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Ontario NDP and Conservatives unite to punish Sarah Jama for criticizing Israeli violence

Schalk: We must remember whose alliances the NDP values, and whose it discards

Canadian PoliticsMiddle EastHuman Rights

On October 23, Ontario NDP MPP Sarah Jama was expelled from the party’s caucus and censured in the provincial legislature for comments she made about Palestine. Photo by Bobby Hristova/CBC.

The situation in Gaza is unimaginable. The number of deaths since Israel began its bombardment of the crowded coastal strip three weeks ago is nearing 7,000, with the number of children killed approaching 3,000.

UNICEF has described Israel’s mass killing of children in Gaza as “simply staggering” and “a stain on our collective conscience.”

Meanwhile, the health care system in Gaza is “completely out of service” due to bombing and the withholding of essential supplies, with no capacity to treat the over 17,000 wounded. Gazans are traumatized, displaced, and suffering deadly shortages of basic necessities like food, water, and medicine.

In Jewish Currents, Israeli genocide scholar Raz Segal described the assault on the Palestinians of Gaza as “a textbook case of genocide unfolding in front of our eyes.”

Despite growing global anger at Israel’s atrocities, the US and its allies remain unblinking in their support of the Netanyahu government. Even domestically, there has been a “breakdown of consensus” around Washington’s unconditional backing of Israel. According to a recent CBS-YouGov poll, the majority of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the war while 53 percent of Democratic voters oppose the administration sending more weapons to Israel. Fifty-seven percent of all voters want the US to send humanitarian supplies to the conflict zone.

Majority opinion has not stopped the Biden administration from continuing its unequivocal support for Israel’s bombardment. Most recently, US National Security Spokesperson John Kirby shrugged off the bone-chilling number of civilian casualties in Gaza, stating, “This is war. It is combat. It is bloody. It is ugly. And it’s going to be messy and innocent civilians are going to be hurt going forward.”

This as the US unilaterally vetoed an attempt by the United Nations Security Council to call for a humanitarian ceasefire, the Biden administration warned diplomats not to publicly speak about “de-escalation,” “ceasefire,” or an “end to bloodshed” in Gaza, and a US spokesperson rejected an international UN investigation into the al-Ahli hospital massacre.

Despite Biden’s attempts to rhetorically carve the world into “democracies” and “autocracies,” his administration is disregarding majority opinion domestically and internationally in its support for the bloodbath Israel has unleashed against Gaza. Canada has joined the US in this endeavour, with the Trudeau government proclaiming Israel’s “right to defend itself” while refusing to call for a humanitarian ceasefire.

The atrocities are piling up in Gaza. There is no denying the massive scale of the violence or the genocidal rhetoric the Israeli government is using to justify it. Yet the US, Europe, and Canada, as well as their media apparatuses, stand fully in support of the killing. They are not concerned for civilians impacted by the war—rather, their main concern is controlling the narrative around the conflict in a way that continually excuses Israel’s actions. This means disciplining individuals who refuse to toe the line, criminalizing protests against Israel’s assault on Gaza, and continually reinforcing Israel’s “right to defend itself” amidst condemnations of Hamas’s allegedly unrivalled barbarism. The Israeli government’s obvious lies—be they about beheaded babies or chemical weapons manuals—are left untouched by Western media.

As Noah Kulwin writes, “Israel and Western powers would rather fight the media wars of yesterday than confront the rising discontent of millions in the Middle East and around the world.”

Unfortunately, the same is true of the NDP.

Apart from the party’s call for a humanitarian ceasefire in the House of Commons, the NDP has condemned expressions of solidarity with Palestinians and opposition to the burgeoning genocide in Gaza.

Since the beginning of the Israeli onslaught, the NDP has taken several actions to boost the Israeli government’s narrative and demonize expressions of solidarity with Palestinians. This includes NDP leader Jagmeet Singh speaking at a conference organized by the ardently pro-Israel Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), alongside a man who in the midst of the assault on Gaza compared Palestinians to cockroaches. Meanwhile, at the federal NDP’s convention, Palestinian activists were removed from the building for urging the party to condemn Israel’s war crimes.

Most recently, the Ontario NDP expelled Sarah Jama, MPP for Hamilton Centre, for condemning Israel’s 75-year history of violence against the Palestinians.

On October 10, Jama released a statement criticizing Israel’s policies toward Palestinians, the decades of settler colonialism, the ongoing apartheid, and the brutal blockade imposed on Gaza since 2006.

The statement is not an endorsement of Hamas or its attacks on Israelis. Instead, it offers vital context for understanding why the situation in Palestine and Israel has descended into war, even citing a United Nations Special Rapporteur.

Jama also decried Israel’s use of white phosphorus chemicals in Gaza, “the withholding of access to food, fuel, electricity and water, and the destruction of the only exit from Gaza that isn’t controlled by the State of Israel.” She called for an “immediate ceasefire and de-escalation.”

Pro-Israel politicians swiftly accused Jama of antisemitism and supporting terrorism. Ontario NDP leader Marit Stiles ordered Jama to withdraw the statement. Political pressure led Jama to apologize for her statement, although she did not officially retract it.

Premier Doug Ford, whose government is mired in corruption in the wake of the Green Belt scandal, smeared Jama, falsely claiming that she has “a long and well-documented history of antisemitism” and that she “publicly support[s] the rape and murder of innocent Jewish people.” The mendacity of Ford’s statement provoked Jama to threaten him with a libel lawsuit if he did not retract his insults.

Stiles refused to back her MPP. She simply stated, “I’ve been aware that [Jama] feels she’s been libelled.”

On October 23, the Ontario legislature censured Jama for her condemnation of Israeli violence. Although all present NDP members opposed the censure, the party followed by removing Jama from the NDP caucus, citing her position on the war against Gaza and her threat to sue Premier Ford for defamation.

Instead of supporting their MPP, the leadership of the Ontario NDP abandoned Jama to Ford’s baseless smears. The party then kicked her out for having the audacity to defend herself and her political positions.

Only last year, the BC NDP disqualified progressive leadership challenger Anjali Appadurai, despite her popularity, and installed loyal Horgan man David Eby as premier. This was an anti-democratic action designed to preserve the power of the conservative-leaning professional class that holds the party’s reins. Now the Ontario NDP has booted their own MPP for her principled deviation from the party line.

The NDP cannot be allowed to forget that, as a genocide loomed in Gaza, they expelled a critic of Israeli violence while their party leader spoke alongside a man who compared Palestinians to cockroaches. We must remember whose alliances the NDP values, and whose it discards.

Owen Schalk is a writer from rural Manitoba. He is the author of Canada in Afghanistan: A story of military, diplomatic, political and media failure, 2003-2023.

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