Anti-Israel BDS conference termed a dud by QIC

MONTREAL — A three-day conference held at the Université du Québec à Montréal Oct. 22 to 24 to promote the boycott of Israel in Quebec was a bust, the Quebec-Israel Committee (QIC) says.

Luciano Del Negro

“The conference was a dismal failure, and it’s clear that the boycott is not only not gaining momentum in Quebec, as the organizers claim, but has been marginalized,” said QIC executive director Luciano Del Negro.

The attendance peaked at about 200 at the opening Friday night panel discussion, where the most prominent speaker was Omar Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, said Del Negro, and the closing plenary on Sunday barely mustered 100 people. The QIC had an independent observer at the conference.

The workshops on the Saturday were also poorly attended and one that was to have been addressed by Québec solidaire leader Amir Khadir was cancelled.

The provincial party adopted a resolution a year ago supporting the so-called international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, and Khadir, the party’s sole MNA, has been trying to get the National Assembly to consider a motion on the issue.

Absent were Quebec union leaders, including those of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), which last year also passed a resolution supporting the BDS campaign.

That federation represents some 170,000 workers in the education, health and social services, and other public sectors, Del Negro noted, adding that he knows its membership was informed of the conference.

“It’s clear that CSQ could not mobilize their people, and, given that 90 to 95 per cent of the conference was in English, we think that one-third of those attending came from outside Quebec,” he said.

Moreover, the conference received no coverage from the mainstream media, he added.

The conference, which began its publicity almost a year ago, was organized by a number of organizations, principally the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine, which includes the CSQ; the Montreal Council of the Fédération des travaillers and travailleuses du Québec; Fédération des femmes du Québec; Palestinian and Muslim, left-wing, international aid groups; Jewish groups against Israeli government policies, and Tadamon, an anti-Israel group that wants Canada to de-list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

The Ottawa-based Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which endorsed the BDS movement in April 2008, the first national union in North American to pass such a resolution, was also listed as an organizer. Its president, Denis Lemelin, was supposed to be at the conference, but he did not speak as scheduled.

The QIC is concerned that the conference adopted a position in support of South African union leader Bongani Masuku, who has been accused of making menacing comments directed at Jews and Israelis. Last year, the South African Human Rights Commission upheld a complaint of hate speech against him filed by the South African Board of Jewish Deputies.

Masuku, the international secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, was originally on the Montreal conference’s program. That was changed prior to the conference and another congress representative was substituted.

“To think that they are supporting a man with a history of anti-Semitic utterances, that they claim he is the victim of a defamation campaign, is quite rich,” said Del Negro.

“The BDS campaign is built on sand. Its handful of promoters thrive on bombastic rhetoric, but really there is nothing there,” Del Negro said. The fact is that since the campaign was launched in Quebec, relations between Quebec and Israel have only been strengthened, he added.

In 2007, an agreement between Quebec and Israel on economic, cultural and scientific exchange was renewed and expanded, he pointed out. The following year, then-Economic Development Minister Raymond Bachand led the largest commercial delegation ever from Canada to Israel.

That trip was the subject of a 16-page supplement in Les Affaires, Quebec’s leading business magazine, and last month – on the eve of the BDS conference – La Presse published a 10-article section touting Israel’s innovation as a business model for Quebec.

On Oct. 22, Bombardier announced a $185-million contract with Israel Railways to build coaches, Del Negro added.

In contrast to the BDS conference, that same weekend 450 Quebecers attended a symposium held in Quebec City, organized by a new politically conservative movement called Réseau liberté Québec. Its guest speaker was an anglophone Jew from Calgary, Ezra Levant.

(Tags: BDS, Quebec, Anti-Israelism, Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel)

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