The Green Party of Canada actively engaged its members in open debate about Palestinian human rights and Israeli assertions on Palestinian land at the Green Party convention in Ottawa this weekend. There were two resolutions that were passed by the party. One about supporting Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, and another resolution about the Jewish National Funds activities and its charitable status.
Joining me now to talk about all of this is Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri is a lawyer called to the ball of New York state and Ontario, Canada. He previously practiced securities and banking law in New York City, Paris, France, and of course Canada. Hes currently the justice critic of the shadow cabinet of the Green Party of Canada and he does legal work in the field of human rights and environmental law. Hes also board member at the Real News Network.
Thanks for joining us, Dimitri.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Always a pleasure, Sharmini.
PERIES: So Dimitri, tell us about these two very significant resolutions that were passed about BDS and JNU and its charitable status in Canada.
LASCARIS: So the first one, the one relating to the JNF, the Jewish National Fund, or the Canadian branch of it, has had terrible status for many years. In essence, an organization involving human rights violations is not to be given charitable status under Canadian law and an amazing human rights activist by the name of the name [Cory Lavigne] on the west coast conceived up and brought forward the JNF resolution which called upon the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke its charitable status.
And she did that on her own initiative without my knowledge. But I was asked after she brought it forward to be a cosponsor and I readily accepted. Separately and independently of [Cory Lavigne], and in significant part because I visited this year, in April or May, East Jerusalem in the West Bank while I was in Israel to deal with some unrelated legal work and saw firsthand, the brutality of the occupation and the daily suffering of the Palestinian people, I decided to bring forward a resolution calling for support for BDS and opposing any attempts to demonize or criminalize or punish or deter expressions of support for BDS. And Cory kindly and promptly agreed to cosponsor my resolution because she fully supports it.
Under party rules, you have to get 20 party members to sponsor a resolution at a minimum in order for it to be put to a vote. We both obtained an excess of that number and mine was actually well in excess of that number. Even though I did not have a lot of time to pursue this initiative. And initially under party rules, these resolutions and others like them were put to an online vote of the party members. 61.5 % of those who voted and the number was somewhere in the range of the thousands, a little less than 1,000, supported the JNF resolution. And 58.5%, I think it was in the range of a little less than 9,00 voted in favor of the BDS resolution. Only 13.5% of those who voted, voted against. So the ratio of yeasayers to naysayers was an excess of 4 to 1. For the BDS resolution. The others voted for it to go to workshop which means that at the convention, party members who are present can possibly improve the language but whatever is done to the resolution when it receives an excess of 50% has to be consistent with the original intent. Thats in the bylaws of the party.
And so in the workshops, there was one workshop held for both of those at the convention. So they both receive strong report from the people at the workshop and they emerged unamended. And then on the [plenary] floor after that, the JNF resolution was frankly, I would say, cleansed of references to the Jewish National Fund, but the core principle was preserved. Which is to say that organizations that are violating human rights should not have charitable status in Canada. Myself, I and Cory, I think its fair to say were disappointed by that outcome. But nonetheless at least the principle was intact.
The BDS resolution was divided into two. The part that opposed efforts to criminalize or punish or deter BDS support was separated from the rest of the resolution. But the language, neither part of the resolution was changed substantially and both parts passed. And they passed with enough support that it wasnt necessary to conduct a hand count.
So by my estimate it was something in the range of 2 to 1. But thats just sort of my rough estimate based on what I saw in the room. And now these are party policy. And you know I know that every, Im quite conscious of that fact that every effort is going to be made by the apologists in this country and theyre quite vociferous for the government of Israel, in particular the extreme right wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu and every effort will be made somehow to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And so that we have to be, those of us who support these resolutions, and the strong majority do, have to be vigilant and not take anything for granted. We have to preserve the victory and build upon it. And thats going to require a lot of work.
PERIES: Dimitri, in your opinion, is JNF at the moment violating Canadian international and human rights law in pursuing the work theyre doing, and should their status be revoked? And what were the conditions that led to this resolution in naming JNF specifically?
LASCARIS: As I said, I was not the author of that resolution so Im basically reporting for you what I understand from Corys motivation for bringing it forward. But in terms of Canadian law I can certainly speak to that. And any organization which is complicit in human rights violations cannot have and should not have charitable status under Canadian law.
PERIES: And what is it doing that counts for human rights violations?
LASCARIS: Well as I said, it controls, it owns 13% of the land in Israel. And it explicitly, its explicit mandate is to use that land for the benefit of the Jewish populations. So its rules require it, its rules and polices are to the effect that anybody whos not Jewish cannot lease or own the land that it currently owns. Imagine that we have in Canada or in the United States an organization that controlled 13% of the land and its bylaws or its practices were that only white Anglo-Saxon Christians could live or lease, live on, own, or lease that land? We would all, I mean, certainly those of us who have any commitment to democracy and equality would denounce that organization as a white supremacist organization.
This is whats being done in Israel except that it works to the advantage of not white Anglo-Saxon Christians, but it works to the advantage, rather, of Jewish people. So its an explicitly discriminatory organization and furthermore its actually been complicit in the concealing of ethnic cleansing, which is a war crime. And in one particular place its a place that you know, that to the shame of our country is called Canada Park. The Jewish National Fund has developed a forest built on the ruins of three Palestinian villages that were destroyed and ethnically cleansed. Ancient villages.
And in fact, one official of the Jewish National Fund, and Corey Lavigne quoted him at the convention, has admitted explicitly that the JNF tries to camouflage the destruction of Palestinian villages and their replacement with some sort of Jewish-only land or facility or park. So these are serious human right violations. Theyre well documented. They have been known to the Canadian government for decades. Theres absolutely no excuse for the Jewish National Fund having charitable status in this country.
PERIES: And that particular reference to the Jewish National Fund was actually removed from the resolution, and therefore how effective is it going to be?
LASCARIS: Well, our leader, I think quite rightly, Elizabeth May, she committed on the convention floor to Cory Lavigne and to myself and others to send a letter to the Canadian Revenue Agency asking for it to investigate the charity status of the Jewish National Fund. So its not going to simply a statement of principle. Its going to be concrete action taken in relation to the Jewish National Fund following the convention. And well have to see where all of that leads.
I think–so everyone understood that the BDS campaign, the BDS movement, and our partys support for that would have quite significant impact on those sectors of Israels economy and society that are profiting from the settling and the occupation. That was really I think the biggest battle of all by far. And there was a decisive win. There were 3 votes on that resolution. There was the online vote conducted in the middle of the year as I said where 58.5% said yes and 13.5% said no. In the workshop there was decisive support for the BDS and JNF resolutions. And on the convention floor after our partys leader whos understandably widely admired within the party and has done many wonderful things in her political career. She opposed it for reasons with which I disagreed but nonetheless she opposed it. The members heard Elizabeth May, and they decided in their wisdom to adopt it nonetheless. And to a degree that a count of the votes was not even necessary. It was clear that there was a victory. So we had 3 out of 3 votes in favor of the BDS resolution. If this party is at all serious about democratic legitimacy, and I believe it is, then we will give scrupulous respect to those votes.
PERIES: Dimitri, now, this resolution passed, but not without some personal costs. There was an effort by the B’nai B’rith Organization of Canada to defame you, to put it lightly. Tell us a little bit more about that.
LASCARIS: Well, until I put forward this resolution, to my knowledge I had never even been on the radar of the B’nai B’rith. But when they learned that I was the sponsor of the resolution, and that it had been supported by a significant majority in an online vote, all manner of attack was launched against me. I’m really not interested in repeating the quite awful things that were said.
I can tell you that the B’nai B’rith, which audaciously claims to be a human rights organization, even though it’s acting as an apologist for a government that is violating international law on a daily basis. It has no regard for the truth. And began to say things about me that, really, the fundamental argument, when you boil it all down, was that I was singling out Israel, because I hadn’t brought forward and no one else had brought forward a resolution, a foreign policy resolution, at this particular convention, relating to a human rights violator other than Israel.
Now, this argument, which has been used many times before I entered this debate against those who have condemned Israel’s human rights record, is really a canard. It’s an attempt to deflect attention away from Israel’s human rights record. First of all, if you look at the totality of my work in human rights advocacy you would never, if you’re remotely rational and objective, think that I have, that Israel is the only concern that I have in terms of human rights violators.
In fact, on this very program, Sharmini, you may recall during the election last year in Canada I was condemning an arms deal between General Dynamics here in Canada, and the Saudi government, pursuant to which $15 billion worth of weaponized armored personnel carriers are being sold to the Saudi government. That was a very difficult position for me to take, because that arms deal is being executed in my own community, and it purportedly accounts for 3,000 jobs in a city that’s been hard hit by manufacturing losses. I was the only candidate in my riding to oppose it. In fact, all of the ridings in this area, the mainstream parties, all sung the same tune. They didn’t want to see the arms deal canceled. I was very adamant about this, even though it was not the politically expedient thing to do.
So if you look at my record in human rights advocacy you’d never say that I have some kind of fixation with Israel. But furthermore, and this is an argument, really, that was developed very well by a gentleman named Michael [Lesher], who’s an Orthodox Jew, and he’s a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. He said, only when we criticize Israel are we expected to yoke together with our condemnation of Israel a condemnation of all other human rights violators on earth. But if, for example, you single out another state, let’s take the case of Saudi Arabia, in some particular campaign, you almost never identify it as being racist against that particular population.
And in fact, when I was advocating during the election the cancellation of the Saudi arms deal, nobody said to me that that made me anti-Saudi, or anti-Arab, or anti-Muslim. No one said to me that it wasn’t legitimate to criticize Saudi Arabia if I didn’t criticize at the same time all the other human rights violators on the planet.
So when Israel claims, the government claims, that there’s a double standard, it’s quite right, there is a double standard. But it’s not telling us. And [inaud.] is the double standard operates to the advantage [inaud.] its disadvantage.
PERIES: Dimitri, now, one of the things that B’nai B’rith accused you of doing in their statement is going and meeting with a father of an accused terrorist who was then killed by the Israeli military. You had met with him, therefore by association you were condemned as a supporter of terrorism. Explain that meeting, and why you were there.
LASCARIS: Until I went to Israel this year I’d never even heard of this gentleman. His name is Mohammed [Aleghan]. He’s a lawyer in East Jerusalem. By all accounts he’s well-respected by the Arab population of East Jerusalem. He’s a writer, he’s an activist. He’s had to deal with the Israeli military’s oppressive techniques before. But he himself, as far as I know, to this day, is not accused of any terrorist act, not by Israel, not by anybody.
What happened was that his son, who was a well-regarded activist in East Jerusalem, is accused of having attacked three settlers in East Jerusalem, and killed three settlers in East Jerusalem last year. I don’t know, and I don’t purport to know, whether in fact his son committed the crimes of which he is accused. And if he actually attacked innocent civilians I condemn that. I do not condone any attacks by anybody on any innocent civilians or civilian infrastructure. That’s against international law. It’s an atrocity. And it’s not to be tolerated.
But Mohammed [Aleghan] is not accused of any such thing. What happened after his son was killed was that he demanded the return of his son’s body so he could give it a proper burial, and also he wanted it to be forensically examined because he has doubts about what happened to his son. He doesn’t readily accept the claims of the Israeli government. And the Israeli government refused to return the body of his son. He joined forces with others in East Jerusalem, other families that were in a similar predicament. And they appointed Mohammed because of the position he commands in the community to be their spokesperson.
And in a meeting he was told by the Israeli authorities that if he did not agree to bury his son’s body within one hour of it being given to him, that they wouldn’t return it to him, and he refused, because he wanted to give his son a proper burial, and also for it to be, his son’s body, to be forensically examined. Within 24 hours of that refusal, the Israeli authorities demolished Mohammed [Aleghan’s] house. And that was an act of collective punishment. That is a violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. That is a war crime.
What I object to–I don’t know what his son did. I don’t know whether there is any credibility to these allegations. But I know that collective punishment is a violation of international law. The Israeli government doesn’t deny, to my knowledge, that it demolished his home after he refused to accept his son’s body on these extremely restrictive conditions. The B’nai B’rith, it took a snippet of a Facebook post which talked about my meeting with him, and completely omitted from its attack on me any discussion of the destruction of Mohammed [Aleghan’s] home. Any discussion of the offense of collective punishment, and its severity as an offense under international law.
And that’s why I say that the B’nai B’rith, which amazingly claims to be a human rights organization, has no regard for the truth, because if they were really trying to get to the bottom of why I saw Mohammed [Aleghan], and why I expressed support for him, they would have told the public that my motivation was to address the offense of collective punishment. And that was completely omitted from their attack.