Madam Speaker, in Canada we enjoy freedom of speech. We can express ideas and thoughts without fear of reprisal. There are lines that are drawn around hate speech, criminal harassment, and speech that incites violence. However, in Canada, for the most part, we can say what we want to say.
However, freedom of speech does not equate to the right for the public to have to support what others espouse. In fact, the freedom of speech that allows people to put forward an idea is the same freedom that allows me and the leaders of our country who sit in this place today to condemn it. It is up to society to pick and choose which ideas we embrace and which ideas we condemn. The motion in front of the House today asks each of us in this place to make such a choice.
The motion is as follows:
That, given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House [all of us here] 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...and abroad.
The BDS movement, according to to its organizers, from BDSmovement.net, is “The global movement for a campaign of Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions...against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights..”. Members will notice, if they read this, that nowhere in this statement of purpose is there a call for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, the words “against Israel” are the core of this movement.
This is no ordinary boycott. In its actions, self-described as “against Israel”, the BDS movement seeks global delegitimization of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and the right for Israel to exist. All parties in this place have vocalized support for the right of Israel to exist, and because this movement is the antithesis of that, because it opposes this, I stand in this place and condemn it.
In a 2011 article, writer Robyn Urback described a BDS-related incident at Carleton University:
Reports coming out of Carleton University last night allege that chaos ensued at a Carleton University Students’ Association...meeting when a divestment motion by Students Against Israeli Apartheid...was shelved. Protesters outside the council room began chanting and yelling after the decision, and some students say they felt trapped and threatened.
“That’s when [the association] exploded,” says Emile Scheffel, a Carleton student and member of the Ottawa Israel Awareness Committee. “The council took a five-minute recess, but people didn’t feel comfortable leaving the room.”
“It got pretty intense,” Scheffel says. “They started banging on the walls, yelling ‘shame’ and screaming.” Some students also allege they were subject to physical intimidation and homophobic slurs for [supporting] the...motion.
“My personal safety was threatened repeatedly last night, and I am extremely apprehensive about coming onto campus now,” [said] a CUSA councillor in the Faculty of Public Affairs....
The BDS movement brings physical intimidation and a spirit of demonization into the Canadian discourse of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than supporting the movement of this discourse in our country of Canada toward peace through actions and learning. It is the antithesis of that. This is not Canadian, and thus I condemn it. The BDS movement calls for the stifling of academic freedom. Many of my colleagues here today will talk about all the aspects of this movement, but this is one that I find particularly egregious.
An article on jadaliyya.com outlines its activities as “not attending conferences hosted by Israeli institutions”; for its supporters not to give lectures at Israeli institutions, not to conduct joint research with Israeli institutions, not to sponsor student visits to Israeli institutions, not to review academic grant proposals for Israeli grant-giving bodies, and not to review articles for academic journals based in Israeli institutions. This movement calls on us as Canadians to silence the ideas of a sovereign democratic nation with which we have long-standing diplomatic and economic relations.
I can think of one that is personal to me. There is a joint initiative with our world-renowned brain institute at the University of Calgary. It hosted Israeli researchers to look at ways to improve brain health. There are so many different things that we can do.
The silencing of academic thought is something that this movement is promoting, and because that is not Canadian, I condemn it.
I know there are many students around the country facing motions that are going forward through their student unions and student councils. I believe this is the seventh time that McGill University will be facing this in as many years. There is a motion calling upon it to support the BDS movement. I asked the students who are facing this decision to ask why this movement is not working collaboratively to fundraise for aid organizations that are providing direct support to building a framework of democracy within the Palestinian state. They should ask why we are not fundraising to do that. They should ask why their movement does not call for peace. These are things that we do as Canadians.
My Liberal colleagues, and everyone in the House, support aid, and preferably not to organizations that support terrorism. However, there is a way to do this that is not what the BDS movement is about. I want those students who have faced violence, shame, and intimidation on their campuses because they stand against the BDS movement to take heart. When we vote on this motion, everybody who stands up to condemn this movement, not to shut down its ideas but to turn our backs to it because there is a better way, stands with them. We stand with them for the right for Canadian academic institutions to promote what we have built as a Canadian country in terms of values, and for what my colleague talked about in terms of how we support Israel and approach diplomatic relationships. They can take heart because we will stand and condemn this movement.
I have spoken to students, and I want to speak to my colleagues in this place.
In 2010, a similar motion came before Queen's Park, and Ontario MPPs voted unanimously to condemn Israeli Apartheid Week. For those members who might be wondering what Israeli Apartheid Week is, it is self-described by its organizers as the following:
It aims to raise awareness about Israel’s ongoing settler-colonial project and apartheid policies over the Palestinian people. [and it seeks to] build support for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions... movement.
We have already had this discussion in a provincial legislature in this country and it achieved unanimous support.
I would like to read a comment from Cheri DiNovo, an NDP MPP, who stated “while the motion, which passed with a unanimous voice vote...was “symbolic,” it sent a signal that parliamentarians want to promote positive debate.”
We condemn this activity.
I want to read a quote from John Milloy, a Liberal minister and MPP at the time. He was not in the assembly for the vote, but he said:
Campuses are places for debate and discussion--they often get into areas that can offend people, can challenge people.... I think what the goal has to be is to make sure that there’s not hatred on campus--nothing that would make a student feel threatened.
I was in Israel last week with members from the three major parties in this place. We sat in front of Palestinian and Israeli leaders, and the question asked by all three parties was what we as Canadians can do to help.
There is something before the House right now that we can do to help. We can send a message that as Canadians we support peace and condemn and reject the false ideologies and harmful nature of this movement as it relates to promoting peace in this region. We stand for what it means to be Canadian, and we condemn the actions of this movement.