St. Catharines MP Chris Bittle Votes to Stifle Criticism of Israel

The Liberal Party symbolically passed the torch on Monday afternoon picking up and running with Pro-Israel motions first developed under the Conservative Harper Administration. The Conservative sponsored motion gained support from the governing Liberals to “condemn Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) efforts” and pledge support for Israel — equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. It passed 229–51. The motion was supported by first term St. Catharines Liberal MP Chris Bittle.

Although a minor player, Bittle’s support for the motion is important given his role on the Standing Committee for Human Rights and Justice. Last week in that role Bittle nominated fellow Liberal MP Anthony Housefather (Mount Royal) to the role of Chair for that committee, a move Housefeather followed up with by engaging in an incoherent rant in the House of Commons demonizing the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement. Housefather, in his rant, acknowledges he is carrying on the efforts by former Human Rights Chair and Zionist Irwin Cotler — the architect for creating the narrative that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism in Canada. Criticism of Israeli war crimes have long been shut out of political discourse in these circles, and these latest motions are an advancement into public spaces.

Locally, former Conservative MP Rick Dykstra faced massive demonstrations and opposition for his support of the Israeli Government and protest out front of his office during Israeli offensives were the largest of his tenure. Those protests directly called for the boycott of Israel. Video below is from the July 2014 protest. Chris Bittle’s Constituency Office is now in this same spot.

It is important to note that this was a “free” vote, three Liberal MP’s broke ranks and voted against this motion. Chris was not among them, and was seen visibly smiling while standing to register his vote in support.

It is unclear how Bittle reconciles his vote with the views of his constituents, or with his position within the Committee on Human Rights and Justice. I have reached out for any statement or comment and have not received answer back but will post if and when I do.

In the meantime, other Liberal MP’s have taken drastically different approaches to this vote with Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (Beaches-East York) polling his constituents and publicly posting a lengthy statement on why he chose to abstain from the vote — another option that some Liberal MP’s took.

Chris now stands in opposition to many of his constituents and the party he represents has passed a motion intended to stifle criticism of Israel — something which places them in opposition to diverse groups like the Quakers Canadian Friends Service Committee and Independent Jewish Voices. The Canadian Government’s positions on Israel have also drawn criticism from those who oppose BDS, British journalist Robert Fisk detailed the absurdity and folly of such motions in response to the actions of the Harper Administration.

Although local BDS efforts, or Israeli Aparthied Week efforts at Brock University, have never escalated to that of other campuses across the country, there is reason to believe that such moves today could backfire and ignite and empower such an opposition.

Regardless, in his first serious vote in Parliament Bittle’s rhetoric of “real change” has fallen flat.