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Asked to reverse anti-BDS stance, Justin Trudeau doubles down

Canadian prime minister says he 'will continue to condemn' Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for Palestinian rights
Trudeau has repeatedly condemned BDS since he became prime minister in 2015 (Reuters/File photo)

MONTREAL, Canada - Justin Trudeau reaffirmed his opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, saying he would "continue to condemn" the Palestinian campaign for human rights.

Speaking at a town hall event at Brock University in Ontario late on Tuesday, the Canadian prime minister said BDS "singles out Israel" and "seeks to delegitimise and in some cases demonise" the country.

"We have to recognise that there are things that aren’t acceptable, not because of foreign policy concerns, but because of Canadian values," Trudeau said.

"It’s not right to discriminate or make someone feel unsafe on campus because of their religion and unfortunately the BDS movement is often linked to those kinds of things," he said, after being asked by a member of the audience whether he would reverse his anti-BDS stance.

“So yes, sir, I will continue to condemn the BDS movement."

Trudeau’s comments - which come less than a year before a federal election in Canada - reaffirm his longstanding opposition to BDS, which was launched by almost 200 Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005.

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The BDS movement aims to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, end discrimination against Palestinian citizens of the state and ensure the right of return for Palestinian refugees displaced from their homes since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

Proponents of the movement have rejected claims that BDS demonises Israel, saying the non-violent tactic is modelled on the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s.

BDS organisers also reject charges of anti-Semitism and argue that Israel's supporters aim to stifle debate about Palestinian human rights by conflating legitimate criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Jewish hatred.

Independent Jewish Voices-Canada, a Jewish advocacy group that supports Palestinian rights, criticised Trudeau for his comments, accusing the prime minister of "using our identities as Jews to go after support for Palestinian human rights".

The group also denounced Trudeau for calling BDS divisive, which it said was “a bit ironic seeing as it aims to push back against, you know, Israel's system of actual codified apartheid”.

Nora Loreto, a Canadian journalist and commentator, seized on the similarities between Israeli and Canadian colonialism to explain why it wasn't a stretch for Trudeau to condemn BDS as an affront to Canadian values.

"Justin Trudeau is so strongly opposed to BDS because he says it opposes Canadian values. Which is accurate, because genocide, land dispossession, white supremacy and violence are all at the centre of our so-called values. Settler states stick together," she wrote on Twitter.

Pro-Israel activists, politicians and organisations in Canada and abroad welcomed Trudeau’s comments, however.

"This clear statement from Prime Minister @JustinTrudeau is unambiguous. Thank you Prime Minister for standing with the Jewish community against the divisive BDS campaign," said the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the advocacy arm of the staunchly pro-Israel Jewish Federations of Canada, on Twitter.

Daniel Schwammenthal, director of the EU office of the pro-Israel American Jewish Committee, praised Trudeau for his “eloquent words” that he said he would "love to hear from EU leaders".

Michael Levitt, a Canadian parliament member with Trudeau’s Liberal Party who represents a district near Toronto, also thanked the prime minister “for standing against BDS”.

String of anti-BDS statements

This also isn’t the first time Trudeau has come out against BDS.

Only a few months into his tenure as prime minister, the Liberals backed a symbolic parliamentary resolution condemning BDS in 2016.

Calling #BDS divisive is a bit ironic seeing as it aims to push back against, you know, Israel's system of actual codified apartheid

- Independent Jewish Voices-Canada

That motion called on Canada to condemn "any and all attempts by Canadian organisations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement" and stated that Ottawa was opposed to BDS "given [that] Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations".

In November 2018, Trudeau also used an apology for Canada's historical rejection of Jewish refugees during World War II to condemn BDS, once again saying the movement was anti-Semitic, a charge BDS supporters vehemently deny.

"Anti-Semitism is far too present. Jewish students still feel unwelcomed and uncomfortable on some of our colleges and university campuses because of BDS-related intimidation," Trudeau said at the time.

“And out of our entire community of nations, it is Israel whose right to exist is most widely and wrongly questioned.”

Trudeau also personally condemned the adoption of a pro-BDS motion at Montreal's McGill University, his alma mater, in 2015, a few months before he was elected prime minister, saying the movement "has no place on Canadian campuses".