Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne committed to work with members of the opposition to draft a motion that addresses the boycott, sanctions and divestment campaign against Israel, after being challenged by Tory MPPs.
She made the pledge in response to the controversy surrounding “The Standing Up Against Anti-Semitism in Ontario Act,” a private member’s bill that was introduced last month at Queen’s Park by Conservative MPP Tim Hudak and Liberal MPP Mike Colle, with the backing of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies president and CEO Avi Benlolo. It was defeated by a vote of 39-18.
The bill identified the BDS movement as “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel globally and is increasingly promoted on university campuses in Ontario… leading to intimidation and violence on campuses.”
It called on the province – as well as colleges and universities – to abstain from doing business with companies that support the BDS movement against Israel.
Colle was the lone Liberal who voted for the bill, which was supported by the Conservatives and rejected by the NDP.
Speaking in the legislature June 2, Thornhill Conservative MPP Gila Martow said, “We all know that if an institution organized a movement to marginalize, demonize and physically attack LBGT communities, this government would be outraged. Yet, when a government-funded institution does this to the Jewish community, it’s justified as free speech.
“Why did this entire Liberal caucus, with the exception of one brave member, refuse to support our Jewish communities?”
When the anti-BDS bill was defeated on May 19, Wynne was in the middle of a trade mission to Israel, during which she spoke out against the BDS movement and anti-Semitism in any form.
“Premier, you say you oppose the BDS movement, but the problem is you opposed the bill and you opposed a solution on how to combat the growing anti-Semitism in our province and across campuses,” Hudak said in the house. “Surely, it is time to take a stand.”
Wynne responded with a suggestion.
“Let’s figure out if we can craft a motion that is not divisive, that is actually unifying in nature, Mr. Speaker, that actually is not flawed,” she said.
“I made this commitment when I was on the mission, Mr. Speaker, that we would work with the opposition parties and that we would try to come up with a motion that would pass in this legislature that would reflect the inclusiveness of all the members of this legislature… in the coming weeks.”
Martow called Wynne’s pledge “a step forward,” but didn’t like her use of the word divisive.
“To me, the only thing I see that is divisive is her [pro-Israel] opinion,” given that the rest of her caucus voted against the bill.
Moreover, Martow said Hudak and Colle had proposed a ban, unlike the more symbolic federal motion passed in February, in which the House of Commons passed an Opposition resolution that urged the government to “condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.”
“A bill means you will lose your funding. A bill has teeth. A bill means there is something we can do about it,” Martow said. “I’m not satisfied with a motion or resolution… she’s trying to water down the bill.”
Meanwhile, University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman said he doesn’t understand why this is a provincial issue at all, since trade is a federal jurisdiction, and he doesn’t think the Ontario legislature should be considering the issue anymore than a high school student council should.
“Why don’t they have a motion about what is going on in Nigeria? Or the Chinese occupation of Tibet? Time in the legislature is important… So why are we spending time on this?” Wiseman said.
“Did anyone run on this? Was this part of anyone’s platform? Did any party put this in their program? So why is it being brought up now?”
Speculating why an anti-BDS motion would pass federally but not provincially, Wiseman said “it could be that this initiative by Hudak and Colle went ahead independently of their party leaderships” and that “there is a bigger game going on here that has nothing to do with BDS.”
He added that improper wording wasn’t to blame for the bill’s defeat.