What I would have said...

Elizabeth May

As you can very well imagine, I have received hundreds of emails from constituents, members and Canadians since my party's Convention on Sunday.  The emails span nearly every conceivable angle on the party's new position on BDS.

I did not have enough time at Convention to express my position on this highly charged issue. However, one of my replies - in this case to a member who is concerned that I oppose the new policy - really encapsulates what I would have said on Sunday.

I hope every member takes a few minutes to read this, and consider our next steps as a party in the coming days.


Dear David,

I want to be clearer about why I opposed the resolution on BDS. Of course, I do not condemn people in the BDS movement. In fact I am sponsoring a petition to reverse the House of Commons vote to demonize the movement itself.

My concern is that it is very divisive and, fairly or unfairly, is seen as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. How divisive it is is very clear from what it just did to our party.

Criticism of Netanyahu's actions is appropriate. In fact, I was the only party leader to criticize the excessive reaction by Netanyahu in bombarding Gaza in 2014. The demand for Palestinian rights is appropriate. This is all in existing GPC policy. Endorsing a series of social movement tactics is not something a political party does. For example, we can call for a two state solution and for Israel to stop the illegal expansions in occupied territory. We do not need to support one particular set of slogans and demands from a movement that is not a political party and whose demands make no sense for a party looking for solutions the Canadian Government can deliver.

Unfortunately the debate was run under new rules - Roberts Rules of Order. Had we followed our usual and time-worn practice of consensus based decision making, this resolution would never have passed. It was too divisive. A compromise would have been found.

As well, due to a misunderstanding, my microphone was cut off in my only intervention, after 90 seconds. What I had wanted to do when my mic was cut off was support the call from retired members of the Israeli security forces. This new group, Security First, is taking on Netanyahu. It calls for an end to illegal expansions by pointing out it makes Israel less secure. Supporting the same demands as being made by an outside group, BDS, but coming from retired Israeli defense and Mossad members is much smarter and will be more effective.

The range of options to get Israel to live up to international law could include sanctions and consumer boycotts. In fact language like that was in a compromise amendment I wanted to support. But it was ruled out of order. It would have allowed us to speak in our own words, to keep us from being hijacked by a one-issue movement.

So to be really clear, I respect what many in the BDS movement are trying to do. And I do not think the movement can be condemned as anti-Semitic, although it does attract some who are. It is just wrong to make an outside, and highly controversial movement, our policy.

I also look at what moves governments to change as Gandhi used to - by examining what will be effective. He once said he knew non-violent civil disobedience would move the British to leave India because he knew their conscience could be pricked. But he did not think it could work against a dictatorship. The sanctions movement against South Africa worked because South Africa was a country with Commonwealth colonial history. It really stung South African Afrikaners to be thrown out of the Commonwealth. They wanted back in. It was their "family."

Israel is entirely different. It is a country established from the ashes of the unspeakable genocide. It feels surrounded by enemies. Its leadership and citizenry is not pricked by conscience by these tactics; it does not feel excluded and wishing to be accepted. It feels under assault and threatened. It draws more inward and erects more walls - figurative and literal. Through a history of victimization and genocide, boycotts and sanctions are experienced by the mainstream Canadian Jewish community, by Greens in Israel and by the Israeli government an attack on Israel's right to exist. It does not move or promote change. I am convinced BDS will never advance peace or Palestinian rights. Working to promote the views of retired Israeli armed forces members and promoting more Canadian government support for Palestinian rights, for aid and development assistance is where we should be as a party. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to say any of this in the plenary debate.

You may still condemn my views, but at least you have the benefit of knowing what they are.

- Elizabeth