Harper must clarify ‘zero tolerance’ for Israel boycotters: Church

“We believe that Canadians need clear reassurance from our government”

by: Obert Madondo  | May 20, 2015

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper listens while Israeli PM Netanyahu speaks. (Photo: Stephen Harper/Flickr/cc)

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper listens while Israeli PM Netanyahu speaks. (Photo: Stephen Harper/Flickr/cc)

The United Church of Canada is gravely concerned about Stephen Harper’s effort to criminalize Canadians critical of Israel.

In a letter dispatched to the prime minister late last week, the United Church demanded that the Harper government give “clear assurance” that it “does not intend to limit the democratic rights and freedoms of individuals and organizations opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.”

“The United Church seeks to live into a vision of Canada as a just society within a caring world, expressed in active, thoughtful involvement in society,” said the letter, signed by The Right Rev. Gary Paterson, the church’s moderator.

The church’s letter was prompted by a recent CBC News story that revealed the government’s intention to use Canadian hate crime laws to criminalize both legitimate criticism of Israel and support for Palestinians.

According to the CBC, the Conservatives’ plan “could target a range of civil society organizations, from the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Quakers to campus protest groups and labour unions.”

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Earlier this year, Canada and Israel signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” which identified the global Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement as “the new face of anti-Semitism.” Shortly after the MOU was signed, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney informed the UN General Assembly that the Conservatives would respond with “zero tolerance” to “all forms of discrimination including rhetoric towards Israel, and attempts to delegitimize Israel such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.”

In its letter to Harper, the United Church clarified its position on the BDS movement, stating that it was committed to “working with others seeking peace with justice in Israel and Palestine.”

“This work is rooted in the gospel mandate to be peacemakers and in response to the calls of Palestinian and Israeli partners to join them in working toward a just peace for both peoples,” said the letter.

The letter added:

“The United Church is not advocating a boycott of Israel; our economic action campaign against goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories is one piece within a broader program of prayer, partnership, and trust-building efforts. The church’s actions are consistent with our understandings of the shared value Canadians have for the democratic right of freedom of expression. The United Church of Canada stands in solidarity with groups and individuals exercising this right in nonviolent, peaceful ways.”

The United Church’s letter was copied to NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, the leaders of the Liberal Party of Canada, Green Party of Canada, Bloc Québécois, and the ministers of foreign affairs and public safety.

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Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow me on Twitter: @Obiemad