Stephane Dion: Tories' BDS Motion (Which Grits Support) A Failed Attempt To Divide

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Liberals will support a Conservative motion condemning the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, even if the foreign affairs minister sees it as an attempt to spark division.

In question period on Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion accused the Tories of trying to drive a wedge between members of Parliament on the Jewish state.

Dion was responding to Tory MP David Sweet, who rose to laud backbench Liberals for condemning the "anti-Semitic boycott, divest, and sanction" movement Thursday, which calls for economic boycotts of the Jewish state's goods and services over its treatment of Palestinians.

stephane dion
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion speaks in the House of Commons. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

Sweet asked if the Liberal cabinet would be "clear and unequivocal" in condemning the movement and launch an educational program on it, as well.

Dion said the government aims to strengthen all programs that educate Canadians against racism and intolerance.

"This being said, the attempt of the Conservatives to divide this House on this issue failed yesterday, and it will always fail as long as we have this government in place," he said, to applause.

This isn't a partisan issue: Clement

The motion, tabled Thursday by Tory foreign affairs critic Tony Clement, says the BDS movement fosters "the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel," and urges the government to "condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals" to promote it.

Student groups, the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the United Church of Canada, which represents two million Protestants, all back the movement.

Clement said the point of BDS is not to resolve the conflict in the Middle East but to "single out Israel" unfairly.

"This is not a partisan issue," Clement said. "Side with us on this motion. Send a strong message to our fellow Canadians and to freedom- lovers around the world and support this motion."

"The attempt of the Conservatives to divide this House on this issue failed yesterday, and it will always fail as long as we have this government in place."

Dion, however, wasn't convinced about his motives.

"To me, this is further proof that the Conservatives have not learned from their mistakes and are still trying to divide Canadians on issues that should unite them," he said.

Other MPs delivered speeches Thursday deriding the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, including Tory veteran Jason Kenney who spoke in the House for the first time since the election.

Dion confirmed during the debate that Liberals will vote for the motion even if they have "reservations" about the Tories' real goal and its language. He warned against painting all those in the movement with the same brush.

"We will not convince the people acting in good faith that they are mistaken by hitting them over the head and condemning them at every turn," he said. "Intimidation, name-calling, and accusations will not lead to constructive dialogue with them. We must talk to them with respect and explain why boycotting Israel is a false solution."

He said that while Liberals support the motion, they are "in no way seeking to limit freedom of expression" in Canada.

NDP, Elizabeth May will vote against motion on basis of free speech

But that argument just won't fly with New Democrats.

NDP MP Charlie Angus said the Tories were attempting to use Parliament to deny individuals their right to dissent. He compared Dion's decision to go along with it to the Liberals' vote for Bill C-51 terror bill last year, which he said was motivated by fear of the "Conservative rhetorical machine."

"I am absolutely shocked that (Dion) would stand with the Conservatives on a motion that specifically calls upon us to condemn individuals for their right to dissent," Angust said.

NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière said New Democrats don't support the BDS movement and believe there are "far more effective" ways to help Israel and Palestinians.

"However, just because we do not support it does not mean that the House can condemn people who peacefully support another idea," she said. "We will find a solution through informed debate and engagement, not by condemning people or disrupting dialogue."

That was much the same position taken by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May who said she won't support the motion, but warned against assuming all who participate in such boycotts are anti-Semitic.

"If the United Church of Canada carries forward such a campaign, it is not anti-Semitic organization," she said. "It is not a hate-filled organization."

Here is the full text of the motion:

That, given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.

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