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A sad little episode in B.C. politics

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This is a story that is both sad and infuriating to report, on both personal and political levels.

Mable Elmore -- the newly chosen NDP candidate for the provincial election in Vancouver-Kensington with whom I worked closely for many years in the anti-war movement -- was forced to denounce herself over a five-year old interview we did together in which she used the word "Zionist" in its correct context to describe a reality she faced.

The interview (which was also used against Elmore when she ran for a federal NDP nomination a couple of years ago) ran March 8, 2004 in a publication called Seven Oaks, which I used to publish with a group of young writers in Vancouver. The 'offending' answer, responding to a question about her anti-war activism in her bus drivers' union, reads as follows:

"It’s been tough. And I’m in a male-dominated union, we’re ninety per cent men, and a lot of middle-aged brothers and I’m in the minority; I’m an activist, I’m a lesbian of colour, and out in the union, and so it’s kind of hitting all those fronts. And in terms of the anti-war stuff, it’s really been a struggle. We have vocal Zionists in our worksites, and we’ve had to battle them, and – really, I’d characterize it as ‘battles,’ in terms of turning our executive members around, and bringing educationals into our workplace, and being shut out by management, and having to have our workshops outside of the worksite, and facing continual backlash. But the backlash is also a sign of making progress. So that’s how we take that perspective, but, it’s been tough but we’re going to continue to push. We’re signing up more and more members [to the Peace and Justice Committee], and that’s continuing that mobilizing, and that hasn’t been easy."

Within 24 hours of her nomination win, the echo chamber that is the provincial Legislature press corps produced this nauseating performance by BC NDP leader Carole James. Elmore, for her part, produced a frankly nonsensical apology, claiming among other things that the word Zionist has a different meaning in North America than in Europe.

"At the time I didn't realize the term was so loaded, that [the term Zionist] carried an anti-Semitic meaning in the North American context," said Elmore in self-denunciation. As part of her rehabilitation with The Party, Elmore has also written a formal letter of apology to the Canadian Jewish Congress.

Charlie Smith, editor of the local weekly the Georgia Straight, re-introduced some sanity into the discussion with an appropriately headlined op-ed, 'This Mable Elmore controversy over Zionism is truly embarrassing.' Smith notes, "The war in Iraq was illegal. Elmore was correct in trying to prevent Canadian kids from getting killed and wounded in this illegal war. And I have no doubt that she probably encountered opposition from vocal Zionists in her workplace."

I don't want to waste too many words on such a contemptible little episode in B.C. politics. So I will conclude with some words that the Vancouver Sun has chosen not to run in its letters section:

To the editor,

It's truly sad that our provincial politics must be kept so, well, provincial. The whole controversy around NDP candidate Mable Elmore is a tempest in a teapot manufactured by a myopic press corps and by those interests that do not want to see an open and honest discussion of the Middle East.

What Ms. Elmore said, when she was still an active member of Vancouver's StopWar Coalition, is that Zionists in her union made it challenging to do work opposing the war against Iraq. There is absolutely nothing offensive about that and nothing to apologize for.

Perhaps more than ever, world public opinion is turning against the apartheid state of Israel and its endless violations of United Nations resolutions and international law, as seen in the recent massacres in Gaza that left over 1300 Palestinians dead. The really offensive thing is that the NDP wouldn't welcome a candidate with a long record of standing up for justice in the Middle East.

Derrick O'Keefe
former publisher, Seven Oaks

Sid Shniad
Coordinator, Independent Jewish Voices


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