Israeli BDS Supporter Asks Canada for Political Asylum

Attorney Gilad Paz says that when two key ministers launched anti-BDS efforts, ‘I started to feel the ground burning under my feet.’

BDS activists in Los Angeles, August 22, 2016.
AFP / Robyn Beck

An Israeli who supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is seeking political asylum in Canada, claiming he is being persecuted because of his political views.

Attorney Gilad Paz, 34, has based his request on the efforts of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Interior Minister Arye Dery. This month, Erdan and Dery said they were setting up a taskforce to prevent BDS activists from entering the country, while they seek to expel BDS activists who have entered.

The Canadian authorities have summoned Paz for a hearing on September 29, and he says that if his request is denied he will appeal. “I’m beginning to feel that it would be very dangerous for me to return to Israel,” he told Haaretz by phone from Montreal.

Paz was the owner of a civil-commercial law firm that he closed about three months ago. He says he was also active in Amnesty International Israel and the left-wing Meretz party, and most of his BDS activities took place on social networks.

“I mainly provided reports on the subject; at the moment the main platform is Facebook. I’m connected to a very large number of people in Israel and abroad and try to create as much noise as possible on the subject,” he said.

Attorney Gilad Paz
Attorney Gilad Paz

“I put things on the table – I’m BDS – I’m not ingratiating, I’m not fleeing, I’m not hiding anything. I am who I am and I’m not ashamed of my political opinions.”

Dery has not yet provided a comment, but Erdan says Paz merely seeks to obtain a permanent-residence permit in Canada.

A few days after the announcement by the two ministers, Paz bought a plane ticket, packed his bags and flew to Montreal. Immediately upon landing he filed an asylum request.

“I’ve had a bad feeling about the situation in Israel for quite a while, and after the speech by Dery and Erdan, I started to feel the ground burning under my feet,” said Paz, who added that he bought the ticket 12 hours before boarding the plane.

“At the moment the BDS movement is basically the only language that Israel speaks. You see the right becoming stronger. Now they’re willing to say publicly that they want us out of the country,” he said.

“There are very clear hints in the conduct toward BDS activists, including in the ‘NGO law,’ whose only purpose is to send messages to very specific people from very specific organizations: ‘Ladies and gentleman, you’re not wanted in Israel.' They’re telling us: ‘Guys, get out of here, this is no longer your country.’”

Paz’s asylum request details his feeling of persecution. “I said that I’m persecuted as a BDS activist due to the general threats by ministers Erdan and Dery. These things have appeared in the media. A minister in the Israeli government stands here and declares publicly: ‘My friends, you will pay a price,’” he said.

Paz notes that the United Nations’ refugee convention speaks of “a well-founded fear of being persecuted.”

“When you have problems like this you know that things will happen. We’re at the start of a process of escalation. Another month, another two months, another three – then it may be too late,” he said.

“When you find yourself in such a public atmosphere, with such statements by a senior minister in the Israeli government, I think you definitely reach a situation of a well-grounded fear of being persecuted. That’s what political persecution looks like.”

Paz says he’s optimistic about his chances of receiving asylum in Canada, adding that Ottawa has been very open to such requests since the first intifada, with hundreds of Israelis receiving political asylum, especially in Quebec.

“I’m optimistic that in this case too they’ll realize that Israel is problematic enough that they’ll approve this request. It’s possible that in this set of requests I’m the first. I fear that I’m not the last, especially if the request is approved,” he said.

“I also assume that the Israeli government is not exactly upset about this idea that all kinds of people from my political circles who hear that Gilad Paz received asylum in Canada will pack their bags and buy a one-way ticket. They’d love to pay for those tickets.”

According to Erdan, “Judging by Mr. Paz’s views, it’s clear to everyone that he wants to leave Israel without any connection to the battle against the boycott or other issues. He is apparently using the excuse of the boycott only to try to receive a permanent-residence permit in Canada.”

As Erdan put it, “In many countries throughout the world, activity to boycott Israel is forbidden by law, or there is a price to pay for it (for example, a prohibition against participating in tenders in that country). Therefore, it’s clear that there also has to be a price for those who slander Israel and operate here so that Israel will be boycotted all over the world.”