One side is playing for keeps. They oust elected representatives and block members from voting on efforts to challenge a brutal occupation. On the other side, members defending a morally righteous cause twist themselves in knots to avoid directly criticizing nakedly authoritarian party leaders.
Recently, the NDP national office overturned the vote of party members in Dartmouth-Cole Harbour after they elected Rana Zaman to represent the riding in the upcoming federal election. Party ‘leaders’ excluded the Muslim woman of Pakistani heritage from running because she defended thousands of Palestinians mowed down by Israeli snipers during last year’s “Great March of Return” in the open-air Gaza prison. A prominent local activist, Zaman represented the party provincially in 2017.
In May the leadership of the Ontario NDP blocked a resolution on Palestinian rights from being debated at their biannual convention. According to party member Moe Alqasem, the resolution “was pushed to the very bottom of its list of resolutions on block 4” despite having “as many endorsements as the top resolution on that same list … The appeals committee refused to re-prioritize it on the list, a speech was given in favor of the re-prioritization and the room erupted into cheers and chants for a few minutes.
The committee’s decision was next to be challenged on the main floor of the convention, but the chair ‘conveniently’ decided that we were behind on time. There were several attempts to amend the agenda or the order-of-the-day to allow for the membership to challenge the committee’s decision again, conveniently however the chair decided that it was not possible. The chair spent 20 minutes refusing us the opportunity to speak for one minute on the resolution. Knowing full well that the membership was supportive of Palestine. Later on during that convention, somehow the order-of-the-day was amended in favour of another resolution and the committee’s decision was challenged in front of the general membership. Several other rules were amended, the same privileges were not afforded to the Palestinians and the Palestine-Solidarity members within the party.”
Recently, the NDP hierarchy undermined former Toronto mayoral candidate Saron Gebresellassi’s bid to represent the party in Parkdale-High Park possibly because she signed an open letter calling on the NDP to withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group. The national office took 141 days to vet her candidacy, giving her only 23 days to sign up new members to vote. Then a good number of the 400 members she registered were disenfranchised beforehand and at the riding association vote. At the centre of the sordid affair was Parkdale-High Park president Janet Solberg who was maybe the loudest anti-Palestinian at the NDP’s 2018 federal convention.
According to Myles Hoenig, “Janet Solberg, sister of Stephen Lewis, leader of the Ontario NDP for most of the 1970s who kicked out the leftist contingent known as The Waffle, played a leadership role in officiating this election. In a three-way call to the candidates, she openly expressed her hostility to Saron by stating how she won’t support her.” A former Ontario NDP president, vice president and federal council member, Solberg pushed to suppress debate on the “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice,” which was endorsed by more than two dozen riding associations before the federal convention. The motion mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it called for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”
Six months after suppressing the Palestine Resolution, NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière and party leader Jagmeet Singh participated in an unprecedented smear against one of Canada’s most effective advocates for Palestinian rights. After Dimitri Lascaris called on two Liberal MPs to denounce death threats made by B’nai B’rith supporters against a number of Liberal MPs and the Prime Minister, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called on MPs to attack him, prompting Laverdière to call Lascaris “anti-Semitic” while Singh inferred as much.
In the lead up to the 2015 federal election the NDP leadership ousted as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates because they publicly defended Palestinian rights. The most high-profile individual blocked from seeking an NDP nomination was Paul Manly, a filmmaker and son of a former NDP MP. Manly recently delivered a blow to the NDP by winning the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection as a candidate for the Green Party.
In another Palestine-related development, four NDP MPs (quietly) withdrew from the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG). They did not do so because someone politely convinced them it was immoral to participate in a group promoting “greater friendship” with a belligerent, apartheid, state, but because they were directly challenged through an open letter signed by more than 200 prominent individuals, as well as other campaigning.
NDP MP Randall Garrison remains vice-chair of CIIG and a prominent anti-Palestinian voice within the party. Any NDP activist with an internationalist bone in their body should hope Victoria-area Palestine solidarity campaigners help defeat him in the October election. There must be a price to pay for egregious anti-Palestinianism. In a similar vein, individuals such as Solberg should be confronted on their anti-Palestinianism.
At the end of May I learned Jagmeet Singh was making a major announcement in Montréal. With a hastily drawn placard in my bag, I attended thinking of interrupting the event to decry NDP participation in CIIG and suppression of the 2018 Palestine Resolution. I hesitated for a series of reasons, notably a sense that disrupting a major announcement by the social democratic party was too extreme. I now regret not walking in front of the cameras to denounce NDP anti-Palestinianism at the launch of their climate plan. Unfortunately, this is the type of action required to force party leaders to have second thoughts about blithely ousting pro-Palestinian candidates and suppressing debate on resolutions opposing Palestinian subjugation. NDP leaders fear anti-Palestinian individuals and groups’ no holds barred brand of politics. They need to know the Palestine solidarity side is also prepared to ruffle feathers.
Enough of walking on egg shells. In Alqasem’s devastating report about the Ontario NDP suppressing discussion of a resolution upholding Palestinian rights he begins by letting the perpetrators off the hook. He writes, “the following is not an attack on the membership, the party or administrators within.” But, how can one not politically “attack” the NDP “administrators” who just suppressed internal democracy in order to enable the subjugation of a long-suffering people?
After the federal convention 18 months ago I wrote: “Over the next year NDPers who support Palestinian rights and care about party democracy should hound the leadership over their suppression of the Palestine Resolution. Every single elected representative, staffer, riding association executive and party activist needs to be prodded into deciding whether they side with Palestinian rights and party democracy or suppressing the Palestine Resolution and enabling ongoing Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession.” These words still ring true, even if they may trouble many pro-Palestinian elements within the party (recent developments should be added to the discussion, of course).
For those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but reluctant to openly challenge the party leadership, ask yourself these two questions:
Since polling reveals a higher percentage of Canadians support Palestinian rights than vote for the NDP federally, why won’t party officials allow a clear statement of support for Palestinian liberation?
Is there a point when explicitly antidemocratic behavior that contributes to Palestinian subjugation will no longer be tolerated in a party claiming the mantra of social justice?
It is time the NDP leadership listened to its membership.
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.