Noted reluctant politician Elizabeth May recently expressed dismay with Canada’s Green party, the party she has led for the last 10 years. The majority of about 250 members gathered for the party’s convention had just voted in favour of a resolution supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a movement that aims to economically isolate the state of Israel. Doing so, the reasoning goes, pressures the country into ending the occupation of Palestine, dismantling the Israeli West Bank barrier and ceasing the building of settlements on Palestinian land.
“As leader, I am disappointed that the membership has adopted a policy in favour of a movement that I believe to be polarizing, ineffective and unhelpful in the quest for peace and security for the peoples of the Middle East,” May said, adding that she would “continue to express personal opposition to BDS.”
You can understand her frustration. In 2013, May denounced the BDS movement as an “agenda hostile to the state of Israel” that wasn’t “a constructive way forward.” Earlier this year, she voiced her opposition to BDS, though ultimately voted against a Conservative motion condemning the BDS movement. Clearly, the critiquing of her own party in the wake of its BDS vote wasn’t damage control.
Admirable as it is, May’s characteristic idealism has put her at odds with her own party. And in coming out so stridently against BDS, she also robs the Greens of a significant political space left vacant by the country’s three major political parties.
Let’s be clear: the BDS movement is, at best, a blunt instrument. Its ideological underpinning—that Israel is an apartheid state akin to South Africa circa 1982—is both unhelpful to the movement’s own legitimacy and an insult to actual sufferers of government-sanctioned racial segregation.
The very real problems of Israeli occupation, as well as the scourge of its ever-advancing settlements, are cheapened when the organization in question slathers its spiel with terms like “ethnic cleansing,” “colonialism” and “regime of oppression.” On that note, BDS makes it too easy for its detractors to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
What BDS isn’t, though, is a fringe movement. In Canada, dozens of groups have endorsed BDS, including unions, university professors as well as student government associations, at least two church conferences and several progressive organizations, Jewish and otherwise.
FOR THE RECORD: What Elizabeth May said at the Green Party convention
Not coincidentally, the Green Party of Canada draws its support from these very demographics, and it’s here where things get tricky for Elizabeth May. In regards to Israel, the governing Liberals and the Conservatives are violently in agreement. Under Tom Mulcair, in a quest for Liberal votes, the NDP joined their ranks.
In doing so, the parties have abandoned a significant part of the electorate. One need look no further than the vote on the Conservative’s anti-BDS motion. Fifty-one of the country’s 338 MPs voted against it, the vast majority of them were from the NDP. Regardless of how you feel about the BDS movement, it has significant support amongst the Canadian electorate.
Such support deserves political representation. The U.S. Green Party knows as much; it, like the U.K. Green Party, officially champions the BDS cause. In endorsing BDS, Canada’s Green party hoi polloi has (accidentally or otherwise) demonstrated a rare bit of political savvy. Except, of course, its leader and only elected member has come out against it.
The Green Party of Canada has done well under May. She is the party’s first elected member in its history. She has injected herself and her party into the national conversation, as well as into the good graces of the Trudeau government, in a way that far outstrips the Greens’ 3.4 per cent share of the vote in the last election.
May has expressed her frustration with the political process. “Politics is awful,” she told the Globe and Mail recently, after essentially saying she wouldn’t wish the Green party leadership on her worst enemy. Given the direction of her own party, perhaps now is a good time for a graceful exit. At the very least, she deserves it.