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Canadian media defend Green Party leader as she accuses her critics of racism

Annamie Paul has severely divided the party, and there have been no public attempts to heal a glaring rift in the membership

Canadian Politics

Green Party leader Annamie Paul’s critics are not racist, writes Yves Engler. They are simply appalled by her autocratic behaviour and repeated and consistent refusal to side with the Palestinian people. Still image from YouTube/CBC.

Last month Montréal saw its largest-ever protests by predominantly racialized communities. On May 15, upwards of 10,000 people poured into the streets to join global protests in solidarity with Palestine. About 80 percent of those participating were from a racialized background. The diverse makeup of the protesters in other cities across Canada wasn’t dissimilar.

Alongside those taking to the street, huge numbers of Canadians signed petitions and statements supporting Palestinian rights. The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it helped to generate over 100,000 letters to government officials regarding Israel’s attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem, and the Israeli military’s repeated and disproportionate bombing of Gaza.

A slew of Canada’s most prominent Black and Indigenous activists—from Black Lives Matter to Desmond Cole, Idle No More to Ellen Gabriel—publicly supported the protests. Indeed, these recent demonstrations were among the most significant displays of international solidarity among racialized Canadians in recent history.

It therefore comes as little surprise that anti-racists are appalled by Green Party leader Annamie Paul’s repeated and consistent refusal to side with the Palestinian people, and her apparent inability to criticize or even name Israeli apartheid—even despite the massive outpouring of global solidarity in the last several weeks.

What prompted tens of thousands to take to the street or write to their representatives was moral outrage at an apartheid regime which promotes the supremacy of Jews over Palestinians through continued violence and a brutal occupation. On one side is a country with a $44,000 per-person GDP, nuclear arms and staunch support from the world’s superpower. On the other is a virtually imprisoned population with a GDP per capita of $2,000 and no standing army, let alone weapons of mass destruction.

Two thirds of the two million people living in Gaza were ethnically cleansed from what is now Israel during the formation of the state in 1948. Palestinians in Gaza can’t leave a 363 square kilometre open-air prison—between the size of Saskatoon and Winnipeg—to view the homes their families were driven from 70 years ago. Yet, here in Canada, my longtime Jewish friend, Michael Rosen (who hasn’t been to Israel, has no familial connection to the country, as is not even remotely religious), can emigrate there whenever he chooses.

The Green Party leader chose to ignore the growing groundswell of opposition to Israeli apartheid, and is now claiming that recent attempts to force her out are driven by racism and sexism.

Just last month, Paul’s Green Party published two statements on the conflict in Israel-Palestine, and they were about as bad or worse as what the Trudeau government has been parroting since it came to power in 2015.

By condemning violence on both sides, and saying nothing of apartheid or Israel’s disproportionate use of force against Palestinians, Paul ignored the pleas of Arab and Muslim Canadians, as well as her own party’s democratically determined policy which repeatedly calls for pressure to be brought to bear on Israel to comply with international law. Before her first statement whitewashed Israeli racism and belligerence, Green MPs Jenica Atwin, Elizabeth May and Paul Manly privately pressed Paul to respect party policy.

When Atwin, Manly, May and many other Canadian political figures expressed support for the besieged Palestinians, Paul’s senior adviser, Noah Zatzman, smeared them as anti-Semitic and threatened to defeat them. After a huge letter writing campaign, the Green executive council voted to terminated Zatzman’s contract. But Paul kept Zatzman on as a “volunteer” adviser, effectively flouting the council’s decision. She has also steadfastly refused to criticize Zatzman’s anti-Palestinian attacks despite a direct request from the party executive to do so.

At the same time as this was playing out, Paul refused to talk with Atwin and blocked a number of individuals, including former Green leadership candidate Judy Green, from running for the party. When Atwin responded to Paul’s autocratic and anti-Palestinian behaviour by crossing the floor and joining the Liberals, the dispute became leading news.

Instead of recognizing her central role in this debacle, Paul fired back at the group of party councillors she claimed were behind a push to force a vote of non-confidence, calling their allegations against her “racist” and “sexist.” While Paul’s deflection is transparently self-serving and damaging to equity struggles, much of the dominant media has echoed the establishment–minded politician’s framing.

Under the caption “STANDING HER GROUND” Paul was on the front page of Saturday’s Globe and Mail, while a Toronto Star editorial published on June 17 claimed, “the only positive to be found in the party’s sad spiral into irrelevance is the conduct of its embattled leader, Annamie Paul” who has been “attacked by the left fringe of the Green movement.”

Paul’s recent actions are remarkably cynical, autocratic and plainly anti-Palestinian. Yet even before she took the helm of the Greens, Paul was responsible for a series of disquieting actions. Indeed, Paul’s rise can be attributed largely to former leader Elizabeth May’s disregard for party democracy. Despite promising to stay out of the leadership race in 2020, May threw her substantial influence behind Paul, fearing eco-socialist and pro-Palestinian forces within the contest, led primarily by lawyer and activist Dimitri Lascaris.

After members voted for a pro-Palestinian resolution proposed by Lascaris at the party’s 2016 convention, May demonstrated her disregard for party democracy, threatening to resign and forcing the party to hold a special convention six months later in Calgary to revaluate that single vote. What’s more, May expelled Lascaris and two others from her shadow cabinet (the party also initially barred Lascaris from running to be leader). Ultimately, Paul defeated Lascaris in the eighth round by a mere 2,000 votes.

While Paul benefited greatly from May’s massive influence, soon after taking her position, she butted heads with the May-aligned Federal Council. As a new leader, Paul requested the party pay her the salary of an MP ($185,000) and demanded significant funds be plowed into the Toronto riding where she faced (and continues to face) long odds of winning.

As part of this conflict, Paul’s staff sought to publicly embarrass the council. The manager of Paul’s unsuccessful Toronto Centre by-election campaign, Sean Yo, implied the people around May were anti-Black and anti-Jewish in a story the Toronto Star headlined “Senior Green officials are sabotaging the first Black woman to lead a Canadian political party, ‘disgusted’ insiders say.”

That the Green Party has a race problem should not be controversial. Black Green activist Matthew Sloly has long complained it is the least diverse of all the federal parties. But Sloly is also critical of Paul’s (as well as May’s) autocratic and anti-Palestinian outlook.

Other Black voices within the Green Party are challenging Paul. Anti-racist equity consultant Lisa Gunderson, who was seeking the party nomination for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, recently dropped her bid, saying she was “concerned that recent events are not consistent with Green values.”

The idea that the way to solve the Green Party’s lack of racial diversity is for the leader’s senior adviser to smear those promoting Palestinian rights is outrageous. Further, to frame opposition to Paul’s leadership as simply driven by racism is to ignore her autocratic behaviour and long-standing pro-Israel positions.

Paul has severely divided and damaged the Green Party, and there have been no public attempts to heal a glaring rift in the membership. If one were to ascribe motives based on her actions, it would seem Paul is aiming to purge the internationalist, anti-racist left from the party—by calling them racists. Sadly, it’s a a tactic much of the media is applauding.

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.

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