By Lee Berthiaume, Montreal Gazette, April 16, 2012
OTTAWA — An Israeli politician appears to have contravened a controversial law in his home country by calling on Canadians to boycott companies and products linked to Israeli towns built in the West Bank and other occupied Palestinian territory.
Ahmad Tibi, an Arab-Israeli who is also deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament, said he does not know what penalty he will face for breaking the Boycott Law, which came into force in July and allows a civil suit against those who encourage such a boycott.
“I said that I am willing to test this immoral law trying to prevent me, as a member of the Parliament, from expressing my views against the settlements in a peaceful way,” he said during a visit to Ottawa on Monday. “This is the first time that someone is calling and demanding abroad.”
The construction of Israeli settlements — essentially self-contained, fortified towns — in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law because those territories, which were captured by Israel in the 1967 war, are seen as being subject to the Geneva Conventions, forbidding construction on occupied land.
Not only has the continued expansion of these settlements been a major source of international criticism against Israel, but it also has been a key obstacle to Middle East peace.
Tibi, who served for a time as an adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, noted that successive Canadian governments have turned a disapproving eye on settlement construction.
“But it seems that the Canadian government is not willing to differentiate between for example, products coming from settlements and products coming from Israel,” he said.
In fact, the Conservative government has taken the opposite position, stripping federal funding from a number of civil society groups that have advocated boycotting goods produced in the settlements and divesting from Israeli companies based there.
The Conservatives have argued that such advocates are seeking to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist, a position Tibi dismissed.
“Settlements are a cancer spreading all over Palestinian land, and cancer should be treated and eradicated,” he said. “I am talking about a peaceful and non-violent way by not buying or selling or dealing in these products from these settlements.”
The European Union, which has a free-trade agreement with Israel, already differentiates between goods produced in Israel and those from the settlements; the free trade agreement applies to the former, but not the latter.
Tibi said a number of civil society organizations, including several in Britain, have produced lists laying out what Israeli goods are produced in the country and which are from the settlements.