Elizabeth May, Rafe Mair debate Israel, BDS and Green Party’s future
by Rafe Mair - Common Sense Canadian
August 15, 2016
What follows below is my recent exchange of letters with federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May over her high-profile dilemma with the party endorsing the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. But first, a few words to set the stage.
I began to hear rumours as you all did that Elizabeth May was going to quit the leadership of the Green Party over its resolution to support The BDS initiative, a worldwide effort to force Israel to treat Palestine and Palestinians fairly.
I then received a copy of a letter, generally circulated, sent by the former Director of Communications for the Green Party of Canada, Kieran Green, to Ms. May.
I must tell you frankly that, along with many British Columbians, I was much impressed by Ms. May’s accomplishments, supported her editorially here and elsewhere. We became friends.
I was and remain extremely disappointed and believe that Elizabeth May has let a great many people down and, perhaps worse, has taken, forgive me, the evil side of an issue, on the wrong side of history, and an issue that has nothing to do with the cause for which so many supported her so wholeheartedly.
I only hope that we don’t learn that she carries an offer from Justin Trudeau in her handbag.
Here is the correspondence between us, plus some highlights from Mr. Kieran Green’s letter to Elizabeth May:
Kieran Green’s Aug. 10 letter – select passages…Today, Israel continues to commit crimes – bulldozing homes, building illegal settlements. In fact, Israel has violated more different international laws than just about any nation in the world today, including, but not limited to: illegal use of inhumane white phosphorous munitions; violation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; use of collective punishment against civilians; expropriation of property from an occupied territory; claiming sovereignty over land in an occupied territory; extrajudicial executions; torture; deliberate military targeting of emergency medical first response personnel and vehicles; deliberate targeting of civilians; denial of humanitarian aid to a civilian population; use of civilians as human shields by military personnel. Many of these are explicitly war crimes under International Law…
…In supporting BDS, the Green party of Canada has stepped to the right side of history. Which side will you stand on?
Letter from Rafe Mair to Elizabeth May – Aug. 11Dear Elizabeth,
I whole heartedly with Kieran Green’s letter to you.
This is not a matter of anti-Semitism as the state of Israel and now you would have one believe is the issue – so convenient to Netanyahu – but a question of fair play for a minority driven out of their lands, now, by international law, occupied lands to be returned to their owners. Why you would support contrived self pity over the clear rights of Palestinians under international law, not to mention civilized morality, is beyond me. Anti-Semitism is not even an issue except as a phoney, self-serving whine. I spent 25 years in radio receiving complaints from the Canadian Jewish Congress, as an automatic reflex, any time I criticized the state of Israel.
Indeed, there is anti-Semitism as a major social issue in the world but in this context it is an irrelevant issue, contrived by Israel, not to draw attention to discrimination against Jews, but to serve its national interests.
Of course there has been atrociously uncivilized behaviour on both sides – that is the hallmark of war, especially civil war with deep religious hatred. However you may wish to parcel out that blame, there’s plenty to go around. For the Green Party, a party of moral principles, to deprive the Palestinian people of international and Canadian support for nationhood after all these years and suffering in refugee camps is, frankly, unbelievable. There is no question but that the Jewish lobby, both in the United States and Canada, has flogged the case that any support for Palestinians is anti-Semitic, a grossly unfair tactic which should be condemned by all decent people. I can’t believe that the Elizabeth May I know and admire could fall for this crap.
It’s abundantly clear that by no means is this the attitude of Jewish people in general – certainly not those that I have known, was law partners and political associates with, and travel with and see socially. It is not easy for them to get into a societal row over such matters; it never has been and never will be. Demographic groups tend to avoid internal squabbles; certainly mine does. While I don’t say that’s right, it’s natural not to want communities and even families fighting one another. Having said that, it’s the clear obligation of those who supply money and other support to the state of Israel to make it clear that depriving Palestinians of their own nation, by occupying and destroying their homes, “legally” stealing the land and building houses on it, is not on and will not be accepted, let alone supported.
I find it impossible to understand how Elizabeth May, the humanitarian I’ve come to admire so greatly, would stake her leadership of the Green Party not on a “Green” issue, which would be understandable, but in support of an Israeli government whose policies violate principles of basic humanity. How ironic, how awful it is to contemplate that the person who established The Green Party as a political force for such good in this country is apparently about to preside at its funeral.
I beg of you to reconsider.
Reply from Elizabeth May to Rafe Mair – Aug. 12I gather Rafe’s missive went to more than me? Perhaps I should share this with you.
The Green Party should not have tried out Robert’s Rules of Order. We have always used consensus based decision making. We always find common ground through mutual respect and shared values. We actually violated core values in leaving consensus decision-making. It is an absolute parallel with the electoral reform debate. Parliaments that operate under FPTP are like Roberts Rules of Order – nasty. Majoritarian and prone to policy lurches thru winner take all votes. Proportional Rep democracies strive for consensus and operate much better. We accidentally backed into a process that violates our core values- Just as we make the case that Canada should move to consensus!
I want to be clearer about why I opposed the resolution on BDS. Of course, I do not condemn people in the BDS movement. In fact I am sponsoring a petition to reverse the House of Commons vote to demonize the movement itself.
My concern is that it is very divisive and, fairly or unfairly, is seen as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. How divisive it is is very clear from what it just did to our party.
Criticism of Netanyahu’s actions is appropriate. In fact, I was the only party leader to criticize the excessive reaction by Netanyahu in bombarding Gaza in 2014. The demand for Palestinian rights is appropriate. This is all in existing GPC policy. Endorsing a series of social movement tactics is not something a political party does. For example, we can call for a two state solution and for Israel to stop the illegal expansions in occupied territory. We do not need to support one particular set of slogans and demands from a movement that is not a political party and whose demands make no sense for a party looking for solutions the Canadian Government can deliver.
Unfortunately, as noted above, the debate was run under new rules – Roberts Rules of Order. Had we followed our usual and time-worn practice of consensus based decision making, this resolution would never have passed. It was too divisive. A compromise would have been found.
As well, due to a misunderstanding, my microphone was cut off in my only intervention, after 90 seconds. What I had wanted to do when my mic was cut off was support the call from retired members of the Israeli security forces. This new group, Security First, is taking on Netanyahu. It calls for an end to illegal expansions by pointing out it makes Israel less secure. Supporting the same demands as being made by an outside group, BDS, but coming from retired Israeli defense and Mossad members is much smarter and will be more effective.
The range of options to get Israel to live up to international law could include sanctions and consumer boycotts. In fact language like that was in a compromise amendment I wanted to support. But it was ruled out of order. It would have allowed us to speak in our own words, to keep us from being hijacked by a one-issue movement.
So to be really clear, I respect what many in the BDS movement are trying to do. And I do not think the movement can be condemned as anti-Semitic, although it does attract some who are. It is just wrong to make an outside, and highly controversial movement, our policy.
I also look at what moves governments to change as Gandhi used to – by examining what will be effective. He once said he knew non-violent civil disobedience would move the British to leave India because he knew their conscience could be pricked. But he did not think it could work against a dictatorship. The sanctions movement against South Africa worked because South Africa was a country with Commonwealth colonial history. It really stung South African Afrikaners to be thrown out of the Commonwealth. They wanted back in. It was their “family.”
Israel is entirely different. It is a country established from the ashes of the unspeakable genocide. It feels surrounded by enemies. Its leadership and citizenry is not pricked by conscience by these tactics; it does not feel excluded and wishing to be accepted. It feels under assault and threatened. It draws more inward and erects more walls – figurative and literal. Through a history of victimization and genocide, boycotts and sanctions are experienced by the mainstream Canadian Jewish community, by Greens in Israel and by the Israeli government an attack on Israel’s right to exist. It does not move or promote change. I am convinced BDS will never advance peace or Palestinian rights. Working to promote the views of retired Israeli armed forces members and promoting more Canadian government support for Palestinian rights, for aid and development assistance is where we should be as a party. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to say any of this in the plenary debate.
You may still condemn my views, but at least you have the benefit of knowing what they are.
Rafe Mair’s reply to Elizabeth May – Aug. 12Elizabeth,
I find it difficult to accept the breakup of a party in which Canadians placed so much hope on a failed microphone. For that’s what it amounts to. If you think the national party can carry on without you, you’re kidding yourself. Après vous, le deluge. Naturally that would have to change but for the next couple of years, the party and Elizabeth May will be synonymous unless, of course, you quit. The BC Party under Weaver is finished as I told you over a year ago. What a disaster.
I don’t need any lectures on the horrors of the Holocaust. It happened at the most impressionable time of my youth and for the rest of my life I shall remember the Atrocity films we all watched and the dozen refugee kids that came to our school for Grades XI & XII. We all learned a hell of a lot from these brave contemporaries who became classmates and friends. One of them, Tommy Korican, became an outstanding Canadian diplomat.
Your letter betrays, however, a fundamental error and Netanyahu and his gang will love you for it.
The Holocaust had nothing to do with the Palestinians.
You can argue that they should all have read the Old Testament and embraced Zionism, but would you and your family have done so?
There is no point going over uncountable miles of tragic ground. There is an Israel and it must be able to protect itself. But surely to God those that support and finance her have to condemn and force a halt to her egregious lawlessness in simply stealing Palestinian land and displacing Palestinians with settlers, no? How can you even say a word about Israel without your anger rising at this massive ongoing crime, permitted if not encouraged by the US in particular? How would you feel to be a nation of ancient occupants told that you can’t be a nation until Mr. Netanyahu says you can? The only weapons at our disposal are aid and support.
We have an obligation to Palestinians to bring some order and sense to this tragedy. Do you have any idea, Elizabeth, how Israeli Arabs are treated? The gross discrimination in all matters, much including municipal and school funding? The constant harassment with checkpoints and intolerable delays? What the hell has this to do with the Holocaust?
Of course, as I said in my last letter, there’s blame on both sides, plenty enough to go around. But when you open your eyes and look at the 2016 situation, the next move is clearly Israel’s and as long as there’s a Netanyahu, and there always is one close at hand, undeterred if not actually encouraged by the West, there can never be justice for Palestine and Palestinians.
The Green Party self immolating in Canada is sad but we’ll get over it. The Green Party destroying itself because it can’t deal with international issues because a mic didn’t work, meaning I suppose that but for a short, sharp lecture from the leader all would have been well, makes you all look like damned fools who couldn’t run the Village of Lions Bay, much less a country. If it weren’t so serious it could be a P.G.Wodehouse book.
Leadership is much more than what one does on the hustings and, critically, includes what the leader leaves as a legacy.
Lions Bay, BC