The anti-Palestinian consensus among Canada’s three main political parties is crumbling, and NDP members could bury it this weekend.
The NDP’s foreign critic has begun challenging Canada's contribution to Palestinian dispossession. Hélène Laverdière has repeatedly criticized the Trudeau government’s silence on Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. In response she tweeted, "a devastating day for those who believe in peace, justice and security in the Middle East. Where is Canada’s voice in protest of Trump’s decision on #Jerusalem? I urge Canada to condemn this decision in the strongest of terms."
Laverdière also asked the federal government to condemn Israel’s detention of 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi and hundreds of other Palestinian children who are usually tortured by Israeli forces. Similarly, she has pressed Ottawa to properly label products from illegal Israeli settlements and submitted a petition to Parliament calling "upon the Government of Canada to demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem."
Two weeks ago I received an email on behalf of party leader Jagmeet Singh with the subject, "all people deserve the same human rights," which listed the party’s recent support for Palestinian rights. It noted, "the NDP shares your concerns about Palestine. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his team of New Democrats have a consistent record of defending Palestinian rights as well as raising concerns over Islamophobia."
A series of factors are likely driving the party's shift here. Laverdière probably never backed former NDP leader Tom Mulcair’s position of ardent support for Israel. Last year’s NDP leadership race also unleashed ever bolder expressions of support for the Palestinian cause.
Amidst the campaign, Laverdière was criticized for speaking at AIPAC’s 2016 conference in Washington and participating in an event put on by the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund. In August, the NDP Socialist Caucus called for her resignation as foreign critic and it has submitted a motion to this weekend’s convention calling for her to be removed from that position.
Ottawa’s high-profile abstention at the UN General Assembly after Donald Trump announced that he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem has given the NDP an opportunity to distinguish itself from the Trudeau government. And media coverage of subsequent Palestinian resistance, most notably Ahed Tamimi’s courageous slaps, has provided additional opportunities to highlight the Liberals' extreme anti-Palestinianism.
The NDP leadership is also trying to head off member calls to boycott Israel (according to a 2017 Ekos poll, 84% of NDP members were open to sanctioning Israel). At least five resolutions (among more than ten concerning Palestine/Israel) submitted to the convention call for some type of boycott or sanction.
The NDP Socialist Caucus has called on the party to “actively campaign” in support of the (just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize) Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement’s demands. With probably more backing than any of the 100+ resolutions submitted, 30 riding associations/youth committees endorsed "Palestine Resolution," which calls for "banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation." Of course party leaders fear the media response to any type of boycott resolution being adopted.
Whatever the reason for the party leadership's shift away from anti-Palestinianism, it remains insufficient. As I’ve detailed, the NDP continues to provide various forms of support to Israel and the party has an odious anti-Palestinian history. In the mid-1970s the party opposed Palestinian Liberation Organization participation in two UN conferences in Toronto and Vancouver and party leader Ed Broadbent called the PLO "terrorists and murderers whose aim is the destruction of the state of Israel." That year NDP icon Tommy Douglas also told the Histadrut labour federation: "The main enmity against Israel is that she has been an affront to those nations who do not treat their people and their workers as well as Israel has treated hers." (Douglas’ 1975 speech was made while Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai, after it repeatedly invaded its neighbours and ethnically cleansed 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland.)
A progressive party worth its salt campaigns on an international issue in equal measure to its government and society’s contribution to that injustice. Over the past century Canada has played no small part in Palestinian dispossession. Hundreds of Canadians provided military force to realize the crassly anti-Palestinian Balfour Declaration and this country’s diplomats played a central role in the UN’s decision to give the Zionist movement most of Palestine in 1947.
Today, Ottawa regularly votes against Palestinian rights at the UN and subsidizes dozens of charities that channel tens of millions of dollars to projects supporting Israel's powerful military, racist institutions and illegal settlements. Additionally, Canada’s two-decade-old free trade agreement with Israel allows settlement products to enter Canada duty-free, and over the past decade Ottawa has delivered over $100 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority in an explicit bid to advance Israel’s interests by building a security apparatus to protect the corrupt Palestinian Authority from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building.
Hopefully, in the years to come the NDP can help Canada make up for its sad anti-Palestinian history. Perhaps this weekend the party will finally bury official Canada’s anti-Palestinian consensus.
I will be speaking about "What's Wrong with NDP Foreign Policy?" on the sidelines of the convention.
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