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Truth vs. Myth In The BDS Movement

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In an encouraging demonstration of moral clarity, the House of Commons last month voted overwhelmingly (229 to 51) in support of a motion condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Introduced by the Conservatives and supported by the Liberal majority, the bill denounced the BDS movement which, it said, "promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel."

In a disingenuous ploy to gain acceptance and support in the West, many proponents of BDS typically claim that their movement is simply about promoting the "fundamental rights" of Palestinians in accordance with "international law." This means, foremost, pressuring Israel to end "its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands" and allowing "the rights of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties [in Israel] as stipulated in UN resolution 194."

It has even been argued that the aims of BDS are consistent with Canada's official Middle East policy, a claim that is fundamentally wrong.

Canada does not call for a Palestinian "right of return" to Israel; nor does Canada call for Israel to end occupation unilaterally (and certainly not of "all Arab lands," whatever that encompasses). Rather, following UN Security Council Resolution 242 (which, speaking of international law, has long been the internationally accepted cornerstone of all Arab-Israeli peacemaking efforts), Canada calls on Israel and its Arab neighbours, including the Palestinians, to reach peace through negotiations. According to 242, any Israeli withdrawal from land taken in the course of its self-defence during the 1967 war must occur only in the context of the Arabs/Palestinians providing recognition of Israel, secure and recognized boundaries, and the "termination of all claims or states of belligerency" against Israel.

Israelis have repeatedly tried to achieve this aim with the Palestinians (as it did in its peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan), but have been consistently rebuffed. And one of the main reasons Israelis have faced this rejection (from Yasser Arafat in 2000, and from Mahmoud Abbas in 2008) is that Palestinian leaders are not willing to agree to the "termination of all claims" - that is, to an end-of-conflict agreement. That would mean, foremost, giving up their claim to a "right of return" to Israel, a position they - wrongly - assert is enshrined in UNGA Resolution 194.

In fact, this resolution -- actually just one very small section of it dealing with refugees -- which is pursued so insistently by the BDS movement, does not, as they assert, call for any such "right of return." And, no matter how frequently they repeat that phrase, that reality does not change.

The word "right" never appears in 194, which was passed on December 11, 1948 and was rejected by all the Arab states since they were engaged, at that time, in a war to destroy Israel -- a war that continues to this day, now waged by other means including the BDS movement.

In 1989, the brilliant, dovish Abba Eban, who was Israel's representative to the UN in 1948 while 194 was being formulated, said: "I made it clear that that the admission of refugees was a matter for Israel's sovereign discretion and was not subject to legal constraints." To this end, Eban explained that the General Assembly (GA) "recommendation about the return of refugees...was described as a matter subject to [Israeli] 'permission,' not as a matter of 'right.'" The language of 194 reflects these facts, inconvenient though they may be to the BDS movement. (Eban also pointed out that as no such "right" exists, "the very term 'right of return' has never featured in an internationally binding document.")

It is up to Israel, as it is to any sovereign state, to grant or withhold permission to anyone wishing to immigrate. When Israel has given such permission as it has, typically for family reunification, to some 100,000 Palestinians since 1948, it has done so on a humanitarian individual basis, not as a matter of group "right." The most practical solution - in the spirit of two states for two peoples - is ultimately resettlement in a future Palestinian state established on a basis of peace with Israel. Indeed, it should not be overlooked that Israel absorbed approximately 700,000 Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Middle East in the years after the state's founding.

While BDS activists like to portray themselves for Western consumption as benign human rights campaigners, Omar Barghouti, the Palestinian founder and chief proponent of BDS, has not shied away from admitting what his real ambition is: the destruction of Israel. In 2009, Barghouti told the anti-Israel online publication, The Electronic Intifada, that "people fighting for refugee rights like I am, know that you cannot reconcile the right of return for refugees with a two-state solution. That is the big white elephant in the room and people are ignoring it -- a return for refugees would end Israel's existence as a Jewish state." Barghouti repeated the same position to a group of students at the University of Ottawa in 2014.

According to the unique UN definition of "Palestinian" refugees -- that is, the original 600,000-750,000 Palestinians refugees from the 1948 war plus their descendants through generations -- they now number more than 5.5 million. It is a definition that curiously applies only to Palestinians and does not extend to the 50 million other refugees registered by the UN High Commission for Refugees. A "return" of these refugees to Israel would demographically overwhelm Israel, destroy the Jewish state and turn it into another Arab-majority country.

This is Barghouti's -- and the BDS's -- ultimate objective. And it is time for those sufficiently naive to be lured by the "human rights" rhetoric of the BDS movement to demonstrate some intellectual honesty and face this malign fact.

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