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Green Party scores own goal with defection of pro-Palestine MP

The shocking move leaves the Greens with just two MPs in the House of Commons

Canadian Politics

On June 10, Green Party MP Jenica Atwin crossed the floor to sit with the Liberals less than two years after her breakthrough election for the Greens in New Brunswick. Photo courtesy Jenica Atwin/Facebook.

Score an own goal for the Green Party of Canada’s most pro-Israel members, Noah Zatzman and newly minted leader Annamie Paul. Not only are they responsible for forcing one of their own to cross the floor into the Liberal Party’s caucus ranks, they exposed their anti-Palestinian bias by conflating criticism of the State of Israel with anti-Semitism and unjustly smearing a colleague who disagreed with their reactionary positions.

On June 10, MP Jenica Atwin left the Green Party to join the Liberals. She was driven out by Paul and Zatzman, a senior adviser and the party’s chief spokesperson, whose pro-Israel leanings blinded them to political reality and the growing scale of support for the Palestinian cause among Green members.

Just a month ago, Atwin labeled as “totally inadequate” a statement from Paul which attempted to whitewash Israel’s ethnic cleansing and violence in Gaza and Jerusalem.

In response to Atwin and a statement in her support from Green MPs Paul Manly and Elizabeth May, Zatzman accused a slew of political leaders of “appalling anti-Semitism” and “virulent anti-Jewish behaviour” in a post to his Facebook page.

This was a profound miscalculation and should have led to Zatzman’s immediate removal. Instead, Paul sought to ride out the kerfuffle. But Green activists refused to let the smear and threat slide. Many of them mobilized online, and a recent article I wrote on the subject was widely read and shared.

Two weeks after Zatzman’s post, the CBC finally reported on the matter. Incredibly, Zatzman doubled down on his attacks on Atwin and Manly in his interview with the broadcaster and other outlets. With Paul’s apparent support, he told La Presse that he didn’t regret his Facebook statement and that “these two MPs [Atwin and Manly] have propagated what I consider to be anti-Semitic remarks.” He added, “I’m not trying to rule out Jenica or Paul [Manly], but the Green Party wants to become a ‘mainstream’ party and make gains and if that means it has to lose Jenica along the way for that, well, too bad.”

Almost immediately, more than 150 Green party members signed a public letter calling for Zatzman’s removal. Simultaneously, 1,400 individuals emailed Green leaders calling on them to “remove Noah Zatzman as senior adviser.”

On Tuesday, the head of the Green Party Fund, Doug Tingey, emailed some members saying that Zatzman’s contract had been terminated a few days earlier. But Zatzman denied he was removed. A Canadian Press investigation found that he was staying on as a “volunteer” adviser to Paul. In other words, the Green executive council voted to end Zatzman’s contract, but Paul effectively flouted their decision.

Two days later, at a hastily organized press conference, Paul was grilled for more than 40 minutes on Atwin’s defection. A half-dozen of the country’s leading reporters discussed Zatzman’s charges of anti-Semitism in an incredulous tone and mentioned Israeli apartheid. Paul refused to answer when directly asked whether she “condones or condemns” Zatzman’s statement.

Throughout the press conference and subsequent interviews Paul repeatedly denied that Zatzman’s comments played any role in Atwin leaving the party. But Atwin suggested differently, while May and Manly made it clear that Zatzman was responsible. The two Green MPs released a joint statement on Thursday afternoon noting, “unfortunately, the attack against Ms. Atwin by the Green Party leader’s chief spokesperson on May 14 created the conditions that led to this crisis. We have no intention of leaving the Green Party.”

Of course, the move by the Liberals to welcome Atwin into the fold was cynical from an electoral point of view, but fascinating nonetheless. The party typically governs from the right and run their election campaigns from the left, so it is smart strategy to embrace an MP who has identified with the fight for Indigenous rights and the climate.

In his statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “with her tireless and effective advocacy on priorities like climate action, mental health, reconciliation, and making life more affordable for families, Jenica Atwin is respected by her constituents and all of her colleagues as a champion for real change.”

What’s perhaps more interesting, however, is the Liberals’ calculation regarding Atwin’s position on Palestine. Does the party believe it serves their short-term electoral strategy to bring into its caucus someone now identified with the Palestinian cause? Is it possible Trudeau’s advisers are calculating that after the massive outpouring of pro-Palestinian sympathy in recent weeks and the prime minister’s generally staunch pro-Israel positions it’s tactical to appear open to pro-Palestinian voices (particularly after the horrific anti-Muslim murders carried out in London)?

How will the rest of this game play out? Will there be more own goals committed by Paul and other extremist supporters of Israel within the Green Party?

Stay tuned. This saga certainly does not seem to be finished.

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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