Many have suggested that economic pressure may be a way to prompt Israel to curtail its human rights abuses against Palestinians. There are many ways to accomplish this, including, but not limited to, the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, launched in 2005 by Palestinian civil society organizations to apply economic pressure on Israel. Canada has failed to impose any economic pressure on Israel to improve its human rights record. Rather, in 2018, the Canadian government introduced a modernized version of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, prolonging preferential trade agreements with Israel. Canadian leaders should refrain from disparaging the use of economic pressure tactics against Israel, and should instead reflect on the movements’ grassroots popularity and successes.
During the 1967 war, Israel invaded and militarily occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Over 50 years later, Israel continues to occupy and colonize the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while imposing a land, sea and air blockade on Gaza.[i] This 50-year occupation has involved systematic human rights abuses, including collective punishment, routine use of excessive force, and regular demolition of Palestinian homes. Meanwhile, Israel’s illegal blockade on Gaza has severely restricted freedom of movement and the supply of goods, while creating a devastating humanitarian crisis.[ii]
Many have suggested that economic pressure may be a way to prompt Israel to curtail its human rights abuses against Palestinians. There are many ways to accomplish this, including 1) labelling of Israeli settlement products, 2) the exclusion of settlement products from free trade agreements, 3) a prohibition of products from Israeli settlements, or 4) restrictions on trade with Israel itself. Another approach is that suggested by the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, launched in 2005 by Palestinian civil society organizations to apply economic pressure on Israel.[iii] Canada has failed to impose any economic pressure on Israel to improve its human rights record. Rather, in 2018, the Canadian government introduced a modernized version of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, prolonging preferential trade agreements with Israel.
Questions for Federal Candidates
- Do you believe Canadians should be free to criticize the Israeli government like any other government?
- Do you believe that Canada should be free to sanction Israel or Israeli actors just as it might sanction other countries or their leaders?
- Given that all diplomatic attempts to get Israel to respect Palestinian human rights have failed for 50 years, do you see any alternative to economic pressure?
- Do you support Canadians’ right to express themselves through boycott action?
- Will you work within your caucus to defuse false criticisms of economic pressure on Israel, and to raise awareness of the various mechanisms to put economic pressure on Israel?
- Will you consider making a statement in the House in support of economic pressure on Israel?
- International Law and the UN Position. There is no international law against using economic pressure to affect political or social change. With the BDS movement, for example, each of its three demands align fully with international law. Economic boycotts and sanctions are an effective and non-violent means of pressuring Israel to comply with international law. With the BDS movement, once Israel ends its occupation and recognizes the fundamental rights of Palestinians, the movement will come to an end. This is the exact type of economic pressure called for by Resolution 2334, passed by the UN General Assembly in 2016. The Resolution calls upon all states to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.[iv]
- Actions by Canadian Allies. Economic pressure mechanisms have come to be an increasingly popular tool of foreign policy, with many countries putting forth bills to ban settlement-made products. The European Commission, for example, requires that Israeli producers explicitly label goods that come from Israeli “settlements” if they are to be sold in the EU.[v] Ireland has gone even further, and passed a bill that would ban the purchase of all goods and services from Israel’s West Bank settlements.[vi]
- Canada’s Official Position. The Canadian government has long used economic sanctions as a means of punishing states which have violated international law. Economic sanctions have been used to advance a range of foreign policy goals, such as conflict resolution and the promotion of democracy and human rights. Canada currently has economic sanctions on nineteen different states and/or their citizens.[vii] For example, the government imposed strict economic sanctions on Russia following its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. In this case, Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity warranted the imposition of economic sanctions. Canada, however, has never imposed economic sanctions against Israel for its illegal annexation and occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem. Furthermore, the newly-negotiated Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) allows for the application of preferential tariffs on Israeli products produced in the occupied Palestinian territories. This treatment confers de facto legitimacy to Israeli “settlements,” enables their economic growth, and contributes to their permanence – all contrary to official Canadian policy on Israeli “settlements.” CIFTA also fails to require the proper labeling of Israeli products made in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Recommendations for Canada
- Canadian leaders should consider imposing economic sanctions on Israel until Palestinian human rights are respected. Such an initiative could begin with the labelling of “settlement” products, and move to progressively harsher steps if Israel continues to refuse to respect the rights of Palestinians.
- The Canadian government should condition free trade with Israel on 1) the improvement of Israel’s human rights record in the occupied Palestinian territories, and 2) the equal rights and civil liberties of minorities in Israel itself.
Canadian leaders should refrain from disparaging the use of economic pressure tactics against Israel, and should instead reflect on the movements’ grassroots popularity and successes.
[i] Amnesty International. (n.d.). Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/israel-and-occupied-palestinian-territories/
[ii] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. (n.d.). Gaza Blockade. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://www.ochaopt.org/theme/gaza-blockade
[iii] What is BDS? (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://bdsmovement.net
[iv] United Nations Security Council. (2016). Resolution 2334. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from http://www.un.org/webcast/pdfs/SRES2334-2016.pdf
[v] Emott, R., & Baker, L. (2015). EU moves ahead with labeling goods made in Israeli settlements. Reuters. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-eu-labelling/eu-moves-ahead-with-labeling-goods-made-in-israeli-settlements-idUSKCN0T013B20151111
[vi] Ireland passes BDS bill banning Israeli settlement goods. (2019). Middle East Monitor. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190125-ireland-passes-bds-bill-banning-israel-settlement-goods/
[vii] Government of Canada. (n.d.). Types of sanctions. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/sanctions/types.aspx?lang=eng