NCCAR’s board member and Chair of the National Educational Committee on Israel/Parlestine, Peter Larson, was published today in Embassy Magazine.

Embassy is Canada’s only newspaper that exclusively covers the country’s international portfolios of diplomacy, defence, immigration, trade, and development. Since its launch as a weekly and online newspaper in 2004, it has earned a reputation as the meeting place for some of Canada’s top foreign affairs experts, and a regular source of breaking international issue news and insider analysis.

The article is reprinted below with permission from Embassy where it originally appeared in the May 26th, 2015 issue . The original article can be found by clicking here. Subscription is required to access certain articles


Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney recently declared that Canada will show “zero tolerance” towards the so-called BDS movement, which encourages boycotting Israel. In correspondence with Neil Macdonald of the CBC, Public Safety spokesperson Josée Sirois implied that the minister feels that Canadians who endorse the BDS movement are guilty of “hate crimes.”

Of course, few Canadians will disagree that hate crimes should be punished by law. Expressing hatred toward any group of people based on religion, nationality, gender or ethnicity is totally unacceptable.

But criticizing behaviours of political actors, including our own government or the governments of other countries, is a totally different matter. Already over 90 Canadian civil society organizations, from the BC Civil Liberties Association to the Canadian Labour Congress to Amnesty International to Independent Jewish Voices, have raised strong objections to what appear to be threats to our Charter-protected right of freedom of speech.

The BDS movement was launched in 2005 by 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, representing Palestinian refugees, Palestinians under occupation and Palestinian citizens of Israel. It was conceived of as a peaceful, non-violent way to bring international pressure on Israel. It was also endorsed by all the major Christian churches in Palestine in addition to Muslim religious leaders.

BDS stands for a program of boycotting Israeli products, financial disinvestment from Israeli companies, and government sanctions against the state of Israel until it meets certain conditions.

But what is it, exactly, that the BDS movement is asking for? What is it asking Israel to do?

The BDS movement has three simple, democratic demands, all of which can be met by the Israeli government. Ironically, as it turns out, all three of the BDS demands are also completely consistent with official policy of the Canadian government.

The first BDS demand is “ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands.”

This is completely consistent with Canada’s existing policy as stated on the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development website:

“Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967 (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip)…As referred to in UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

The second BDS demand is “recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.”

The promotion of equality and democracy around the world is one of Canada’s fundamental principles – from China, to Iran to Sri Lanka. See, for example, this from the DFATD website:

”Canada has been a consistently strong voice for the protection of human rights and the advancement of democratic values, from our central role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947/1948 to our work at the United Nations today.”

The BDS demand for equality for non-Jews living inside Israel is completely consistent with our promotion of democracy in other countries.

The third BDS demand is “respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

This too, is already in our existing policy:

“Canada believes that a just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue is central to a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as called for in United Nations General Assembly resolution 194 (1948) and United Nations Security Council resolution 242…This solution should respect the rights of the refugees, in accordance with international law.”

While these reasonable and democratic policy demands have been the official Canadian position for the last two decades, we have been spectacularly unsuccessful in persuading Israel to adopt them.

An international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions is now developing to bring pressure on Israel. What would be the rationale for criminalizing it?

Peter Larson is the chair of National Education Committee on Israel/Palestine, a committee of the National Council on Canada Arab Relations.

PMO Photo: Jason Ransom

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara during Mr. Harper’s first official visit to Israel in January 2014.