporters are. Conservative Ontario MPP Gila Martow went so far as to imply that the BDS movement is like the Ku Klux Klan.

Yet hardly anyone outside of the Conservative and Liberal caucuses believes that criticism of Israel’s Government is necessarily anti-Semitic. The EKOS survey found that 91% to 100% of Liberal, Green and NDP supporters do not believe that criticism of Israeli government policy is necessarily anti-Semitic, and that even 80% of Conservative supporters hold that view. Nonetheless, elected officials from both the Conservative and Liberal Parties darkly declare that calling for peaceful economic sanctions on a state that has been violating the Fourth Geneva Convention for decades is the ‘new anti-Semitism.’

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” When it comes to Canadian political support for Palestinian rights, the arc is bending.

Days ago, the Green Party of Canada announced that it had adopted a policy calling for sanctions on Israel., including an arms embargo. That policy also urges the International Criminal Court to prioritize its investigation into potential Israeli war crimes. Moreover, it calls on the Government of Canada to recognize the state of Palestine, which the vast majority of states have already done, but which Canada has failed inexcusably to do. The Green Party’s sanctions policy was adopted with the support of 90% of party members who voted.

The Green Party’s sanctions policy passed overwhelmingly despite fierce condemnation from apologists for Israel’s apartheid regime. Those apologists included Conservative MP Peter Kent, who thundered in Parliament that “the Green Party has been co-opted by extreme activists who, in an obsessive campaign of prejudice against Israelis, threaten the party’s own credibility and relevance in Canadian politics.”

If the ‘Honourable’ Mr. Kent paid the slightest attention to Canadian public opinion on Israel, he would know that the credibility and relevance being threatened are his own.

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