By Mike De Souza
OTTAWA - New Democratic Party deputy leader Libby Davies is in hot water in her own caucus over controversial comments she made this month at an anti-Israeli protest when she appeared to question the Jewish state's right to exist, while also suggesting that she believes it should face a boycott and sanctions.
The remarks, made in Vancouver and captured on the above video, which is circulating rapidly on the Internet, have provoked an angry backlash among members of the NDP caucus, including Leader Jack Layton - who quickly distanced himself from Ms. Davies. "I have spoken to the [Israeli] ambassador [to Canada], to indicate very clearly that those comments were not the position of our party and Ms. Davies has sent a letter indicating that she made a very serious mistake," Mr. Layton said. "I told her it was a serious mistake."
The video shows Ms. Davies answering a series of questions about the situation in the Middle East, starting with comments suggesting that Israel has been occupying territories since 1948, which is the year of its independence.
"[The occupation started in] '48. It's the longest occupation in the world," she said in the video. "People are suffering. I've been to the West Bank and Gaza twice, so I see what's going on."
Ms. Davies also expressed her personal support for an international campaign for a boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, breaking ranks with her party's official position.
Thomas Mulcair, the NDP's other deputy leader, said he found the video online last week and "was very quick to point it out" to some of his colleagues to clarify the party's support of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
"No member of our caucus, whatever other title they have, is allowed to invent their own policy," said Mr. Mulcair. "We take decisions together, parties formulate policies together, and to say that you're personally in favour of boycott, divestment and sanctions for the only democracy in the Middle East is, as far as I'm concerned, grossly unacceptable."
In a letter to the Ottawa Citizen that published an editorial last week criticizing Ms. Davies' comments, the Vancouver-area MP apologized for causing "confusion."
"My reference to the year 1948 as the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory was a serious and completely inadvertent error," she said in the letter, which was also posted on her personal website at libbydavies.ca.
"I have always supported a two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have never questioned Israel's right to exist and the Palestinian's right to a viable state ... I reject the allegation that I hate Israel, and I reject the assertion that I said that Israel is illegitimate or an abomination. Neither are true."
But Mr. Mulcair said that Ms. Davies, who could not immediately be reached for comment, should also apologize and retract her comments supporting a boycott. He said it is particularly "egregious" since she is a deputy leader of the party.
"As much as it's difficult, if any individual member of Parliament goes off-script on any issue of policy that is well-defined by the party, it would be a problem," said Mr. Mulcair. "But that problem is of course compounded in the case of someone who putatively, with the title that she holds, would give more weight to these views that are not the views of the party."
Steve McDonald, a spokesman for the Canada-Israel Committee, a non-profit group that focuses on raising awareness about relations between the two countries, said he was skeptical about whether it was an inadvertent error by Ms. Davies - and noted she didn't apologize for supporting the boycott campaign.
"She is a senior parliamentarian in that party. She's obviously concerned or passionate about that issue," said Mr. McDonald. "I don't think someone in that position can hide behind a defence of confusion in this case. Especially when we're talking about something as fundamental as referring to 1948 as when the occupation began."
But Mr. McDonald added that Mr. Mulcair was not the only one upset about Ms. Davies' comments, explaining that the committee's government relations representative, former Bloc Quebecois MP Richard Marceau, has spoken to "a number of caucus members who thought the video was disgusting."
"It's particularly disturbing to see a parliamentarian, who does claim to be educated on the issue, come out and say something that is so far outside the Canadian mainstream," said Mr. McDonald. "It's so far beyond Canada's historical position. It's so far beyond the international consensus of the two-state solution which we all support at this point. These are the types of comments that hurt the two-state solution."