Elizabeth May, Canada’s Green Party, democratic decision-making, and Israel-Palestine

In Canada, the political issue of the moment is discussion of a selective boycott, divestment, and sanctions directed toward some Israeli corporate enterprises (both government and non-government).  The conversation is fueled by a resolution recently adopted by the Green Party of Canada, and opposed by Party Leader Elizabeth May.  (The resolution is provided, in full, at the end of this post.)

In the aftermath of the resolution, Elizabeth May, the Leader of the federal Green Party, has raised the possibility that she may resign as Leader. The ensuing conversation has included suggestions from some (not Ms. May) that the resolution is anti-Semitic, or that selective boycotts, divestment and sanctions are the wrong way to make progress on the Israel-Palestine issue, or that the procedure and/or the debate that led to the adoption of the resolution were somehow ‘un-Green’, or that the resolution is impolitic because it may be misrepresented, to the disadvantage of the party. Each of these is an important issue in its own right, and needs thoughtful dialogue and careful reflection.

I believe that the State of Israel has an unquestionable right to exist, and its citizens deserve the opportunity to live in peace. I also believe that there are many people (principally Palestinians) who were born and raised and are living within the boundaries of Israel who have been denied full citizenship and who have been exposed to terror. The result has been war and infitada in which representatives of both sides have participated.

Faced with this reality, the Green Party of Canada has made a decision about how to get to a preferred future. This is the kind of decision that is made without certain knowledge. (We can’t know the best path to the future.) It is the kind of decision where group wisdom is often better than decision-making by an individual. In such circumstances, a leader can either respect the uncertain prospects of a decision made by the party as a whole or the Leader can resign, if the decision is so clearly naïve or misguided as to be a fruitless contribution or an obstacle to resolution, or if there is something in the decision that is morally repugnant.

I don’t see anything morally repugnant in the resolution. It doesn’t question the right of the State of Israel to exist. It doesn’t question the right of Israelis to live in peace. It is not anti-Jewish.

I don’t see anything that is manifestly naïve or misguided in the resolution. In recent Canadian history we take great pride (some of us, after the fact) in the reality that Canada was among the first of nations to implement a policy of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against apartheid South Africa. There seems to be a broad consensus that such an initiative contributed substantially to the end of apartheid in South Africa. It may well have the same effect in Israel.

Apparently there were no alternative ideas generated within the Green Party that offered hope for a better route, with an equal or greater sense of urgency, toward breaking the log-jam in Israel/Palestine. In that case, Party members have the right to go with what is available, rather than to say nothing than they have said in the past. Green Party members have a right to pursue a great sense of urgency about the deteriorating situation in Israel-Palestine. They have a right to to advocate for an unconventional, legal and moral intervention.

Not having been at the convention, I can’t comment on the process by which the decision came to a head. However ‘aberrant’ it may have been, it was apparently contemplated and allowed by the Party’s own rules. While I would agree that Roberts’ Rules of Order can be formalistic, I wouldn’t accept the argument that they are undemocratic. Sometimes the call for consensus is simply a plea to forestall decision-making. The argument that the process was aberrant reminds me of the argument the federal Liberals were making two months ago when the Government House Leader forgot to count noses. Politicians who want a certain outcome in a debate and vote need to be mindful, always, of the many ways they can lose control of the process if they are not constantly on-guard. I don’t think Ms. May wants a ‘do-over’ just because those who share her view lost control of the process.

I am surprised by the suggestion that the Green Party might quail in the face of mis-representations of its position. One of the reasons I have admired the Party is for its perseverance in the face of often fierce and persistent misrepresentations of its positions on climate change, ecology, and other big issues. It simply keeps on telling the truth until the fabricators wilt. Arguably, the same strategy could prevail here.

The Israel-Palestine ‘issue’ has been alive and death-dealing for more than 65 years. The Green Party has injected a sense of urgency, and I applaud that. The party has also said that we cannot keep doing what we have done and expect a different outcome: some different course must be tried in order to break the log-jam. I applaud the recognition that we need to adopt a different approach. In this spirit I hope that the Party will maintain the policy, work hard and smart to promote it in the most creative and positive way possible, affirm the grassroots of the party without grousing that they are ‘wrong’ when they disagree with a leader, and affirm the right of all Israelis — Jews, Moslems, Christians, Druze, and others, to live in the nation as full citizens and respected equals.

Of course the Government of Israel and others have every right to argue against such a policy. What no one has a right to do is make an imperial declaration that such a policy is taboo. If it is morally repugnant, let’s hear the argument that has not yet been heard. If the policy is politically wrong or naïve, let’s hear the argument that distinguishes this situation from the earlier South African situation. If the policy is impolitic because it is susceptible to misrepresentation, let’s hear why that is a bridge too far for the Green Party that has reached similar bridges in the past.

On the question of Ms. May’s future, I certainly hope that she will come back from a vacation re-committed to the important work of leading the Green Party of Canada and prepared to work with the material she has been given, in good faith, by the members of the party.

  • ••••

The following is from the Green Party of Canada website (August 10th, 2016)

Palestinian Self-Determination and the Movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions



Resolution Type


Submitter Name

Dimitri Lascaris, Justice Critic, Green Party of Canada Shadow Cabinet


WHEREAS Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population to territory it occupies;
WHEREAS the International Court of Justice has ruled that Israel’s settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (“OPT”) violate international law;
WHEREAS GP14-P22 declares that the GPC “fully condemn [sic] all illegal Israeli settlement expansions in the [OPT] as undeniable obstacles to the Israel – Palestine peace-process”;
WHEREAS Israel has continued, since the adoption of G14-P22, to expand its settlements and to demolish Palestinian homes and other infrastructure in the OPT;
WHEREAS Canada and other nations have previously succeeded in ensuring respect for human rights through the use of economic and political sanctions, including in the case of South Africa.
WHEREAS the Liberal and Conservative parties recently supported a motion ‘condemning’ attempts by Canadians to promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement;
AND WHEREAS nothing in this resolution condones the use of force against innocent civilians or other human rights violations by either side in the conflict.


BE IT RESOLVED that 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;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that 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.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the GPC opposes all efforts to prohibit, punish or otherwise deter expressions of support for BDS.


Alex Hill, Erin Davis, Menno Meijer, Lora Teuschler, Temara Brown, Colin Griffiths, Joe Foster, Constantine Kritsonis, Brian Smallshaw, Ghaith Hannibal, Mark Bigland-Pritchard, Kyle Lacroix, Kevin Labonte, Bonnie North, Melia Helson, Stacey Leadbetter, Corey Levine, Hugh Thorburn, Matthew Chisholm, Lora Picchi, Don McLeod, Lindsay Thompson, Mohammed Rajpar, Pamela Reid, Stefan Kleitsch, Mary Ann Hodge, Johan Hamels, Inge Stahl, Saul Bottcher, Will Sorrell, Sharon Danley, Don Scott


When Palestine was partitioned in 1947, the U.N. allocated approximately 1/3 of Palestinian territory to the Palestinian people, although they constituted approximately 2/3 of the population.

Since 1947, the Palestinian people have never exercised true sovereignty over the territory the U.N. had allocated to them. Moreover, due primarily to Israeli settlement construction in the OPT, the land Palestinians occupy has shrunk dramatically since 1947.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits occupying powers from transferring parts of their own civilian population to territory they occupy. Accordingly, the U.N. Security Council has declared that Israeli settlements in the OPT constitute “a flagrant violation” of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Moreover, in a 2004 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel’s settlements have been established in breach of international law.

Despite the clear illegality of Israeli settlements in the OPT, Israel has continued to construct and expand such settlements up to the current time and has given no indication that it will cease doing so in the foreseeable future. Moreover, the current Israeli Prime Minister has made numerous statements that raise serious questions as to his commitment to a two-state solution. Thus, 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 realizing their dream of self-determination within their lifetimes. That option is BDS. Further, because BDS seeks to achieve Palestinian self-determination through economic and political sanctions rather than the use of force, BDS is entirely consistent with the GPC’s commitment to peace and mutual respect.

However, should Israel implement a permanent ban on settlement construction and expansion and enter into good faith negotiations with the Palestinian authorities with a view to the creation of a viable, contiguous and truly sovereign Palestinian state, then the GPC should re-evaluate whether its support for BDS is necessary to achieve Palestinian self-determination.

For nearly 70 years, the Palestinian people have been without a sovereign state. It is time for international community to give to the Palestinian people a realistic and non-violent path to self-determination. In the current circumstances, BDS is, in the view of the submitter, the only such path.


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