OPINION: The BDS motion and Canada's relationship with Israel

Few, if any, foreign policy issues in the world polarize the citizenry more than the protracted conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Liberal government has broken with much of the Conservatives’ rhetoric on several foreign policy issues

The current Liberal government has broken with much of the Conservatives' rhetoric on several foreign policy issues, but it has joined forces with the Tories so far on the touchy matter of boycotting, divesting or sanctioning (BDS) Israel for its policies vis a vis the Palestinians. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Few, if any, foreign policy issues in the world polarize the citizenry more than the protracted conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's international agenda included what may be the most unequivocal support for Israel's policies in Canadian political history. 

The current Liberal government has broken with much of the Conservatives' rhetoric on several foreign policy issues, but it has joined forces with the Tories so far on the touchy matter of boycotting, divesting or sanctioning (BDS) Israel for its policies vis a vis the Palestinians.

The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly last month to condemn any BDS effort in Canada, as the pro-Palestinian tactic has become increasingly prevalent on Western campuses in the past decade or so. Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank has consistently degraded Israel's recent standing in the world, though Tel Aviv shows no sign of letting go of what it sees as its own rightful territory, occupation or no occupation.

The BDS movement seeks to change Israel's mind by convincing the world to use economic pressure to force Israel to comply with international law. Israel and its supporters have rallied against this movement with attack dog-like enthusiasm. 

Many have tried to portray the movement as an anti-Semitic ploy masquerading as a human rights crusade. And despite the non-violent nature of BDS, the Liberals seem to have embraced the notion that anyone who advocates for this method of activism is interested in hurting Israel, if not Jews, in a nefarious manner — thus last month's motion in Parliament.

Defence of all Israeli policies undermines resolution

Issues of free expression and speech aside (both are clearly violated by the government's stance), Canada's choice to be seen as a defender of all Israeli policies — good and bad — undermines a possible resolution to the conflict, while playing into the false extremist narratives that use Palestine as a primary recruiting tool.

It's time to question exactly what a decade of radical support for Israel has actually done for Canada, other than landing it near the top of ISIS's "hit list" and acquiring the supposed friendship of a country that has been the source of much regional instability.

Though ISIS, Syria, and other matters constantly overtake Israel/Palestine in the news these days, it'd be wrong to think that the region and the world's security can be substantively improved without a just resolution to the world's longest military occupation since World War II.

This is because pretty much all "jihadi" portrayals of the West, be it from ISIS or Al Qaeda or Boko Haram, use or refer in one way or the other to the suffering of Palestinians as a major reason to wage "holy war" against the West.

A key way for Trudeau and the Liberals to minimize the influence and damage of a group like ISIS, both inside and outside of Canadian borders, is to deflate the false narrative that all Westerners are rabid Islamophobes who want nothing more than to end Palestinian hopes for a future state and a decent life.

This doesn't mean that Canada has to disregard unfair depictions or actions against Israel, but it does mean that it cannot sacrifice free speech, free expression, and sound policy to appease anti-Palestinian sentiments at home that are often informed by a deeply ideological and even religious take on reality. 

Whether one agrees that BDS is a sound way to end the Israel-Palestine debacle, the portrayal of the movement as an anti-Semitic call to end Jewish life is dangerous.

If focusing on China's violations of human rights doesn't make one a racist against the Chinese people, then participating in a movement that pressures Israel to do the right thing shouldn't be viewed as anti-Semitic.

The problem in Canada (and elsewhere) is that these principles hardly ever stand separately from the country's internal politics, which feature some very strong voices that are committed to standing behind Israel's current right-wing regime.

But to maximize benefit and security for one's own country, the world must be seen as it is and not through the ideological lens of another nation's politics. 

Steven Zhou is a Toronto writer.