Ontario Legislative Building in central Toronto (Priscilla Jordã/Wikicommons)

In an overwhelmingly majority vote, Ontario has become the first Canadian province to stand against the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic BDS movement. 

Ontario has become the first Canadian province to reject the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement by passing a motion against it.

The provincial legislature on Thursday passed Motion 36 rejecting “the differential treatment of Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

Introduced by MPP Gila Martow, the motion passed by a vote of 49 to five, with almost half of the 107 members of the legislature absent.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has previously stated that she “entirely oppose the BDS movement,” but added that freedom of speech is “something that all Canadians value and we must vigorously defend.”

The motion, titled “Standing Firm Against Intolerance,” implores the legislature to stand “firmly against any position or movement that promotes or encourages any form of hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance in any way; recognizes the longstanding, vibrant and mutually beneficial political, economic and cultural ties between Ontario and Israel, built on a foundation of shared liberal democratic values; endorses the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism; and rejects the differential treatment of Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

In an address to the legislature, Martow recalled how as a university student, she once found a swastika daubed on her dormitory door.

She thought it was “just a way to get under my skin. I forgot about it.” But she recalled the incident as a way of reminding MPPs of the anti-Semitism faced by university and college students because of BDS.

“Students incur hostility and see demonstrations that demonize the Jewish community and Israel,” she said. “That affects their psychological well-being and makes it difficult for them to continue their studies. We would not be here supporting the Ku Klux Klan on our campuses, so why are we allowing [the] BDS movement and other anti-Jewish and anti-Israel organizations to have demonstrations and use our campuses, which are taxpayer-funded?”

Martow said the issue is not about freedom of speech.

“The boycott movement is actually not just boycotting Israel. It’s boycotting voices. It’s telling people, ‘You cannot support Israel.’ It’s telling people, ‘You cannot do advocacy work on campuses.’”

‘BDS is Failing’

Last February, the House of Commons endorsed a motion condemning “any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.” It passed by a vote of 229 to 51.

The US Congress has also passed a similar resolution, as have 16 US states.

“BDS is failing. It will continue to fail. It has failed,” Martow said. “BDS is the negative way of doing things.”

MPP Julia Munro said boycotting Israel is “thinly-veiled anti-Semitism. It is not pro-Palestinian. It is simply anti-Israel.” She said only economic co-operation can lead to peace.

“BDS is vindictive, short-sighted and fails to improve the lives of either Palestinians or Israelis,” said MPP Sam Oosterhoff. It is “steeped in anti-Semitic discrimination” and has created a “toxic” environment on university campuses, which has led to the increase in attacks on Jews.

Sara Lefton, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) Toronto vice-president, said more than 12,000 Ontarians signed an online petition urging passage of the resolution.

CIJA Toronto co-chair Berl Nadler said the BDS movement “rejects and negates the very idea of a Jewish state.” Its founders “have openly declared that their goal isn’t a peaceful resolution of the conflict, but rather the total destruction of Israel.”