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Pro-Israel lobby group has no credibility to lecture NDP on racism

CIJA has twice attacked Palestine solidarity and members of the left of the party

Canadian Politics

The NDP’s upcoming convention will likely feature attempts by the party hierarchy to suppress two key resolutions on Palestine solidarity, writes Yves Engler. Photo from Flickr.

It’s heating up. With a month to go before the NDP convention, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has twice attacked Palestine solidarity and members of the left of the party.

In a Twitter thread posted on Tuesday the official advocacy arm of Canada’s Jewish federations promoted the idea that Canada’s first-ever openly gay member of parliament and a 20-year MP were “anti-Semitic.” CIJA attacked Svend Robinson and Libby Davies for sponsoring a resolution against the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism at the upcoming April NDP convention.

In a series of aggressive tweets, CIJA linked to a Times of Israel story titled “NDP radicals should stop politicizing antisemitism” that claimed Robinson and Davies “peddled” “antisemitism.” The logic (if you can call it that) is that it is anti-Jewish to oppose a definition of antisemitism which many legal experts, academics and journalists say poses a threat to free speech and aims to silence Palestinian solidarity.

Former Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) head Sid Ryan recently reported that 55 NDP electoral associations, the president of CUPE Ontario, the leadership of the OFL, several district labour councils, Independent Jewish Voices Canada, Palestine House, the Palestinian Canadian Congress, Just Peace Advocates, several NDP MPs and many more have endorsed Robinson and Davies’s resolution.

“There has never been this much broad based support for a resolution submitted to a NDP convention in its 60 year history”, Ryan wrote on Facebook. At the same time, another resolution submitted in advance of the convention dubbed the “Palestine Resolution” has been supported by 33 riding associations and numerous groups. It calls for an end to all trade and economic cooperation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine and urges the Canadian government to “end the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld.”

In a sign of the pressure CIJA is putting on NDP leadership to suppress the IHRA and Palestine resolutions, the organization released a statement that targeted Davies and Robinson. In a press release put out last week that was a clearly designed to marginalize the left within the NDP, CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel noted: “Jeremy Corbyn is toxic. The invitation to the disgraced leader [a March 20 webinar hosted by Progressive International featuring NDP MP Niki Ashton and Corbyn] is more evidence that Svend Robinson, Niki Ashton, Libby Davies and a few others want to take the NDP in a direction that is antithetical to basic Canadian values. This small group is actively undermining NDP leadership.”

While a definition of antisemitism designed to maintain Palestinian subjugation is obviously odious, the anti-IHRA campaign makes me somewhat uncomfortable. It’s simply too defensive. Rather than being on the backfoot, anti-racists should loudly proclaim that lobbyists for Israel’s “regime of Jewish supremacy” (B’Tselem) have zero credibility on racism.

Alas, Canadian political culture is what it is. CIJA is not done attacking the NDP. As the convention approaches, expect op-eds, tweets, press releases, and more that seek to link Davies, Robinson, Ashton or the NDP more generally to real or perceived antisemitism. At recent conventions CIJA has organized breakfasts and brought in ‘progressive’ Israeli officials. How this will play out during this year’s virtual convention is unclear.

In deference to CIJA and the dominant media in Canada, expect the party leadership to seek to suppress the IHRA and Palestine resolutions. At the 2018 convention the Palestine Resolution, which was endorsed unanimously by the NDP youth convention and by over 24 riding associations, was blocked from even being discussed by the party hierarchy (the resolution 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”).

NDP House Leader Guy Caron mobilized an unprecedented number of current and former MPs, including Alexandre Boulerice, Randall Garrison, Craig Scott, Tracey Ramsey, Hélène Laverdière, Murray Rankin and Nathan Cullen, to vote against even debating the most widely endorsed foreign policy resolution at the convention. Additionally, members of Jagmeet Singh’s family, the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Janet Solberg, Broadbent Institute Executive Director Rick Smith and their allies all attended the early morning session to stop the Palestine Resolution from being discussed at the main plenary.

Internationalists participating in the upcoming convention should plan to overcome every trick in the book from the party hierarchy to suppress Palestine solidarity.

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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