Niagara Regional Council’s condemnation of BDS Israel movement sparks counter-demonstration

A Commentary by Doug Draper and some News from BDS Coalition representatives in Niagara and other regions of Canada

Posted June 29th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

From NAL publisher Doug Draper

Members of groups – some of them Jewish and some of them not, but all of them saying they are opposed to current Israeli government policies they feel violate the civil rights of Palestinian people in the West Bank region of the Middle East – are pushing back at a motion approved by a majority on Niagara’s regional council earlier this June to condemn the so-called “Boycott-Divestment- Sanction (BDS) Israel movement” and a recent expression of support for the movement by some members of the Niagara Centre NDP Riding Association.

Niagara’s regional headquarters

That expression of support, tabled at a riding association meeting where the ridings MPP, Cindy Forster, was not present, reportedly never received an ounce of support from NDP’s provincial party. But that didn’t stop Fort Erie regional councillor Sandy Annunziata from condemning members of the riding association for flirting with it and from publicly scolding Forster, in her absence, for not apologizing to Jewish communities in the region and beyond for the fact that support for the BDS movement had been entertained by one or more NDP members in her riding g at all.

I sat at the June 8th regional council meeting while mayors and councillors from across Niagara rung their hands for the better party of two hours over what to do with Annunziata’s motion of condemnation, and while three spokespersons for groups representing members of the Jewish community in Niagara and elsewhere in the province and country expressed their views that the BDS movement is nothing short of an expression of hate toward Jewish people – code for anti-Semitism – pure and simple.

But like so many other issues facing humankind in this world today, there is apparently nothing all that pure and simple about it.

I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of those representatives of Jewish community who spoke at the June 8th regional council meeting and believe that the BDS movement is fuelled by racism.

Then again, there are other members of the Jewish community across this region and country, and there are other citizens in this region and country, who do not believe that this movement is racist at all, but rather an expression of opposition to Israeli government policies in the West Bank they see as violating the civil rights of Palestinians living there.

Some of the people who hold this view plan on holding a demonstration outside the Niagara regional council headquarters this June 29th ahead of meetings of the region’s council, and I am posting a media release circulated about that demonstration below.

There are also members of an organization called Independent Jewish Voices Canada who are hoping to make a presentation of their own before the regional council in the weeks ahead to explain why they happen to support the BDS movement. A copy of an open letter to the council from a member of that group is also posted below.

As for Annunziata’s motion of condemnation, he can say, as he did, that it was not intended as a political attack against the Niagara area MPP, Cindy Forster, all he wants. I have problems buying that.

Of all the members of the Ontario legislature in this region, Forster has been the strongest when it comes to championing a call, supported by many Niagara citizens and a majority of the region’s local municipal councils, for a full audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s operations in the wake of laundry lists of questions and concerns over the way this body, which includes Annunziata and several other regional councillors on its board of directors, is spending millions of dollars of our tax money.

Annunziata, who just happens to be the NPCA board’s current chair, has levelled criticism at Forster before for continuing her push for an audit and for more accountability and transparency when it comes to NPCA’s operations, and I find it rather curious, to say the least, that of all the issues and challenges we face in Niagara that he could have tabled a motion on, he chose this one involving the BDS matter and the NDP association in Forster’s riding.

I also found it disappointing, as I sat there watching all of the hand wringing over Annunziata’s motion unfold, that of those dozen or so members of the regional council I have respect for only two – George Marshall of Welland and Kelly Edgar of St. Catharines – had the courage to stand up and call it a slam on Forster for her stance on the NPCA.

I suspect there was the fear among the others that they might be tarred as racists if they didn’t support the motion, but I still have problems understanding why more of the good members didn’t look Annunziata and his supporters in the eye and say something like; “I dare you to suggest in any way that I am an anti-Semitic for seeing through what I think you are trying to do here.”

More sickening than disappointing to me, however, were words from Annunziata, quoted in a June 9th edition of the St. Catharines Standard that went like this; “I want to offer my sincere apologies to the Jewish community. … Even though I am not the one who should be making the apology and begging for the forgiveness of the Jewish community, I feel compelled to ask for foregiveness for residents who have shared their remorse that something like this could be festering and lurking in Niagara.”

Who is Annunziata apologizing on behalf of? The NDP riding association, Cindy Forster, the Niagara region?

Please, someone deliver us from any more of this crap!

So now we have other members of Jewish communities and their supporters coming forward with an altogether different take on what the BDS movement is all about.

As they say, one reaps what they sow. And on and on we go with stuff like this at the regional council while so many other issues impacting on the health and welfare of Niagara residents need more attention.

Now here are the posts I referred to earlier from people more supportive of the BDS movement.

Niagara BDS Information Demonstration at Regional Building

“The first time I heard of BDS was from an Israeli who said ‘boycott us!’” – Ineke Medcalf

Niagara, Ontario – On Thursday, June 29, 2017, at 6 pm, and earlier at 4:15 pm, Ineke Medcalfe of Niagara BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Coalition will be leading a demonstration at the Niagara Region Headquarter’s Campbell West Entrance in Thorold, Ontario to offer information on BDS of Israel and counter misinformation behind Regional Council’s condemnation of BDS at the June 8th, 2017 council meeting.

“The first time I heard of BDS was from an Israeli peace activist who told me ‘boycott us! It’s the only way Israel’s policies will change” explained Ineke Medcalf.

Ineke has been a witness to Israel’s discrimination of Palestinians directly through four visits to the occupied territories, including once for three months. “Every Israeli peace activist has said the same thing; BDS is the only way to change Israel’s policies.”

The BDS movement, inspired by the BDS movement against South African apartheid, was launch in 2005 by 170 Palestinian unions, political parties, refugee networks, women’s organisations, professional associations, and other Palestinian civil society bodies.

Jewish groups such as Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Canada support BDS, and an EKOS poll this year sponsored by IJV Canada and Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East (CPJME) shows over 66% of Canadians support BDS as well (http://www.cjpme.org/survey).

Finally, here is a recently circulated open letter to Niagara’s regional council from Judy Haiven, on behalf of the steering committee for Independent Jewish Voices Canada, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia –

I am writing on behalf of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJVCanada.org). We are a nationwide Jewish human rights organization which promotes a just resolution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine. We do this through the application of international law and respect for the human rights of all parties.

We, too, condemn St. Catharines regional Coun. Andy Petrowski’s clearly anti-Semitic, homophobic and sexist tweets. We agree with Synagogue B’nai Israel and the multicultural council’s calls for regional council to censure him.

However, it is with great consternation that we read about Niagara regional council’s motion to “wholly condemn” the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement as anti-Semitic. Here is why: At IJV Canada we know a great deal about BDS, and about anti-Semitism. IJV-Canada has recently celebrated its 10th year with chapters in many Canadian cities, and a growing number of student chapters on major university campuses. IJV supports the right of Canadians to criticize and challenge the current laws and policies of the State of Israel, including through the BDS Movement. IJV abhors anti-Semitism. However, we do not conflate anti-Semitism with BDS — which your council did in its June 8 meeting.

Our view is the same as tens of thousands of other Jewish people across Canada, the U.S and in Israel itself. We believe Israel must end its 50 years of illegal and brutal military occupation of Palestine. The United Nations has passed more than 150 resolutions demanding that Israel withdraw from its occupation of Palestine. International human rights groups including Amnesty International, OXFAM and Israel’s own B’tselem have documented Israel’s human rights abuses and called for an end to Israel’s illegal occupation.

Since 2005, Palestinians and their allies worldwide have adopted non-violent, peaceful tactics to fight Israel’s occupation. This is what BDS is all about.

BDS does not seek to destroy Israel, or Jews, but urges nonviolent pressure and peaceful protest against Israel until it complies with international law. Boycott, divestment and sanctions were key to the defeat of Apartheid in South Africa, more than 25 years ago, and we feel that this strategy can work to support Palestinian human rights.

BDS is an inclusive, anti-racist human rights movement that is opposed on principle to all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

Indeed, a recent EKOS poll shows that Canadians are very supportive on these issues: 91 per cent accept the view that criticism of Israeli government policy is like criticism of any other country and is not necessarily anti-Semitic. Far more Canadians have a negative view of the Israeli government (46 per cent) than positive (28 per cent); 66 per cent believe that sanctions on Israel are reasonable, given its violations of international law; 78 per cent believe that the Palestinians’ call for a boycott of Israel is reasonable in the circumstances.

As we watched the video of your council meeting, it was clear that the debate and deliberations would have been less one-sided had you also invited IJV-Canada to present. We are Jews who represent many in the Canadian Jewish community. I’m afraid neither B’nai Brith nor CIJA nor the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre represent all the Jewish people in Canada.

We would be pleased to explain why many Jews and other Canadians support BDS and answer your questions at an upcoming council meeting. We could participate through Skype.

Judy Haiven

For the IJV Canada steering committee

Halifax 

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space below the Bernie quote.

A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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3 responses to “Niagara Regional Council’s condemnation of BDS Israel movement sparks counter-demonstration

  1. Is NRC losing its way? We have enough problems in the Niagara Region on which Council should be focused: not what’s going on in Israel over which they have no control. Energy is misplaced with such motions. Focus on the Region. There are enough issues here!
    Now, lest anyone think I am supportive of what Israel is doing be clear, I have my views. I am active in Jewish/Islamic/Christian dialogue. I am also a citizen of the Region and want Council to get on with business here. That is job enough. If councillors wish to make their views on Israel known: good! Do so on their time not Council time. Rather focus on the sad state of transportation in the Region for one. There are plenty of other matters to keep this Council busy for local citizens. That is where their efforts as Council should be!

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    • Shame on Niagara Region for dictating to me and protecting me. Annunziata is not my moral spokesperson. He directed this shameful payback!
      Take care of business Sandy. Provide services only. The entire council was duped by professional advocates for apartheid in Isreal/Palestine. There was no alternate information because this payback was a rush job..;This is not the end of my protest.

      Good words Judy. Forward.

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  2. Good for Mr Draper. He synthesized what is going on in Niagara. The Niagara Council was deluged with 3 speakers in favour of Israel’s illegal and immoral occupation of Palestine and against BDS. And these speakers never allow dissent. What of the sensible people –who support BDS as a non violent way to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, and Gaza — why can’t they speak in favour of BDS at Regional Council?

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