Why the NDP silence on Palestine?

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Israeli Apartheid Week

As pronouncements on Palestinian statehood at the UN are fiercely debated around the world, on the ground in Palestine the violent realities of Israeli military occupation and apartheid continue without reprieve.

In Canada, despite broad international support for peace with justice in Palestine, illustrated by the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, Palestine has in recent years seldom been highlighted as a foreign policy priority by the NDP. The subject, for instance, has only rarely been mentioned in the current NDP leadership race.

Today the diverse voices supporting the Palestinian struggle for freedom in Canada rarely find an echo in Ottawa's halls of power. Palestine, however, remains a central international issue for grassroots social justice movements across Canada, a fact that NDP leadership contenders seem to be largely sidestepping, despite actively courting support from progressive activists.

It seems that the ongoing struggle of millions of displaced Palestinian refugees, many of whom reside in impoverished refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, or live under the Israeli military siege on Gaza, is far away from the minds of politicians working in Ottawa or campaigning across Canada.

As activists move toward the annual Israeli Apartheid Week, which this year takes place March 5-9 in Canada, let us take concrete action that will project the Palestinian struggle in ways that NDP politicians are forced to address.

Grassroots activism in Canada has contributed significantly to the global BDS campaign. In Montreal 500 artists signed an open letter to support the movement, and major unions are deeply involved. Despite this, some NDP politicians continue to expect support from the same activist networks working to build the BDS movement, while stepping all over the rights of Palestinians.

As the NDP leadership campaign intensifies and as the Conservative majority government moves decisively to shift Canadian policy to an extreme right, now is the time to sound the alarm on Palestine.

Palestine can illustrate the capacity of a politician to take a principled position and also the ability for grassroots activism to force politicians to act.

NDP leadership contender Thomas Mulcair, actively campaigning to move the NDP to the right, stated in 2008, "I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances." That statement was made as the Israeli siege on Gaza continued, as construction on the Israeli apartheid wall moved forward unabated in the West Bank (despite being condemned as illegal by the International Court of Justice), and as thousands of Palestinian political prisoners remained locked away in Israeli jails.

Mulcair's comments are a clear attack on Palestinian human rights, providing support for Israeli war crimes committed against the Palestinian people. Now is the time to hold Mulcair accountable for these ruthless words on Palestine.

In stating unconditional support for Israel, Muclair aligns with right-wing, neo-colonial efforts to erase the Palestinian struggle from the map, in line with recent statements by U.S. Republican politician Newt Gingrich that "Palestinians are an invented people."

In 2010, across the NDP political spectrum, politicians refused to acknowledge the historical accuracy of MP Libby Davies' comment, recorded at a Palestinian solidarity rally in Vancouver, on the Israeli occupation of Palestine beginning in 1948.

Israeli military troops moved forcefully to occupy numerous Palestinian towns and villages in 1948, in many cases displacing the indigenous Palestinian residents and in some cases, like the village of Deir Yassin, massacring Palestinian civilians. The events of 1948 are vital historical context for understanding the persisting reality of Palestinian refugees all around the world.

Instead of pointing to the historical data that supports comments like the one by MP Davies as accurate, many politicians, with Harper leading the disingenuous charge along with some NDP MPs, ran to denounce Davies for cheap political capital. This stampede included Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair, who claimed the comments were "grossly unacceptable."

Is a statement of historical fact on Palestine "grossly unacceptable" to Muclair? If yes, why?

Beyond a history of radical pro-Israel campaigning from Mulcair, all the other NDP leadership candidates have failed to address the urgent Palestinian struggle in meaningful ways.

Difficult questions on Palestine need to be raised within the NDP.

Why are NDP leadership candidates seriously out-of-step with the grassroots left in Canada on Palestine?

Why is the NDP not taking a more active role to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as a clear and practical method to work for peace in Palestine and Israel?

Why is the NDP not actively defending students' right to organize and hold Israeli Apartheid Week activities on campuses across the country?

Why do NDP politicians continue to perpetuate the myth of Canada as an "honest broker" on Palestine/Israel?

Certainly NDP politics on Palestine are generally more linked to reality as compared to the current Conservative majority government. However, few NDP politicians have moved to take the type of principled positions or actions that can actually lead to concrete steps toward peace with justice.

Internationally, people across the political spectrum celebrate without question the successful impact that the boycott campaign against the apartheid regime of South Africa had, in both supporting the South African resistance and bringing down apartheid.

Why is it that, today, NDP politicians are failing to support a similar global boycott movement against Israeli apartheid? A grassroots campaign launched by Palestinian activists, a campaign that simply aims to hold Israel accountable to international law?

On Palestine, will the NDP stand on the wrong side of history?

Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based community activist, writer and musician who contributes to rabble.ca. Stefan is on Twitter.

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