Justin Trudeau defends his opposition to BDS at town hall

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (EJ Hersom/DoD/CC BY 2.0))

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has reaffirmed his opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

“I will continue to condemn the BDS movement,” Trudeau said during a town hall at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., on Jan. 15.

The issue arose when an audience member rose to thank Trudeau for apologizing for Canada’s refusal to admit the MS St. Louis, which carried Jewish refugees from Europe on the eve of the Second World War.

In his apology, Trudeau said Jewish students “still feel unwelcome and uncomfortable on some of our college and university campuses because of BDS-related intimidation.”


The audience member said the prime minister “gave the impression” that he had equated the BDS movement with anti-Semitism and reminded Trudeau that 236 academics had asked him to retract his previous statements “conflating” BDS with anti-Semitism.

“Will you take this opportunity today to retract your condemnation of the BDS movement?” the man asked.

Trudeau replied by saying that anti-Semitism was once “commonplace,” but that is still exists and “indeed discrimination against Jews is one of the largest sources of hate crimes in Canada and around the world.”

He said hatred of Jews targets individuals, “but also the very state of Israel.”

I will continue to condemn the BDS movement.
– Justin Trudeau

Quoting human rights advocate and former justice minister Irwin Cotler, Trudeau cited the “Three Ds” test for separating criticism of the Jewish state and anti-Semitism: demonization, double standards and delegitimization of Israel.

“We have to be very careful as a society and as a government and as a country not to sanction or support this new frame around anti-Semitism and undue criticism of Israel,” Trudeau said.

He said that doesn’t mean criticizing Israel is off limits: in Israel itself, opposition parties do it every day and it’s “healthy.”

“But when you have movements like BDS that single out Israel, that seeks to delegitimize and in some cases demonize, when you have students on campus dealing with things like Israel apartheid weeks that make them fearful of actually attending campus events because of their religion in Canada, we have to recognize that there are things that aren’t acceptable, not because of foreign policy concerns, but because of Canadian values,” Trudeau said.

A supporter puts up an anti-Israel poster near Westmount Square in Westmount, Que., during the 2015 federal election campaign.

“So, yes, sir, I will continue to condemn the BDS movement.”

Canada officially supports a two-state solution in the Middle East, to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians. “Unilateral actions, whether settlements or declarations of statehood, are not helpful,” Trudeau said.

The Liberals backed a symbolic parliamentary resolution condemning BDS in 2016.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs issued a statement praising Trudeau’s “unambiguous” remarks. “Thank you prime minister for standing with the Jewish community against the divisive BDS campaign,” CIJA wrote.