Green leader May supports same old pro-imperialist foreign policies

Elizabeth May and Irwin Cotler

Does Elizabeth May hate Palestinians? Does the Green Party leader want the Trump administration to attack Iran? Does she support efforts to overthrow Venezuela’s government?

I’ve been asking myself these questions since reading a Canadian Jewish News story about Paul Manly’s recent victory in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith bi-election. In a story titled “Concerns raised over new Green MP’s views on BDS” May strongly implies that the Palestinian civil society led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement is racist. “We have nothing to do with BDS,” May is quoted as saying. “We repealed it. We are not a party that condones BDS. We would never tolerate anybody in our party who violates our core values, who are anti-Semitic.”

May is seeking to downplay the significance of Manly’s election to anti-Palestinian forces, particularly within the NDP. Only the second MP ever elected under the Green banner, Manly was blocked from running for the NDP in the 2015 federal election because he defended his father (a former NDP MP) after Israel detained him as he sought to break the illegal blockade of Gaza.

In the CJN interview May also appears to boast that she forced the party to spend $100,000 to overturn an August 2016 convention resolution in which members voted for “the use of divestment, boycott and sanctions (BDS) that are targeted to those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation of the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories].” In response to the clearly stated will of party members, May threatened to resign if the party didn’t revisit the issue and then announced that a special general meeting would be held four months later to discuss the party’s stance on Palestine. She then fired three members of her shadow cabinet for defending the party’s new Palestine policy from attacks by the head of the British Columbia Greens. Before what was shaping up to be an embarrassing defeat, May endorsed a compromise resolution at the special convention that dropped the BDS formulation in favour of support for “economic measures such as government sanctions, consumer boycotts, institutional divestment, economic sanctions and arms embargoes” while simultaneously endorsing all three (versus just one in the initial resolution) goals of the BDS movement (“Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall”; Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”)

As May besmirched Palestinian civil society’s call for international solidarity, the Green leader stood with those pushing for war on Iran. Last week May attended a press conference organized by Irwin Cotler calling on Canada to impose sanctions on 19 Iranian officials and to follow the Trump administration in listing the country’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. May’s support for ramping up Canadian hostility towards Tehran takes place amidst increasingly bellicose moves by Washington that could lead to a war on Iran.

The press conference in Ottawa was part of parliament’s Iran Accountability Week, which Cotler established in 2012. May has participated in previous Iran Accountability Weeks alongside individuals such as Mark Dubowitz who Ynet, Israel’s largest English language news site, dubbed “The Man Who Fights Iran”. But, when current and former Green Party candidates organized a 2010 conference on a “just and sustainable peace” in Iran May told Postmedia it should be “canceled” because it was “unbalanced”.

May is a regular at events led by Cotler who has devoted much of his career to defending Israeli human rights violations (his wife, Ariela Zeevi, was a “close confidant” of Likud founder Menachem Begin when the arch anti-Palestinian party was established to counter Labour’s dominance of Israeli politics. His daughters were part of the Israeli military and one of them ran in Israel’s recent election). The Green leader is part of the Cotler-led Raoul Wallenberg All-Party Parliamentary Caucus for Human Rights and in 2014 she tweeted, “honouring Irwin Cotler, with Raoul Wallenberg Award. Tributes from John Baird, Justin Trudeau, Murray Rankin and me.”

May has participated in at least three press conferences organized by Cotler to call for the release of leading Venezuelan Leopoldo López. The Harvard-educated Lopez endorsed the military’s 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez and the leader of the hardline Voluntad Popular party was convicted of inciting violence during the 2014 “guarimbas” protests that sought to oust President Nicolas Maduro (Cotler later joined López’ legal team). According to a series of reports, Lopez was the key Venezuelan organizer of the recent plan to anoint Juan Guaidó interim president of Venezuela and on April 30 he escaped house arrest to join Guaidó in a failed coup bid.

In 2014 May met López’s wife Lilian Tintori who, reports The Guardian, met Donald Trump and other international players to build international support for the recent coup efforts. According to Cotler’s website, “MPs Irwin Cotler (Liberal) and Elizabeth May (Green) joined today with Lilian Tintori – international human rights campaigner and wife of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition Leader Leopoldo Lopez – and their international legal counsel, Jared Genser, to call on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to release Mr. López immediately.”

Four months later May and Cotler met Carlos Vecchio, who Guaidó recently appointed as his phantom government’s “ambassador” to the US. Afterwards, the Green leader joined Cotler at a press conference to denounce the “deterioration of the human rights situation” in Venezuela.

While she’s criticized some Canadian foreign policy decisions, May rarely strays far from the liberal establishment worldview. In laying out her party’s 2015 election position in Esprit de Corps magazine May wrote, “the world needs more Canada” and argued, “we should also support the United Nations’ ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) doctrine”, which was used to justify bombing Libya in 2011 and ousting Haiti’s elected government in 2004. In her article May also bemoaned that “defence expenditures are headed to an unprecedented low”, which is a bizarre criticism for an environmental minded politician to make. Previously, she backed the Conservative government’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $60 billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades.

How to explain May’s positions? The Green leader represents a riding near a naval base and until a few years ago was studying to become a priest in a church with a history of theological Zionism. May clearly fears Jewish Zionist groups’ accusations of anti-Semitism and dabbles in philo-Semitism. (In 2015 May responded to a CJN request to make her pitch to Canadian Jewish voters by saying “you have been the heart and soul and conscience of Canada on many issues for a very long time… I would urge you to look at the Green party’s policies and platform and see if you don’t see yourself there. If you don’t, let me know, I certainly would apologize if we are not meeting the aspirations of Canadians who have done so much for this country.”) More generally, May is absorbed into the foreign policy swamp in Ottawa and has shown little willingness to defy the dominant media’s depiction of international affairs.

But if the Green Party wants to be seen as different from the tired, old, mainstream parties, it needs to move beyond the double-standard, cynical, anti-democratic, anti-human, pro-imperialist claptrap that our elites insist on selling us.

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire).He has published nine books.