At the upcoming NDP convention the social democratic party’s members should have the opportunity to vote on two widely endorsed pro-Palestinian resolutions. But Canada’s pro-Israel lobby groups are pressuring the party leadership to suppress debate regarding a resolution critical of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian working definition of antisemitism. They want to suppress NDP members ability to debate a document designed to suppress discussion of Palestinian rights!
Recently B’nai B’rith sent a statement to party leader Jagmeet Singh urging him “to ensure that resolutions rejecting the IHRA definition of antisemitism are, themselves, rejected.” An earlier Times of Israel oped titled “NDP radicals should stop politicizing antisemitism” claimed former NDP MPs Svend Robinson and Libby Davies were “peddling” “antisemitism” by promoting the anti-IHRA resolution. For their part, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has put out a statement criticizing the NDP, tweeted about it and published an op-ed critical of the party’s IHRA resolution. CIJA also sponsored a letter signed by 100 Jewish organizations pressuring Singh to suppress the anti-IHRA resolution.
Employing progressive sounding language claiming Jews should define their own oppression, the letter signers completely ignore Palestinians whose rights the IHRA definition tramples on. A member of the Ontario Legislature and top Israeli diplomat have already used the IHRA definition to attack NDP MP Charlie Angus for sharing a Guardian article critical of Israel’s failure to vaccinate Palestinians. Recently Israeli MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh — daughter of Irwin Cotler — wrote that the International Criminal Court investigation into Israeli crimes violates the IHRA definition.
On its face the Israel lobby’s bid to subvert NDP democracy is an over-the-top reaction to a somewhat symbolic resolution. They have escalated the IHRA issue to the point where it has drawn significant attention and anyone committed to party democracy will demand it be debated.
More broadly, their frenzied response is out of proportion with the seeming consequences if it passes. A powerful state, Israel is not on the precipice of collapsing because of pro-Palestinian NDP resolutions. Its GDP per capita is greater than France and Japan and only $500 less than Canada’s. The economic divide between Israel and Gaza is almost certainly the largest of any bordering peoples on the planet. In the military sphere, Israel is one of nine countries that possesses nuclear weapons. It has the sixth or seventh strongest armed forces in the world with far and away the deadliest destructive capacity in the region. Additionally, the USA, the global hegemon, is legally required to guarantee Israel’s military supremacy over the rest of the region!
In the country in which the IHRA resolution outburst is taking place, the government is firmly anti-Palestinian. The Trudeau government has expanded a trade agreement that treats settlements in the occupied West Bank as part of Israel, turns a blind eye to the illegal recruitment of Canadians for the Israeli military and subsidizes hundreds of millions of dollars in donations annually to Israeli charities, including some that support the IDF, West Bank settlements and explicitly racist organizations. In November leading anti-Palestinian activist Irwin Cotler, who Hill Times recently counted among the 50 most influential Canadians on foreign policy, was appointed Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.
Canada’s main opposition Conservatives are more supportive of Israel and the sovereigntist Bloc Québecois has more MPs than any party on the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group. After a battle over Palestinian rights that nearly split the Green party, the Israel lobby’s preferred candidate recently became its leader. Last week Annamie Paul attended an Israeli Wine and Canadian Cheese lobbying event hosted by CIJA, Hillel Ottawa and Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC).
In the economic sphere the lobby is well placed as well. A number of the 100 richest Canadians are proud pro-Israel activists while I’m unaware of any on that list who are openly pro-Palestinian.
At the institutional level CIJA, B’nai B’rith, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, Honest Reporting Canada, StandWithUs, Christians United for Israel Canada, Israel on Campus, etc., all have more money and staff than ever before. The same goes for softer arms of the lobby such as United Jewish Appeal Toronto and Federation Combined Jewish Appeal Montréal, as well as Leo Baeck, Hebrew Academy and other private Jewish day schools as well as Hillel and CJPAC.
The lobby’s institutional capacities have enabled their NDP campaign, of course. But just because you have the power to create a political storm doesn’t mean you have to. So why intervene so forcefully in NDP affairs?
Despite working on behalf of a powerful state backed by the global hegemon, the Israel lobby is vulnerable on the ideological plane. The facts on the ground are overwhelming and polls show Canadians are increasingly sympathetic to Palestinians. As such, the Israel lobby has become ever more dependent on intimidating people from discussing what B’Tselem recently dubbed “a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea” by weaponizing anti-Semitism.
The lobby’s substantial power rests uneasily alongside the injustice they seek to maintain. Like most bullies they get angry when their target wants to talk. They don’t want to hear the other’s point of view. Hopefully, NDP members stand up to the bully and do what’s right.
On April 5 the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute will be hosting a discussion on “Palestine Solidarity: why the NDP convention matters”