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Will Conservative party puffery or NDP principle determine Canada's Palestine policy?

Image: Facebook/Jagmeet Singh

The Conservative party leadership campaign has unleashed pro-Israel puffery, but it is the NDP race that could have greater impact on Canada's Palestine policy.

Aping Donald Trump, former Conservative minister Kellie Leitch recently asked her Twitter followers to "join me in calling on the Government of Canada to immediately move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem." This would likely contravene international law.

For her part, former cabinet minister and fellow leadership candidate Lisa Raitt dubbed the recently passed UN Security Council Resolution (2334) on Palestine "disgusting." Offering Israel a diplomatic blank cheque, Raitt said her government would make sure Canada's voice was heard "loud and clear all over the world as Israel's best friend and ally -- no matter what."

Another former member of cabinet running to be party leader labelled most of the world anti-Semitic. Chris Alexander called Resolution 2334, which passed 14-0 with a U.S. abstention, "yet another round of UN anti-Semitism."

A Facebook ad for former foreign minister and leadership frontrunner Maxime Bernier was titled "my foreign policy is simple: put Canada first." It linked to a petition saying, "foreign policy must focus on the security and prosperity of Canadians -- not pleasing the dysfunctional United Nations...which for years has disproportionately focused its activities on condemning Israel." Evidently, putting "Canada first" means advancing Israel's diplomatic interests.

While "I heart Israel" and "I really heart Israel" bile flows out of Republican Party North, it is the NDP contest that's more likely to shape the Palestine debate going forward. Since party members rejected leader Thomas Mulcair, who once said "I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances," the Canadian Jewish News has run an editorial, front-page story and column expressing concern about how the NDP's leftward shift will impact Israel policy.

As the NDP race revs up expect Palestine to be debated in a way that troubles Israeli nationalists.

"Sid Ryan for NDP Leader," a website launched to enlist the former head of the Ontario Federation of Labour to run for the head of the party, notes:

"Sid Ryan's advocacy for the Palestinian people, starting in his days in CUPE where he endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, shows that an NDP leader could muster broad support for a process where Canada is non-aligned, expresses solidarity with Palestinians and other oppressed nations in the Global South, and champions a foreign policy based on peace, democracy, social justice and human rights."

If Ryan enters the race his support of Palestinian rights will set the bar fairly high on this important international issue.

Another individual discussing a run, Jagmeet Singh, was the only member of the Ontario legislature to speak out against an Ontario legislature vote to condemn BDS in December. Singh criticized a Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-backed motion supporting the spurious "Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism" and rejecting "the differential treatment of Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement." Cognizant of party members' support for Palestinian rights, Singh likely had a federal leadership bid in mind when he addressed the Ontario legislature.

The only individual officially in the race, Peter Julian, has said little on the subject. As a former critic and NDP House Leader, Julian needs to clearly distance himself from Mulcair's shadow on the issue or it will dog his campaign.

Another sitting MP who will likely seek the leadership, Charlie Angus, has been more vocal on Palestinian rights. At the start of last year, he criticized an effort to condemn BDS in the House of Commons and in 2014 Angus denounced the "undue influence" that sponsored tours of Israel were having on MPs. During Israel's onslaught on Gaza in 2014 while Stephen Harper was PM, Angus wrote on his Facebook page: "Our thuggish prime minister pumps his chest while people die in Gaza. He may think there are votes to be had by cheering on Netanyahu from the sidelines."

The Green Party's recent stand in favour of Palestinian rights demonstrates that progressives want action on the issue. Despite opposition from the media and popular party leader Elizabeth May, Green members voted overwhelmingly to support "economic measures such as government sanctions, consumer boycotts, institutional divestment, economic sanctions and arms embargoes" to pressure Israel.

Progressives are less and less likely to be confused or intimidated by pro-Israel groups and their media lackeys. At this point, a backlash against an NDP candidate's support for Palestinian rights would likely increase their chance of winning the leadership. (In a somewhat relevant parallel, Jeremy Corbyn seems to have benefited from pro-Israel media attacks during his bid to lead the British Labour Party).

The considerable disconnect between the corporate media and engaged progressive opinion on Palestinian rights makes it important for the solidarity movement to politicize the subject when politicians are seeking the support of progressive party members. It is during the leadership fight that the Palestinian solidarity movement has the most leverage to force politicians to articulate a clear position.

In this vein, I suggest a modest Palestine litmus test: no NDP leadership candidate deserves support if they fail to call on the federal government to adhere to UN Resolution 2334. Passed by the Security Council, it has the force of international law (unlike General Assembly motions) and its narrow focus should make it fully palatable to mainstream opinion (it says nothing about the rights of Palestinians ethnically cleansed in 1948 or the inequities faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel). Resolution 2334 "reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law."

For NDP candidates the relevant part of the resolution is the demand it places on other countries. Resolution 2334 calls on "all states...to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967."

While past governments have made halting efforts to do as much, Ottawa doesn't currently differentiate between "Israel proper" and the Occupied Territories. The two-decade-old Canada–Israel free trade agreement allows settlement products to enter Canada duty-free. The European Union trade agreement, on the other hand, explicitly precludes Israel from putting "made in Israel" on goods produced in the occupied West Bank. Nor does Ottawa distinguish between Israel and the Occupied Territories in immigration policy. Individuals who live in illegal settlements are able to enter Canada without a visa like all Israelis. Additionally, a number of registered Canadian charities raise funds for projects supporting illegal Israeli settlements.

Since all NDP candidates likely claim to support international law calling on Ottawa to implement a Security Council resolution shouldn't be tough. While 2334 is a low bar, Canada's tilt in favour of Israel is so pronounced that getting NDP candidates to commit to take action against illegal settlements would have significant ripples. Its long-term impacts would certainly outweigh the "I heart Israel" bombast from the Conservative Party.

Image: Facebook/Jagmeet Singh

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