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Supporters of Palestinian rights should praise the NDP’s dramatic policy shift

Jagmeet Singh and the NDP must be praised—this pivot on Israel-Palestine took courage

Canadian PoliticsMiddle East

“By failing to call out Israel for breaching international law and violating the human rights of the Palestinian people, Canada is contributing to the problem,” said NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in a recent statement. Image courtesy Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME).

Has a leading Canadian politician ever shifted so dramatically on a major policy issue?

Eighteen months ago, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh refused to utter the word “Palestine,” but on August 26 he sent out an email announcing the New Democrats’ position on Israel, saying: “We believe Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories is at the centre of the challenges facing the Palestinian and Israeli people.”

The email goes on to make 13 demands of the minority Liberal government that the NDP supports in Parliament. These are:

  • Respond to reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Israeli human rights NGOs and the United Nations and accept their recommendations to states.
  • Refer the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to the International Criminal Court.
  • Increase pressure on the Israeli government to stop its plan to annex Palestinian territory in violation of international law.
  • Condemn the construction of illegal settlements, demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, and evictions from East Jerusalem, including Sheikh Jarrah.
  • Call on Israel to end forcible displacement of villagers in Masafer Yatta.
  • Increase funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which supports Palestinian refugees.
  • Condemn Israel’s undemocratic nation-state law.
  • Condemn the Israeli government’s attacks on civil society in Israel and Palestine, including the recent designation of six Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist.”
  • Condemn the ongoing blockade of Gaza and increase Canadian humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.
  • Condemn military detention of Palestinian children, and reaffirm support for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Vote for Palestinian human rights at the United Nations.
  • End all trade and economic cooperation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine.
  • Suspend the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld.

While the email seems to have had only limited circulation and does not appear anywhere on the party’s official website, the message reflects a remarkable turnaround for Singh that deserves careful analysis.

In the lead-up to the NDP’s April 2021 convention Singh was asked by the CBC’s Chris Hall about a number of widely-supported resolutions regarding “Canada’s relationship to Israel and the Palestinian territory.” Instead of responding to Hall’s question directly, the NDP leader mentioned “antisemitism” four times. Asked again about “resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians,” Singh again failed to mention Palestine or Palestinians. Instead, he talked about “increased hate crimes [against] people of the Jewish faith.” Singh’s complete erasure of the long-oppressed Palestinians was stunning. But activist efforts at the party convention and a series of other factors soon shifted his position, as I detailed three months ago in a piece titled “NDP policy on Palestine much improved.”

All Palestine solidarity campaigners should celebrate Singh’s shift and defend the NDP against attacks from pro-Israel lobbyists. Former Conservative Senator Linda Frum (who heads the board of an organization launching its fundraising campaign next month with an in-person event featuring Stephen Harper and George W. Bush) labeled Singh’s letter “utterly depressing.”

Yet, we should also take advantage of the moment to move the struggle against apartheid forward. NDP MPs Randall Garrison, Lisa Marie Barron, Gord Johns and Bonita Zarrillo are all listed as members of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group (Garrison is a vice-chair), which promotes “greater friendship” and “further co-operation” between Canada and Israel.

It is contradictory for a party to participate in a group promoting closer ties with Israel while simultaneously criticizing Canada’s contribution to Israel’s “regime of Jewish supremacy between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea,” as described by the country’s top human rights group, B’Tselem. Indeed, the first bullet in Singh’s 13-point program ostensibly calls for Israel to be labelled an apartheid state. Since Amnesty International published its landmark report in February, NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Heather McPherson has repeatedly asked Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly why the Liberal government rejects Amnesty’s conclusion—that Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians is “a cruel system of domination and a crime against humanity”—which is shared by Human Rights Watch, Al-Haq, B’Tselem and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories.

Four years ago I helped organize “A Call for the NDP to Withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group.” Roger Waters, Noam Chomsky, Linda McQuaig and 200 other prominent musicians, academics, trade unionists and NDP members signed the public letter. Singh immediately rejected the call. Activists should raise the issue of the Interparliamentary Group again; it’s time for Singh to formally disassociate the party from it.

But first Singh and the NDP must be praised. This policy shift took courage. The inevitable attacks from partisans of Israeli apartheid must be overwhelmed by support from Canadians of conscience.

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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