Free Palestine Protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, 2014. Image credit: Tony Webster/Flickr

Last week the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) attacked the left wing of the NDP. In a release titled “Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) appalled that disgraced former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn invited to spread toxicity in Canada,” CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel noted:

“Jeremy Corbyn is toxic. The invitation to the disgraced leader is more evidence that Svend Robinson, Niki Ashton, Libby Davies and a few others want to take the NDP in a direction that is antithetical to basic Canadian values. This small group is actively undermining NDP leadership which is working hard to keep the NDP focused on the very important issues that Canadians care about.” 

What prompted this release is an upcoming webinar NDP MP Ashton has organized with Corbyn to raise funds for the Progressive International, which came out of a 2018 meeting organized by Bernie Sanders’ movement. “Progressives of the world unite” is a slogan of an initiative that includes Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Naomi Klein and Yanis Varoufakis. 

What is this battle over Corbyn about? The Israel lobby in Britain attacked the leftist politician relentlessly as anti-Jewish in their effort to undercut Palestinian solidarity. The antisemitism charge also became a stick for the establishment more generally to weaken the left and discredit Corbyn’s socialist and anti-war ideas. Corbyn was demonized as a supporter of dictators, terrorist sympathizer, anti-English, etc., but the anti-Jewish slander stuck since Corbyn and some supporters bent to the defamation.

To get a sense of the scope of the campaign and its politically charged nature, media analysis website Media Lens found that in Corbyn’s first 32 years as a relatively high-profile MP, the British media only published 18 articles that mentioned “Jeremy Corbyn” and “antisemitism,” none of which labelled him as anti-Jewish. In the four years after he unexpectedly won the Labour leadership there were 12,912 articles containing “Jeremy Corbyn” and “antisemitism.” 

CIJA’s release is an explicit effort to marginalize the left within the NDP in the lead-up to the party’s April convention, which will deal with widely backed resolutions in favour of Palestinian rights and against the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism. In a Twitter thread on Tuesday, CIJA confirmed that the resolutions to the upcoming convention is a primary concern. They again attacked Svend Robinson and Libby Davies for sponsoring the IHRA resolution, linking to a Times of Israel story titled “NDP radicals should stop politicizing antisemitism” that claimed the former MPs “peddled” “antisemitism.” 

CIJA’s release could also be read as a call on the NDP leadership to purge the left of the party. Perhaps the official advocacy arm of Canada’s Jewish federations feels emboldened to interfere in internal NDP affairs by recent actions of the party leadership. Ashton was recently demoted from her critic duties and a number of leftists, including former head of the Ontario Federation of Labour Sid Ryan, were blocked from running for the party during the last federal election.

The initial reaction to the Ashton-Corbyn webinar from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and the Broadbent Institute suggests CIJA may have willing allies inside the party in demonizing the left, just as happened in Britain. Working alongside the right wing of the Labour Party, the Israel lobby in the U.K. played a pivotal role in destroying the progressive movement Corbyn galvanized. 

While this brazen interference in a left-wing political party by supposedly non-political lobby groups may be shocking to some, it follows on Israel lobby efforts to undercut the left more generally. B’nai B’rith has been campaigning aggressively to defund student unions and associated organizations. In 2019 B’nai B’rith created a coalition of anti-Palestinian groups that called on Ontario students to take up “a unique opportunity to deny funding to” student associations.

They are currently pressing the University of Toronto’s administration to withhold its graduate students’ union funding. B’nai Brith has also been granted intervener status on the side of the Doug Ford Conservatives in a court case between the Canadian Federation of Students/York Federation of Students and Ontario about the government’s move to force universities to grant opt-outs for various student fees. To get a sense of the scope of their intervention in student life, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn declared:

“non-essential campus services have every right to function and provide the services they wish to, but they do not have the right to force their hands into anyone’s pockets…. CFS [Canadian Federation of Students] claims to represent all students, but we are here to give voice to the thousands of students who do not feel represented by them and have made it clear that they want no part in funding what this organization is financing. The court must also take their perspective into account, and we will do our part to ensure that it does.” 

This is not the first time B’nai B’rith has sought to undermine progressive student organizing. During the remarkable 2012 student strike in Quebec, B’nai B’rith “condemned” protesters’ purported “display of hate …that has outraged the Jewish community.” In 2016, the Canadian Jewish News reacted strongly after delegates at the NDP convention supported the leftish Leap Manifesto. They published an editorial and front-page story expressing concern about the growth of the left within the party. 

It seems Israel lobby groups fear progressive challenges to the status quo. Perhaps they understand that these movements and politicians empower “internationalist” forces. Perhaps they fear that solidarity — what we want for ourselves we wish for all — in political movements and unions inevitably leads to solidarity with all oppressed people, including Palestinians. 

Whatever the reason, these groups have chosen to become overt enemies of people who are trying to build a better, fairer world where social justice for all reigns supreme. They have sought to subvert those who believes the world needs radical change — socialists, environmentalists, anti-racism activists, union organizers and more. They have chosen to be part of the problem, not the solution. Sad, but true.

Yves Engler is a Montreal-based writer and political activist.

Image credit: Tony Webster/Flickr

Yves Engler

Dubbed “Canada’s version of Noam Chomsky” (Georgia Straight), “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I. F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), “part...