ipolitics.ca: Boycott Israel – or don’t. Either way, it’s none of Ottawa’s business.

Andrew Mitrovica, ipolitics.ca

Who knew that a dumb little story about ketchup could go viral? Who expected that dumb little story to end up making a backhanded comment about boycotts, political hypocrisy, the Middle East and anti-Semitism?

Recently, a guy named Brian Fernandez wrote a Facebook post saying he would no longer buy Heinz ketchup after he learned that the popular brand had shuttered its plant in Leamington, Ontario, opting to make the condiment in the United States. Instead, he’s buying French’s ketchup, which apparently is made from Canadian tomatoes.

The post got lots of positive mainstream media coverage and led to a spike in sales for French’s. So you see how this works: Someone makes a purchasing decision on the basis of personal ethics, word gets around and, suddenly, the marketplace shifts ever so slightly. Which is how commercial boycotts work — through consumers exercising the power of personal choice.

Now, imagine that another brand of ketchup, instead of being made in the good old U.S. of A., is being manufactured in Israel. Let’s say some hypothetical ketchup consumer, incensed by Israel’s illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land, decides to stop buying that ketchup and encourages others to do the same, or switch to mayo. What do you think would happen then?

Chances are, that hypothetical ketchup consumer would find himself praised by a few and vilified by a lot more — as a leftist loon, as an anarchist, as a Hamas stooge, as an anti-Semite. Nothing has changed between these two scenarios, apart from the target. But the target changes everything.

And you can be sure that the establishment press would either ignore that boycott outright, or dismiss its author as a self-promoting “radical” while enthusiastically piling on the hyperbolic derision.

Heading up that conga line of condemnation would be Conservative MPs Tony Clement and Michelle Rempel, co-sponsors of a motion last month to “reject the (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) BDS movement (which) promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon 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.”

Seeing Clement and Rempel introduce the motion was no surprise, given their party’s long history of delirious, unqualified, unquestioning support for Israel. What is mildly surprising, however, is that politicians who never miss a chance to lecture the nation on the moral superiority of unfettered free enterprise — the sort of people who are always wailing on about how the state should get out of the wallets of the nation — now feel entitled to hector the rest of us about where we do, and don’t, spend our money.

The Conservatives’ stance on BDS is incoherent and hypocritical. The Liberals’ approach to it is merely spineless. The vast majority of the government caucus, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, voted in favour of the Tory motion on BDS. About a dozen Liberal MPs abstained, while two Liberals voted against the motion.

Justin Trudeau promised a more “balanced approach” to the Middle East conflict. Apparently that doesn’t extend to allowing Canadians to make up their own damn minds about it. That, of course, would be the act of a leftist loon, an anarchist, a Hamas stooge, an anti-Semite.

In lining up behind the Conservatives’ BDS hysteria, the Liberal Party of Canada exposes itself, once again, as a collection of rank political opportunists. Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion questioned the Conservatives’ motives in putting forth the motion and insisted the Government of Canada was “in no way seeking to limit freedom of expression”. Very diplomatic.

Contrast that with what Liberal MP for Mount Royal Anthony Housefather had to say as he joined Rempel and Clement in a leap off the rhetorical deep end. “(BDS) seeks to destroy the only Jewish state in the world. The goal of the BDS movement is to have all the Palestinians return to the state of Israel, which would take away the Jewish majority in Israel and no longer have the only Jewish state in the world,” he told iPolitics. “It’s a new form of anti-Semitism.”

Preposterous. But it fits the pattern of almost every debate about the policies of the State of Israel: You never have to wait very long for someone to start swinging that ‘anti-Semitism’ cudgel.

Ever cautious, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said that while the BDS movement was open to “debate,” he criticized the Tories and Liberals for supporting a motion intended to stifle freedom of expression. “To call upon the government to condemn someone for having that opinion, that’s unheard of,” Mulcair said, adding that the motion “makes it a thought crime to express an opinion …

“Since when do we allow that in a free and democratic society?”

Good question. The BDS movement — which, by the way, has the backing of many Jewish Canadians — is like every other non-violent attempt to push for justice and peace between Israelis and Palestinians alike: It gets condemned early and often by politicians and media. The Canadians that travelled by boat to Gaza as part of a relief effort last year were ridiculed by much of the corporate press. Columnists like myself who express support or sympathy for Palestinians tend to get tarred online as leaders of an “anti-Zionist mob”.

The good news? The people who take part in boycott movements couldn’t care less what Clement or Rempel think — or Trudeau, Dion or Housefather, for that matter. Because it’s our money. Our choice.

Andrew Mitrovica is a writer and journalism instructor. For much of his career, Andrew was an investigative reporter for a variety of news organizations and publications including the CBC’s fifth estate, CTV’s W5, CTV National News — where he was the network’s chief investigative producer — the Walrus magazine and the Globe and Mail, where he was a member of the newspaper’s investigative unit. During the course of his 23-year career, Andrew has won numerous national and international awards for his investigative work.


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