No 1782 Posted by fw, September 23, 2016
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. —George Bernard Shaw
In a provocative, September 15 article in The Tyee, Jeff Wheeldon, Manitoba’s Green Party of Canada candidate in the 2015 federal election, explained why he opposed the Green’s recent adoption of a pro-BDS policy resolution. The premise of his argument is that “adopting alignment with BDS as a policy of the Green Party makes several false assumptions.” So Jeff set out to correct these false assumptions.
In this post, my partner, Helga, and I rebut Jeff’s critique. Our rebuttal also serves as a vehicle for our arguments supporting retention of BDS as a Green Party of Canada (GPC) policy. By the way, Helga and I are members of the Green Party.
This post uses Jeff’s word-numbering approach to organize his four challenges to the GPC’s BDS party policy resolutions. His arguments appear in italics in his own words. Our rebuttals follow each of Jeff’s four arguments. To read his original article, click on his title: As a Green, Why I Don’t Want My Party Embracing BDS Movement
To avoid having to repeat Jeff’s name over and over again, Jeff Wheeldon will be identified by his initials, JW, from this point on .
Turning to JW’s first argument —
JW’s FIRST ARGUMENT — The [Green’s BDS supporters’] assumption that to resist the BDS policy is to somehow support Israel, support apartheid, or imply that Palestinian lives do not matter. At least for me, rejecting BDS as party policy has nothing to do with my stance on Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The Green Party of Canada already affirms the right of Palestinians and a Palestinian state to exist, and condemns violence and war crimes on both sides of that conflict — which is much more than some other parties, who do not even acknowledge that they occur. We believe that Israel has a right to exist, that Palestine has a right to exist, and that neither side has a right to commit war crimes, steal land, or otherwise unduly harm one another. No additional policy, whether about BDS or anything else, can clarify this already crystal clear stance.
Philosophy Professor Jeff Noonan, University of Windsor, would dispute JW’s bald assertion that “No additional policy, whether about BDS or anything else, can clarify this already crystal clear stance.”
Quoting from Noonan’s September 19, 2016 blog post, Anti-BDS-BS, Professor Noonan writes: (Note: ellipses are used to collate four separated sentences)
There are easy ways to oppose social problems and then there are real ways to oppose social problems…. When oppressed people organize a movement and call for international supporters to adopt its demands, then real allies adopt those demands and do what they can in their own contexts to ensure their realization…. In the case of the Palestinians, Canadian politicians who pontificate in the abstract about statehood but denounce all means of getting there do not support self-determination…. All three leaders [Trudeau, Wynne, and May] would no doubt support the principle of self-determination, but the truth of principles is practice, and in terms of practice, that means supporting the Palestinian movement for self-determination, which none of them do.
Putting it in the context of this post, the Green Party supports the principle of Palestinian self-determination, which is easy, but eschews any action that might lead to its realization — which undoubtedly would attract the ire of deep-pocketed Israel lobby groups.
To clarify the intent of the Green’s Resolution Policy G16-P006, it’s helpful to summarize two key sections, the Preamble and Operative provisions. They clearly reveal the motive of the policy’s submitter and 32 sponsors. In Jeff Noonan’s words, their purpose is to find real ways to support the principle of self-determination for Palestinians — i.e., to put into practice what politicians preach.
Consider the purpose of the seven WHEREAS clauses in the Preamble to G16-P006, which explain the reasons or need for the policy resolutions: WHEREAS is an introductory term that means “considering that” or “that being the case”.
What do these seven clauses, slightly abridged below, tell us about the reasons for a new policy? —
1/ An occupying power is prohibited from transferring parts of its own civilian population to territory it occupies;
2/ Israel’s settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (“OPT”) violate international law;
3/ An existing Green Party policy fully condemns all illegal Israeli settlement expansions;
4/ Israel continues to expand settlements and demolish Palestinian homes and infrastructure;
5/ The use of economic and political sanctions by Canada and other Nations have succeeded in ensuring respect for human rights in South Africa and elsewhere;
6/ Liberals and Conservatives passed a motion condemning Canadians who promote BDS; and
7/ Nothing in the three Operative provisions of the resolution policies to follow condones the use of force against innocent civilians or other human rights violations by either side in the conflict.
Here’s a summary of the three Operative provisions, also known as policy resolutions, flowing from the seven Preamble clauses
1/ The GPC supports the use of divestment, boycott and sanctions (“BDS”) that are targeted to those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation of the OPT;
2/ The GPC will support such a form of BDS until such time as Israel implements a permanent ban on further settlement construction in the OPT, and enters into good faith negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian people for the purpose of establishing a viable, contiguous and truly sovereign Palestinian state;
3/ The GPC opposes all efforts to prohibit, punish or otherwise deter expressions of support for BDS.
In a sentence, the resolutions tell us that the Green Party of Canada will continue to support the use of BDS as a means to advance Palestinian self-determination, and oppose efforts to deter expression of support for BDS, since prior efforts to condemn Israeli actions have not led to a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
JW’s SECOND ARGUMENT — The [BDS supporters’] assumption that BDS is somehow the only way to support Palestinians. The resolution says so explicitly: “Palestinians’ prospects for achieving a sovereign Palestinian state through bilateral negotiations with Israel are remote. This leaves only one, non-violent option to the Palestinian people for realising their dream of self-determination within their lifetimes. That option is BDS.” Such a statement not only discards a wealth of options for non-violent conflict resolution and shuts the door on creative solutions, but also over-estimates the efficacy of BDS.
JW is mistaken in his declaration that “The resolution says so explicitly”. In fact, the three main points of the resolution per se state no such thing. The statement that he quotes actually appears under the section headed “Background”.
More to the point, after opening the door to a consideration of options with his opinion that “Such a statement not only discards a wealth of options for non-violent conflict resolution” he immediately slams it shut by failing to offer even one option example of his own. Instead he dismisses the BDS option entirely because, in his “opinion”, it “over-estimates the efficacy of BDS.”
We challenge JW’s abrupt, dismissive remark. In making it, he reveals his limited knowledge of the multi-faceted nature of BDS, which, contrary to his narrow view, creates “a wealth of options and creative solutions”.
Here’s a small sample of links to the BDS success story, drawn from a list of about 75 entries in the 2015 year in review, illustrating the richness, and diversity of BDS actions:
US student divestment movement flourishes // Elbit Systems embarrassed by direct action activists // 63 members of European Parliament call for end to Israel trade deal // Israeli bus company loses out on Netherlands contract // More than 1,000 UK cultural figures join cultural boycott // SOAS students, academics and staff vote for academic boycott // French firms pull out of Jerusalem colonization project after government warning // UK student support for BDS continues to grow // More than 150 cities participate in Israeli Apartheid Week // Barclays bank no longer listed as Elbit Systems shareholder // BDS campaign launched in Egypt // 20 businesses across South Africa join G4S boycott // Veolia sells Israel businesses targeted by Palestinian-led boycott campaign // Confédération des syndicats nationaux, Canada joins BDS // 1,600 academics join academic boycott in Spanish state // More than 10,000 South African School Students March Against Woolworths over Israel Trade // Foreign direct investment in Israel plummets // Reports predict further economic damage to Israel // Netanyahu government ramps up efforts to combat BDS // World Bank figures show Palestinian boycott of Israeli imports is growing // Spanish state: 26 local and regional governments endorse BDS and the Apartheid Free Zones initiative
In terms of achieving tangible results, which approach appears to be having the greater impact: JW’s so-called “crystal clear stance”, i.e., the Green’s “easy way”, or BDS’ “real way”?
JW’s finding that “economists have examined boycotts with mixed results” is not surprising. Googling the search statement “BDS impacts on Israel’s economy” yields a mixed bag of thousands of hits on both sides of the issue, making it easy to cherry pick articles that fit one’s preconceived bias.
JW’s North Korea analogy as an example of the failure of sanctions is flawed. He reasons that because sanctions against North Korea have had little effect, therefore, sanctions against Israel will similarly have little effect. To be valid, analogical reasoning depends on: the relevance of the similarities A, B and C between the two; the number and variety of the similarities; and the number of characteristics that North Korea and Israel share. For starters, North Korea is an absolute monarchy under a totalitarian dictatorship, Israel is a unitary parliamentary republic. JW failed to explain why he believes his analogy is valid?
JW’s argument that “only US sanctions could significantly influence Israel policy” is beyond dispute. However, the stories cited in the preceding 2015 year in review provide irrefutable evidence that the Palestinian BDS movement is having a pronounced impact on Israel.
JW’s admission that he personally supports divestment and boycotting, while welcome, is, in this context, irrelevant.
JW’s THIRD ARGUMENT — The [BDS supporters’] assumption that a political party can and should adopt policies from outside organizations. This is my main point of contention with the resolution. BDS is a pre-existing movement, with its own history, motivations and brand…. But BDS is more than just the principle of boycotting, divestment, and sanctions, it is a pre-existing movement, with its own history and motivations and brand. Political parties exist to serve the people of their nation, with policies based on the principles of the party. We cannot allow outside organizations to write our policy for us, or even to appear to. Consider the widespread belief that unions own left-wing parties, or that corporations own all American politicians. No one organization should have such influence. As a Canadian political party, and particularly as a grassroots Canadian political party, the Green Party of Canada is owned by Canadians. Our only other affiliation is with the Global Greens Movement, from which we have derived our six core principles; no other affiliations are acceptable if they give even the appearance of affecting our policies.
Because BDS is a pre-existing movement, as JW notes, he is reluctant to having the Greens associated with the Palestinian BDS National Committee, the Palestinian coordinating body for the BDS campaign worldwide that leads and supports the BDS movement. However, nowhere in the Green Party’s BDS Policy Resolution G16-P006 is there a reference to the document What is BDS by the Palestinian BDS National Committee.
For comparison purposes, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.
BOYCOTTS involve withdrawing support for Israel and Israeli and international companies that are involved in the violation of Palestinian human rights, as well as complicit Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions.
DIVESTMENT campaigns urge banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from all Israeli companies and from international companies involved in violating Palestinian rights.
SANCTIONS campaigns pressure governments to fulfil their legal obligation to hold Israel to account including by ending military trade, free-trade agreements and expelling Israel from international forums such as the UN and FIFA.
The Green Party’s BDS Policy Resolution builds on a previous Green Party Resolution — GP14-P22, which condemns all illegal Israeli settlement expansions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Since Israel has continued to expand its illegal settlements, the BDS policy resolution introduces a new tool to press for a peaceful resolution of Israel-Palestine conflict.
JW uses the terms ‘align with’, ‘adopt’ and ‘implement’ when expressing concern about having the Green’s aligned with a pre-existing movement. Let’s be clear: the language of the Green’s BDS Policy Resolution does not use those terms.
Instead, it speaks in terms of ‘supporting’ and ‘opposing’. “Support[ing] the use of divestment, boycott and sanctions (“BDS”) that are targeted to those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation of the OPT”. “Oppos[ing] all efforts to prohibit, punish or otherwise deter expressions of support for BDS.”
Support can take many forms – ranging from facilitating or encouraging others to use BDS, to adopting internal GPC procurement and other procedures to boycott and divest in appropriate situations. How to give effect to the resolution becomes an internal matter, specifically tailored to meet GPC needs. And the Resolution appears to follow logically from three of the six principles espoused by the GPC, namely non-violence, social justice and respect for diversity. (For more on this issue about the many forms that “support” can take, see Argument Four).
Finally, JW fails to mention that political parties in other jurisdictions have indeed supported BDS in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict. For example, the Wikipedia entry on BDS notes that the Green Party of England and Wales‘s conference supported “active participation in the BDS movement”. and Scotland’s Green Party has endorsed a boycott of Israel. (Wikipedia) The NSW Greens in Australia and the Québec solidaire in Canada, have also supported BDS. The US Green Party led by Jill Stein openly endorses BDS. Appearing on a panel in August 2015, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stated: ““I think the boycott campaign, divestment campaign, is part and parcel of a legal process that has to be adopted.” Other politicians have spoken out against Israel military atrocities against Palestinians: e.g., Caught on video, Irish MP Richard Boyd Barrett challenges Israeli ambassador over Israel’s brutal 2014 assault on Gaza: “Israel is not a normal state and should not be treated as such.” And in 1977, our own PM Pierre Trudeau joined with a select group of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) “to discourage sporting competition with South Africa, where sport was organised on the basis of race, colour or ethnic origin.”
JW’s FOURTH ARGUMENT — I find this to simply be a bad policy. A good policy for a political party is one that can be implemented if they are elected to government. A good government policy is one that is just, enforceable, effective, and consistent with the laws, principles, and best interests of the nation. This resolution makes a strong statement, but it does not translate into an enforceable, effective, or consistent policy. Making statements is the job of activist organizations like BDS. Making good policy is the work of governments, and political parties who want to form government need to know the difference. So I urge the Greens who support this resolution to do one better. Support BDS as activists, and support the Green Party as creative and active citizens. Palestinian lives matter far too much to put all of our eggs in the BDS basket.
Consider JW’s assertion that a good policy is one that can be implemented if a party is elected to office; and that BDS does not translate into an enforceable, effective or consistent policy.
On the contrary, one could reasonably argue that supporting the use of BDS and opposing all efforts to deter expressions of support for BDS is an effective policy, which can be implemented whether the GPC is in office or not. The operative word is “support”, which can take many forms. For example, both the party leader and key party members can, in their speeches, fundraisers and press releases, mention that the Party encourages the use of BDS as an important tool to press for a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Any elected GPC MP could introduce a series of motions in support of BDS, for example: urging the Government not to enter into any trade deals with Israel; not to enter into any contracts with Israeli companies; or to encourage the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) to divest from any corporations profiting from Israel’s Occupation until such time as the conflict is peacefully resolved. Success can be measured, not necessarily by the passage of these motions, but also by raising awareness through informed discussion.
Moreover, the GPC could adopt internal policies prohibiting the procurement of supplies from Israeli companies which profit from the ongoing occupation of the OPT; ensuring that Party accounts are with banks that do not do business with such companies; etc.
The point is, the Green’s newly minted BDS policy resolution should not be expected to include an Action Plan for achieving its objectives, as that would be developed at a later time once the BDS policy becomes part of the official GPC platform.
It is worth noting that the GPC’s website includes information on 56 adopted resolutions, only two of which relate to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The amount of time and energy that is being spent on attempting to undermine and reverse the BDS Policy Resolution may be, to its supporters, indicative of the fear by some to adopt a morally defensible, courageous stance, which may open the Party to criticism from lobby groups as well as to the contraction of its traditional donor base. On the other hand, a pro-BDS stance will likely attract Canadian progressives.
A final thought. JW, with his fourth and final point, could be sealing GPC’s fate by relegating the party to the dustbin of irrelevance. “A new kind of politics” could be emerging, says Canadian political scientist Leo Panitch in talking about recent developments in the UK’s Labour Party:
I think this does have to do with immense changes that are taking place in party organizations now, which are being infused by young people who will no longer tolerate the type of undemocratic practices whereby members of parliament get elected and then simply rely on people for 30, 40 years to keep them in office…. And I think that Sanders and Our Revolution and this [UK Labour] MOMENTUM Campaign organization will hopefully lead the way to a new kind of politics. I think it would likely mean a split in these parties.