Greens in crisis as May mulls quitting over BDS vote

Elizabeth May
Green party Leader Elizabeth May

Federal Green party Leader Elizabeth May is contemplating stepping down from her role after party members voted to adopt a policy in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, despite her vocal opposition to it.

Following the Green party’s national convention in Ottawa over the weekend –during which delegates passed a resolution in favour of the BDS campaign – May told CBC News reporter Rosemary Barton that she is “struggling with the question of whether I should continue as leader or not.”

“I’m quite certain most of our members don’t support this policy, but weren’t fully engaged in the consensus building process we normally would have had,” she said.

“So if I can’t find a way to bring that back and have the members review it with a consensus decision-making process, then I have to profoundly question whether I can continue as leader and that’s obviously heart-breaking.”


Earlier, in a statement released by the party after the convention, May said she was disappointed the party membership adopted a policy she considers to be “polarizing, ineffective and unhelpful in the quest for peace and security for the peoples of the Middle East.”

Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green party, said in a statement that the adoption of the BDS policy “represents a significant step away from the values that define the B.C. Green Party… I think the Green Party of Canada needs to take a careful look at their policy process and ask themselves how a policy that goes against Green Party values could have been allowed on the floor of a convention.”

Green party federal council president Ken Melamed, who is Jewish, told The CJN he wasn’t surprised by May’s comments about stepping down.

“Elizabeth has expressed her opposition to using BDS as a method to achieve the party’s goals, which is a peaceful two-state solution for Palestine and Israel… Where the polarization has occurred is in how you get there… At the end of the day, there was a significant majority of people who supported taking this position,” Melamed said.

Although there was no official count, Melamed said about two-thirds of the 300 delegates at the convention voted in favour of the BDS policy.


Melamed said it would be a huge loss to the party if May decides to step down as leader, but he added, “I guess I hadn’t made the connection between [her opposition to the BDS policy] and her ability to be leader of the party. I see it more clearly now.”

Melamed predicted regardless of whether May steps down, the Tories and Liberals will capitalize on the development in an attempt to marginalize the Greens.

“I think this will have long-lasting effects. Emails I’ve been receiving are from people who have said very clearly, ‘I’ll never support the Green party again.’ On the flip side, I’ve received emails from people congratulating the Green party for taking a stand. No one has said they are going to join the Green party as a result of it.

Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs CEO Shimon Fogel said this controversy “underscores just how divisive these kinds of initiative are. They really don’t speak to constructive efforts toward advancing peace in the region or a sense of consensus even here in Canada.”

Fogel speculated that the Green party may suffer a similar fate to the United Church of Canada, which adopted a BDS resolution in 2012.

“Eighty years ago, [the United Church] was the leading Protestant sect in Canada. Now it is in profound crisis. It has hemorrhaged membership to the point that it can barely keep itself together nationally, in terms of finances or membership,” Fogel said.

“Do I think that the Green party has a lot of introspection to do and consideration of what steps it has to take to reclaim the party and to set it back on a course that would resonate with mainstream Canada? Yes, I think they do.”

Earlier in the week, Jewish community groups did not mince words in response to the party decision to endorse the BDS movement as official party policy.


Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies president and CEO Avi Benlolo said the vote in favour of BDS “shows the party has been infected by a vicious strain of anti-Jewish hate.

“That the Green party has adopted a racist policy directed against the Jewish state as its only foreign policy is telling… As a party whose sole foreign policy is based on anti-Semitic hatred, the Greens have demonstrated they are manifestly unfit to govern.”

B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said the party “has firmly entrenched itself beyond the fringe of mainstream Canadian politics.”

“This clearly reflects how out of touch the Green party has become with Canadian culture and values.”

Mostyn said Canadians should be concerned that the party voted to adopt the policy, given that this past February, a motion passed in Parliament calling on the government to “condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement.”

JNF CEO Josh Cooper condemned the Green party for its BDS endorsement, but added he was pleased that May helped to ensure delegates removed all reference to the JNF from a second resolution that sought to revoke JNF’s charitable status, “particularly given that the original proposal contained malicious distortions and falsehoods” about his organization.

While a majority of delegates voted in favour of the BDS resolution, the decision was by no means unanimous.

The party’s small business and entrepreneur critic, Jean-Luc Cooke, took to Facebook to express his “strong objection” to the divisive vote, adding that the decision to endorse BDS as party policy left him to do some “soul-searching.”

Richard Zurawski, a past Green candidate, told the Globe and Mail that he feels “marginalized” by the vote and said “when we specifically single out Israelis, I worry about the buzzwords and subtext and code language, which is anti-Semitic.”

But Melamed objected to the accusation the party is anti-Semitic.

“I refute that absolutely. I’m a Jew, and I take offence that by association I’m anti-Semitic. It’s just ridiculous. I really take issue with people who suggest that any criticism of the State of Israel is anti-Semitic.

Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), an organization that supports the BDS campaign against Israel, applauded the party’s “courage to engage in open debate about issues relating to Palestinians’ human rights.”

In a statement released in advance of the Aug. 7 vote, IJV spokesperson Tyler Levitan said the BDS resolution, as well as the resolution that singled out JNF for practising “institutional discrimination… reflect the values of the Green party members and ordinary Canadians, who oppose discrimination, regardless of where it is practised.”

Fogel said CIJA is “grateful for those who have had the intellectual honesty to challenge those who want to advance their anti-Israel agenda on the back of the Green party.

“We’re appreciative of the principled positions Elizabeth May has staked out. It requires a lot of courage and real leadership to be able to push back against those kinds of emotionally driven and disingenuous efforts.”