Overcoming 'Divisive Politics of Fear,' Ontario Rejects Anti-BDS Bill

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Overcoming 'Divisive Politics of Fear,' Ontario Rejects Anti-BDS Bill

"So: it's illegal to sanction Israel in Ontario, but it's legal to sanction Ontarians who believe Israel should be sanctioned."

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is supported by multiple Canadian labor groups, various student unions at universities around the country, and the United Church of Canada. (Photo: @bccla/Twitter)


In what civil liberties advocates called a victory for free speech, the Ontario Parliament on Thursday rejected a bill that sought to stop the province from doing business with individuals or companies backing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Lawmakers voted 39-18 to defeat the bill, which linked the non-violent BDS movement which anti-Semitism.

During Thursday's debate, wrote Ali Abunimah at Electronic Intifada, the bill's co-sponsor Tim Hudak "and a handful of supporters often used emotive rhetoric and references to the Holocaust in an effort to sway lawmakers. Completely absent was any discussion of Palestinian human rights."


The Ontario Parliament on Thursday debated a hastily introduced bill that aims to stifle the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel by "blacklisting" those who engage in such tactics.

The legislation, sponsored by Liberal MPP Mike Colle and Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak, is called the "Standing Up Against Anti-Semitism in Ontario Act" and it identifies the BDS movement as "one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel globally."

The bill passed its first reading on Tuesday—the same day that Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, who opposes BDS, met with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Should it pass on Thursday, it will go through one more reading and vote before becoming law.

The Ontario Civil Liberties Association (OCLA) is just one of several groups expressing vehement opposition to the bill.

"There is no question that this bill, if enacted, would negatively and unreasonably impact freedom of speech and political freedom in Ontario," wrote OCLA executive director Joseph Hickey in a letter urging lawmakers "to reject this bill and to refrain from misusing Ontario's legislature to punish and malign a voluntary citizens' movement that seeks to influence the policies of the State of Israel, or of any other nation-state."

According to Electronic Intifada:

If passed into law, Hudak’s bill would effectively create a blacklist of persons and organizations who would be barred from contracts with the provincial government.

“If a public body discovers that a person or entity with which it has entered into a contract supports or participates in the BDS movement, the contract shall immediately terminate,” the draft bill states.

This would be an open invitation to anti-Palestinian groups to investigate people for their political views and report them to the government with the aim of having them punished.

The law would also bar public bodies, including universities and pension funds, from investing “in an entity that supports or participates in the BDS movement.”

The bill also states that “No college or university shall support or participate in the BDS movement.”

"So: it's illegal to sanction Israel in Ontario, but it's legal to sanction Ontarians who believe Israel should be sanctioned," wrote Canadian activist Nora Loreto at Rabble, suggesting that "this bill is, at least in part, a response to student organizing at York University, where students have been agitating for York to divest from all weapons manufacturers."

Taken together with the anti-BDS motion that passed the House of Commons earlier this year, "this act resurrects the divisive politics of fear that characterized the Harper Government," wrote Palestinian Canadians Hammam Farah and Hossam Sleiman at Mondoweiss on Wednesday.

Far from anti-Semitic, they said, BDS "is a non-violent movement utilizing liberal-democratic means of peaceful struggle and initiated by 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005."

In Canada, they noted, the movement has the support of the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario, and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Students at a variety of academic institutions, such as York, Concordia, McMaster, Carleton and the University of Toronto have all passed BDS motions at the student union level, and the United Church of Canada committed to divestment from corporations and institutions complicit in the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel.

Ali Abunimah further reported for Electronic Intifada:

Palestine solidarity campaigners in Canada appear to have had no notice of the bill. Its quick introduction and vote may be an effort to circumvent public debate and opposition.

The bill may also have been timed to coincide with the visit to Israel this week by Ontario’s Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, who is leading a business delegation aimed at “building partnerships between Ontario and Israel.”

And it comes amid a flurry of anti-BDS rhetoric in the U.S. and abroad.

"Having failed to stop the growth of BDS in the mainstream, Israel is now launching a desperate and dangerous global war of repression on the movement," BDS National Committee general coordinator Mahmoud Nawajaa said earlier this month after Israel imposed an effective travel ban on BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti.

"After losing many battles for the hearts and minds at the grassroots level," Nawajaa said, "Israel and its well-oiled lobby groups are pressuring Western states to implement patently anti-democratic measures that threaten civil liberties at large."

On Thursday, Ricochet spoke to protesters who oppose the bill:

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