This week is Israel Apartheid Week on college campuses worldwide — an annual hatefest devoted to demonizing Israel and mobilizing support for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), made even more grotesque by the numerous Israelis serving as featured speakers. But this year, pushback came from a surprising direction: the provincial legislature of Ontario, Canada, voted unanimously to condemn this extravaganza, because it “serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights, and … diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.”
Two things make this decision remarkable. One is that Ontario has long been a hotbed of anti-Israel activity. For instance, its largest labor union, the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, enthusiastically promotes BDS; in 2006, the chapter voted to boycott Israel until it accepts a Palestinian “right of return,” otherwise known as committing demographic suicide. Thus Ontario legislators defied a powerhouse vote machine over an issue with little political traction, just because they thought it was right.
The second is that not long ago, Canada’s foreign policy was hostile to Israel. In October 2000, for instance, days after the intifada erupted, Canada voted for a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for the violence, without a word of blame for the Palestinians. And that vote was typical, not exceptional. Thus the Ontario decision represents a sharp turnabout in a fairly short period of time.
The man primarily responsible for the change is undoubtedly Canada’s Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, who has turned his country into one of Israel’s most reliable supporters. Under his leadership, Canada has repeatedly cast the sole “no” vote on anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council (for example, a January 2009 resolution condemning Israel’s war in Gaza); Canada became the first country — even before Israel — to announce a boycott of last year’s Durban II conference because of its anti-Israel tone; and Harper has worked to end Canadian government support for nongovernmental organizations that demonize Israel. In short, he has made it respectable to publicly support Israel in Canada. So it’s unsurprising that the legislator who introduced Ontario’s anti–Apartheid Week resolution belonged to Harper’s party.
But Harper’s revolution alone cannot explain the Ontario vote. The Conservatives have only 24 seats in Ontario’s parliament; the rival Liberal Party, which has no reason to toe Harper’s line, has 71. Yet Liberals who, as one noted, normally disagree with Conservatives over almost everything united with them on this. It’s worth reading the debate in full to appreciate the depth and breadth of the legislators’ support.
The obvious conclusion is that Israel’s case can be persuasive to people of goodwill of all political stripes — if Israel and its supporters bother to make it. Activists in Ontario clearly have, creating fertile soil for Harper’s moves; last week’s assembly vote was the fruit. It’s a lesson pro-Israel activists facing uphill battles elsewhere should remember. For not long ago, Canada, too, seemed lost.