Omar Alghabra: “Some BDS advocates may have anti-Semitic motives”

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Omar Alghabra. Photo: YouTube Omar Alghabra – screenshot

Liberal Member of Parliament, Omar Alghabra, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade Diversification, opposes the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against Israel.

Alghabra expressed his anti-BDS position during the debate in parliament (February 18, 2016) on a motion, which was brought by Conservative MP’s Tony Clement and Michelle Rempel. The motion which was endorsed (February 22, 2016) by a vote of 229 for and 51, reads the following:

That, given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House 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.

Here is Omar Alghabra’s statement during the debate in Parliament on the BDS motion:

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to the motion and share my thoughts with the House on this important matter.

We all have a constructive role to play in advancing a peaceful resolution to advocate on behalf of civilians on all sides of the conflict by actively pursing a two-state solution.

It is important to respect the right of Israel to exist and the right of Palestinians to have their own independent nation. We can help achieve this by encouraging engagement, dialogue, and respect for all.

I want to be clear. In order to create a hospitable environment for dialogue, we must actively fight against hate, racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia in all of their forms. Our challenge is that we must also ensure we encourage constructive and meaningful conversation.

I do not believe a boycott is a constructive approach. I did not enter politics to promote boycott but to encourage engagement and dialogue between parties for the purpose of reaching long-lasting peace. The question we need to ask ourselves is this. Instead of finding ways to score political points, how can we advance the interests of peace in the region?

Some BDS advocates believe its an important non-violent approach to raising awareness about the situation over the last years in the region and the lack of progress. As mentioned previously in the House, we must be careful not to paint everyone with one brush. Many BDS advocates are human rights champions who want to see progress on this issue. We should be intolerant toward hate, but find ways to tolerate passionate disagreements.

Yet, we must recognize that some BDS advocates may have anti-Semitic motives. Some are blinded by their passion. I firmly believe that double standards should and must be called out in every instance. For example, criticizing the government of Israel for certain behaviour while excusing it when committed by others is unacceptable. Equally, we should be able to criticize the Israeli government for similar actions that we criticize other governments for.

It is in the mutual interests of Israelis and Palestinians to show progress and to give hope to those who are frustrated by the situation. The Conservatives have failed at offering any constructive approach other than bluster and anti-rhetoric. They want to divide Canadians instead of rallying support for dialogue and engagement.

Let me repeat. I strongly believe in engagement not boycott. I also understand that many students and activists are seeking an opportunity in good faith to find alternative methods to express their concerns and voice their opinions.

While I want to promote a healthy dialogue, I am hesitant to infringe on anyone’s right to free speech. We need to encourage an open and safe atmosphere on university campuses. They are sacred places of learning and debate and not places where students should feel threatened because of their background or political beliefs. As always, I encourage us to be sensitive toward each other and listen to what our colleagues say without making them feel uncomfortable or threatened. The goal should not be to create a threatening environment but a co-operative space where even those who disagree can find common ground to advance what we all want to see, which is long-lasting peace and mutual respect and co-operation.

Canada as I said has a crucial role to play. We must remain committed to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian state living side-by-side and in peace with Israel.

This has never been an easy matter to discuss. Emotions run high, especially when considering the innocent lives at stake and so many complicated disputes. However, that is precisely why we must resist the urge to use inflamed rhetoric and instead offer thoughtful, objective, and effective alternatives. If we cannot do this in Canada, it is hard to imagine it happening anywhere else in the world.

Responding to a question posed by the Conservative MP Peter Kent (Thornhill, ON), Alghabra said:

Our government put Hamas on a terrorist list. We believe Hamas is a terrorist organization until it gives up terrorist activities and joins us in our call for peaceful dialogue and consultations to reach a peaceful resolution to the two-state outcome that we would like to achieve.