On Monday, Canada's House of Commons passed a motion condemning the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction (BDS) Israel. The opposition Conservatives introduced the motion, but almost all of the Liberal government voted in favour of it, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The motion rejects BDS, says that it “promotes the demonisation and delegitimisation of the State of Israel,” and “calls upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organisations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad”.
This comes days after a spokesperson for Stephane Dion, Canada's foreign affairs minister, said it will abide by a 2015 memorandum of understanding that the previous government signed with Israel. The memorandum states that “Canada and Israel will work together to oppose efforts to single out or isolate Israel by developing a coordinated public diplomacy initiative to oppose boycotts of Israel, to oppose those who call into question the Jewish state's right to exist and to work to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement”
It may not be obvious why a government of Keynesian liberals with a propensity for vacuous, warm and fuzzy rhetoric would support such a heavy-handed approach to a human rights movement like BDS. A common explanation, which is implied in the last line of this Canadian Press article, is that those in the Canadian government who are attacking BDS are doing so to win support from Jewish Canadians.
It's mistaken, however, to ignore the divisions in Jewish Canadian attitudes towards Israel and dubious to assume that members of this community decide how to vote on the basis of which party is most belligerently anti-Palestinian.
Canada's ties to Israel go much deeper than partisan politics. No explanation of Canadian government support for Israel is adequate if it overlooks the substantial political and economic ties between the two states and capitalists living in them. In fact, the motion unambiguously states that it condemns BDS because “Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations”.
The two countries have a free-trade agreement that creates “new export opportunities for Canadian agriculture and agri-food, and fish and seafood companies in the Israeli market” and, since that deal came into force “Canada's two-way merchandise trade with Israel tripled to $1.6 billion in 2014”. The Canadian business class has lucrative relationships with its Israeli counterpart in industries such as pharmaceuticals and energy and Canada bought drones from Israel for use in Afghanistan.
This last point is key. The Canadian government's support for Israel should also be understood as part of its broader commitment to US-led imperialism, a system in which both Israel and Canada and Israel are key nodes. Canadian state attacks on Palestine solidarity cannot be seen solely as features of domestic electoral strategy or even solely in terms of Canada-Israel relations.
Attempts to curb Palestinian resistance are linked to other recent developments in Liberal policy toward the Middle East and North Africa. Two weeks ago, the Trudeau government announced plans to escalate Canada's military role in the US-led coalition's war on the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria.
Last week the Liberal government confirmed that it will not cancel a $15bn arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Last week, Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance said he expects Canada to take part in US military action against IS in Libya and that this could include a military role for Canada. These policies toward the Middle East and North Africa, including the anti-BDS motion, are connected in that they are all components of efforts by Western states to dominate the region.
The anti-BDS measures should enrage Canadians given the severity of Israel's oppression of Palestinians. Israel has refused to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes since 1948 in violation of US resolution 194. It has militarily occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights since 1967 and has controlled Gaza since then as well.
In violation of the Geneva Convention, Israel has illegally settled over 500,000 people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 21,000 more in the Golan, and it regularly carries out large-scale massacres in Gaza.
Israel jails Palestinians without due process, holds thousands of political prisoners, including children, and routinely torturers Palestinians, again including Palestinian children. These are the practices the BDS movement seeks to end in its efforts to pressure Israel into respecting international law. It's hard to imagine a contemporary movement more deserving of support.
People living in Canada have ample reason to be infuriated that their government is seeking to marginalise a movement geared toward ending rights violations as grotesque as Israel's. Many are in fact reacting that way because BDS has significant support among Canadian unions, religious organisations, artists, academics, and students. That anger will be most productive if it is channelled into increased support for BDS.
Dr Gregory Shupak is an author and activist who teaches media studies at the University of Guelph in Canada.