By Benjamin Weinthal, Asaf Romirowsky and Sheryl Saperia
While Iran's regime continues to expand its nuclear facilities and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's war has caused a half million deaths, the Green parties in North America are bizarrely preoccupied with boycotting the Jewish state. The parties' counterpart in Germany is, however, a vehement opponent of the anti-Semitic boycott movement. The German Greens should serve as a model for Canadian and U.S. Greens to revise their anti-Israel positions.
Last month, the Green Party of Canada became the country's first party to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) targeting Israel.
BDS claims to seek concessions from Israel to advance the cause of Palestinian statehood. The movement is actually against peace because it seeks to dismantle Israel and to impose a one-state solution, rather than two states for two peoples.
While Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May personally rejects BDS as polarizing, she was overridden on the issue by voting delegates at her party's annual convention.
It is a topsy-turvy world when a political group devoted to protecting the environment prioritizes BDS over opposing Iran's nuclear aims -- which have the potential to devastate humanity and the environment -- and the Assad regime -- which, along with its sponsors Iran, Russia and Hezbollah -- has engaged in a scorched-earth policy in Syria.
Germans have a greater than usual consciousness about where boycotts of Jews lead.
Iran's Lake Urmia is drying up, Tehran is beset by major air pollution and one of its nuclear facilities -- Bushehr -- lies on an earthquake-prone area.
Yet the Canadian Greens debated only two foreign policy resolutions at their convention, and both pertained to Israel. In addition to BDS, the other unsuccessfully called on the Canada Revenue Agency to remove the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund, an organization at the forefront of protecting the natural environment in Israel for the benefit of all residents.
Across the border in the United States, Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, defended her support for BDS during an August CNN town hall discussion. Stein mirrors her Canadian counterparts in their apparent lack of concern regarding, for example, the Islamic State's genocidal acts toward Middle East Christians and Yazidis.
Fortunately, BDS remains controversial to many on the left in both the United States and Canada. Polling done within Canada's Green Party following the convention revealed that 44 per cent of the respondents believe that the party's anti-Israel boycott policy should be repealed entirely, while 28.1 per cent believe that it should "not [be] tied to one actor or one movement" -- such as Israel.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May speaks at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, B.C. on October 19, 2015. (Photo: Chad Hipolito/CP)
More broadly, in a statement largely ignored by the print media, the former democratic socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders linked BDS to modern anti-Semitism. When asked if he agreed with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that BDS can be equated with anti-Semitism, Sanders told MSNBC: "I think there is some of that, absolutely."
The most powerful and influential Green Party is in Germany. The German Greens served as a coalition partner to the Social Democrats in the federal government from 1998 to 2005. The party is represented in state governments across the Federal Republic.
In Baden-Württemberg, where a Green Party politician is the governor, party spokeswoman Eva Muszar said in June: "We Greens reject a boycott of Israel, as well as BDS. The BDS campaign aggressively calls for a boycott of Israeli goods and organizations, and is collectively directed against Jewish Israelis and uses anti-Semitic prejudices."
Just this month, the national teachers' union in Germany, with its nearly 281,000 members, termed BDS anti-Semitic. Moreover, the BDS campaign deceptively listed Greenpeace Germany on a petition as a supporter, prompting the NGO to demand that the BDS campaign immediately remove its name from the document.
All of this may reflect the fact that Germans have a greater than usual consciousness about where boycotts of Jews lead. After all, the first phase of the Hitler movement was a nation-wide boycott of Jewish businesses.
But aside from any historical sensitivities, the opposition of the Green Party -- and of other left-of-centre parties in the Federal Republic -- to BDS is premised on the notion that the boycott movement is discriminatory, harmful to many Palestinians employed by Israeli companies, and destructive to hopes for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Another reason to be suspicious of the BDS movement is for its links to terrorism, which has been a recurring theme in the media and in policy debates. One of Austria's largest banks, BAWAG, pulled the plug on the account of the pro-BDS Austrian-Arab Culture Center (OKAZ) in June. OKAZ had sponsored a lecture with Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has been designated by Canada and the EU as a terrorist organization. Khaled helped hijack TWA Flight 840 in 1969. A year later, she participated in the hijacking of EL AL Flight 219.
Bret Stephens recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal of a disturbing finding: In the case of several American organizations that were designated, shut down or held civilly liable for providing material support to the terrorist organization Hamas, a significant contingent of their former leadership appears to have pivoted to leadership positions within the American BDS campaign.
French and German banks have closed BDS accounts in their countries. France has the most robust anti-BDS law in Europe. France's 2003 Lellouche law has been applied to punish Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions activists for singling out Israel based on national origin. The French banking giant Paribas shut a BDS account this year. Germany's second largest bank, Commerzbank, recently closed a BDS account, the first instance of a German bank severing ties with the boycott movement.
If Green parties wish to enter the mainstream, they should replicate the forward-thinking policies of the German Greens and their rejection of BDS. BDS is a dead-end street filled with potholes of terrorism and discrimination.
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter@BenWeinthal. Asaf Romirowsky is the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum. Sheryl Saperia is Director of Policy for Canada at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
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Boycotts involve the active avoidance of products, goods and services produced by the Israeli state. These aim to target Israeli firms which profit directly from the violation of Palestinian rights but also include Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions. Supporters of boycotts use the example of BDS in the fight against apartheid in South Africa as their rationale for continued efforts to avoid Israeli goods. But detractors -- including those who do not believe in the efficacy of cultural boycott -- believe that this movement does little to pressure government and may instead unfairly affect the Israeli people.
Divestments involve the active withdrawal of financial support for Israeli industries "complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights". Activists believe this tactic raises awareness of the abuse of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli firms, and encourages corporations to use their financial investments to bring about policy change. These efforts are again intended to apply economic pressure on the Israeli government to change its policies towards Palestine.
Sanctions are the ultimate measure in conveying disapproval in a country's actions. Activists lobby for sanctions against Israel through trade bodies, economic institutions, and nation states themselves. Efforts to bring about full-scale sanctions aim to raise awareness about Israel's alleged violation of international law.
Follow Sheryl Saperia on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sherylsap