On Saturday, NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar issued a statement on the death of Israeli war criminal and former general and prime minister Ariel Sharon, expressing “sincere condolences to Ariel Sharon’s family and the people of Israel as they mourn their loss.”
Paul Dewar claimed his words were offered “on behalf of all New Democrats.” They were not. Many people, including party members, were repulsed by the saccharine platitudes marking the demise of a mass murderer.
The official statement was brief – a mere 54 words – but inexcusable, when considered beside the long record of crimes against humanity for which Sharon has been found responsible or complicit.
Ariel Sharon was a war criminal, whose actions led to the slaughter of many thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians. His warmongering cost the lives of Israelis too, and did a lot to permanently poison the well of any possible peace with justice in the Middle East. As the former NDP foreign affairs critic Svend Robinson said, in 2002: “Far from making Israel a safer place, Sharon’s policies have had the opposite effect.”
Now, you might object, ‘Didn’t the NDP have to say something?’ No, they didn’t. Sometimes the death of a foreign leader can just be greeted with silence. That is, if you lack the courage to do what groups like Human Rights Watch did, and put out a press release explaining, “For the thousands of victims of abuses, Sharon’s passing without facing justice magnifies their tragedy.”
Anyway, there are plenty of very recent precedents for the NDP saying nothing. The NDP’s condolences for Ariel Sharon, in fact, were all the more sickening because of their contrast to the silences of Paul Dewar, the silences of “today’s NDP.”
Dewar and the NDP were silent when Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez died; in that case the party didn’t issue a statement at all, despite the fact Chavez’s tragic demise came just months after his re-election and was mourned all across Latin America. This, by the way, was just one month after Mulcair had issued a statement “to the people of Great Britain” on the demise of that vicious arch-enemy of Labour, Margaret Thatcher.
The NDP made no recognition of the death of Stéphane Hessel, arguably one of the most significant social democratic personalities of the past century. Hessel, a Holocaust survivor, participated in drafting the UN Declaration of Human Rights, then had a long career as a French diplomat. In his nineties, he became a bestselling polemicist with his short book, Indignez-Vous – a call for outrage and action against economic inequality and against, as it happens, the occupation of Palestine. Hessel’s book was the inspiration for the name of the Indignados in Spain, one of the new social movements whose example ricocheted around the world beginning in 2011.
The NDP said nothing when Stephen Harper was feted last year in Toronto by the Jewish National Fund, the agency that promotes exclusionary land ownership and use in the Middle East – a key part of the machinery of Palestinian dispossession.
Dewar and the NDP were effectively silent when, in 2012, one of their own former MPs – then 79 year-old Jim Manly – was jailed, along with an international crew aboard the Estelle, after attempting to breach the cruel Israeli blockade of Gaza. At the time, Dewar mouthed something about urging restraint on “both sides,” the type of false equivalency which is both nauseating and impotent, considering that the political context in Canada is one where the Harper government clearly backs one side, the Israeli side, to the hilt.
This quiet, and quietism, has permeated the whole NDP caucus like never before – the culmination of a long-term trend. That the current leadership is proud of the accomplishment is an open secret. In a recent cover story in The Walrus, political consultant and insider Robin Sears touts Mulcair’s success in putting a lid on the “iconoclasts” in caucus.
Some might explain it away as the cost of doing business for a party now in Official Opposition, convinced they must act as a ‘government-in-waiting.’
Whatever the rationale, the result is a deafening silence at the heart of Canadian politics. For each tribune of the left that goes silent, gets muzzled or self-censors, others must step up and speak up. The muting of even the left-wing of the NDP’s caucus makes truly independent media outlets more important than ever. Apparently you have to have absolutely no skin in that dirty game in Ottawa to break the silence and express simple truths.
Imagine if only a single Member of Canada’s Parliament had the courage to make the simple point articulated in Le Monde Diplomatique, responding to French President Francois Hollande’s NDP-like words of condolence: “Did he really have to offer condolences to the Israeli people? It would have been better to offer them to the Palestinians and the thousands victimized directly by [Sharon’s] actions.”