Gilad Paz, who has conducted most of his activism online, has not yet faced consequences, but fears official reaction.
Toronto, Canada – An Israeli man has applied for asylum in Canada, citing fears of political persecution for supporting the growing movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
But BDS activists in Israel and Palestine say they had no prior knowledge of Gilad Paz’s involvement with the BDS movement before news reports surfaced about his asylum claim.
“We do not know Paz beyond what we’ve read in the media,” Boycott From Within, an activist group made up of Israeli citizens who support BDS, told Al Jazeera.
Palestinian civil society groups launched a worldwide call for BDS in 2005.
The Palestinian-led movement has three main goals: to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, to guarantee equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to enforce the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Paz, an Israeli labour lawyer, landed in Montreal on August 11 and applied for asylum on the basis of political persecution, according to multiple media reports.
“I am politically persecuted in Israel. I realised that people like me have no place in the country, so I decided to leave before it’s too late,” Paz told Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.
After repeated interview requests, Paz told Al Jazeera that on his lawyer’s advice he was no longer speaking to the media. His hearing with Canadian immigration officials is scheduled for September 29, he said.
Paz told the Electronic Intifada website in late August that he has conducted most of his activism online. On his Facebook page, Paz has shared numerous posts in support of BDS and critical of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.
According to Matthew Jeffery, a Canadian immigration lawyer based in Toronto, an asylum claimant in Canada does not “have to have been subject to persecution to show that [they] will be persecuted” in the future.
“Persecution can be in the future tense,” Jeffery told Al Jazeera. “It comes back to credibility and does there seem to be independent evidence in the country, conditions to establish that this person is likely to be subject to persecution?”
In 2013, Israel – excluding the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip – was added to Canada’s designated country of origin list, which includes “countries that do not normally produce refugees”.
Lindsay Wemp, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, told Al Jazeera in an email that the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) hears all eligible asylum claims, regardless of country of origin.
Applicants from countries on the designated country of origin list have their claims expedited, and may appeal against a negative decision to the IRB’s Refugee Appeal Division, Wemp explained. Decisions are based on the individual merits of the claim and are made in accordance with Canada’s immigration laws, she added.
Between 2006 and 2015, Canada recognised 237 refugee claimants from Israel as either Convention Refugees – individuals who left their homes owing to well-founded fears of persecution based on factors such as religion or political opinion – or persons in need of protection, out of a total of 2,319 new applications, according to the IRB.
The annual acceptance rate for Israeli applicants fluctuated between five and 17 percent in that same period.
Jeffery said an asylum claimant will testify in front of the IRB, which will then examine the credibility of that testimony, any documentation available to back up the claimant’s story, and independent reports on political persecution in his or her home country.
“If they find the person to be credible and accept their testimony, then often that by itself can be sufficient to establish a persecution,” Jeffery said.
Boycott from Within contends that Palestinians are the main target for Israeli government repression, citing a “general assault” on left-wing activism in Israel.
In June, Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information, Gilad Erdan, said that he aimed to enact legislation to make BDS supporters in Israel pay a price. He later clarified that he was not referring to causing them physical harm.
“The message has to be that it’s not worth being a BDS activist,” Erdan said. “Anybody who works to delegitimise Israel, to bring an end to the Zionist enterprise, they should know that there will be a price.”
In May, the Israeli government refused to issue a travel document to Palestinian human rights activist and BDS cofounder Omar Barghouti, essentially barring him from leaving the country. That travel ban was temporarily lifted in August.
Israel has already passed a law banning calls to boycott the country or its Jewish-only settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israeli Minister of Transport, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Yisrael Katz also recently said that Israel should carry out “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders.
Paz told Electronic Intifada that Erdan’s statements were part of what pushed him to leave Israel. “I made the decision after the speech of Gilad Erdan; I concluded that I am not going to have any choice,” Paz said.
Ofer Neiman, an Israeli activist who supports BDS, told Al Jazeera that Palestinians face the most severe punishment for standing up to Israeli human rights abuses – including torture and detention without trial – but Jewish-Israeli dissidents are also increasingly under pressure, facing death threats, assaults and difficulty keeping jobs.
“The rhetoric is becoming more heated,” he said. “We also know for a fact that Israel is investing in political, financial and legal means to counter BDS, especially in North America.”
Neiman said the Israeli government views the BDS movement as a threat to the country’s legitimacy and image abroad.
“Israel has always depended on strong international support to carry out its violations of Palestinian human rights, and BDS is now emerging as a significant threat to this nefarious status quo.”