Green Party debacle may be win for Palestine

Jenica Atwin

Score an own goal for Green Party pro-Israel extremists Noah Zatzman and Annamie Paul. Not only are they responsible for the Liberals adding an MP to their caucus, one of their own they slandered as “anti-Semitic” for labeling Israel an “apartheid” state, but also saw to it that millions of Canadians heard mention of Israeli apartheid and now understand that Israel advocates brazenly and unjustly smear those they disagree with.

On Thursday MP Jenica Atwin left the Green party to join the Liberals. She was driven out by party leader Paul and senior adviser Zatzman whose anti-Palestinian animus blinded them to political reality and the scope of support for Palestinians among Greens.

On May 11 Atwin labeled as “totally inadequate” a statement from Paul whitewashing Israel’s ethnic cleansing and violence. On Twitter Atwin added, “Forced Evictions must end! I stand with Palestine and condemn the unthinkable air strikes in Gaza. End Apartheid! #SaveSheikhJarrah.”

In response to Atwin, a statement from Green MPs Paul Manly and Elizabeth May, as well as others, Zatzman accuseda slew of political leaders, including “Green MPs”, of “appalling anti-Semitism” and “virulent anti-Jewish behaviour”. He also said “we” would work to defeat them.

It was extremely stupid and should have led to Zatzman’s immediate removal. Instead, Paul sought to ride out the kerfuffle. But Green activists refused to let the smear and threat slide. They mobilized online and my article “Crazed anti-Palestinian Green adviser must be removed” was widely read and shared. Two weeks after Zatzman’s post the CBC finally reported on the matter. Incredibly, Zatzman doubled down in his attacks on Atwin and Manly in his interview with CBC and elsewhere. With Paul’s apparent support, he told La Presse that he didn’t regret his Facebook statement and that “these two MPs [Atwin and Manly] have propagated what I consider to be anti-Semitic remarks.” He added, “I’m not trying to rule out Jenica or Paul [Manly], but the Green Party wants to become a ‘mainstream’ party and make gains and if that means it has to lose Jenica along the way for that, well, too bad.”

Immediately, more than 150 Green party members signed a public letter calling for Zatzman’s removal. Simultaneously,1,400 individuals emailed Green leaders calling on them to “remove Noah Zatzman as senior adviser”.

On Tuesday the head of the Green Party Fund, Doug Tingey, emailed some members saying that Zatzman’s contract had been terminated a few days earlier. But Zatzman denied he was removed. A Canadian Press investigation found that he was staying on as a “volunteer” adviser to Paul. In other words, the Green executive council voted to end Zatzman’s contract, but Paul effectively flouted their decision.

This is the backdrop to Atwin joining the Liberals. In a press conference alongside New Brunswick cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc, the Liberals brought a new MP into the fold who recently called Israel an “apartheid” state for which she was labeled anti-Semitic. As the Centre for Israel Jewish Affairs, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, B’nai Brith and other Israel lobbyists began complaining about the Liberals embrace of Atwin, her messages critical of Israel were being reported to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Canadians. On Thursday Atwin told the media she stands by her previous criticism of Israel.

At a hastily organized Thursday press conference Paul was grilled for 40 minutes on Atwin’s defection. A half dozen of the country’s leading reporters discussed Zatzman’s charges of anti-Semitism in an incredulous tone and mentioned Israeli apartheid. Paul refused to answer when directly asked whether she “condones or condemns” Zatzman’s statement.

Throughout the press conference and subsequent interviews Paul repeatedly denied that Zatzman’s comments played any role in Atwin leaving the party. But Atwin suggested differently and Elizabeth May and Paul Manly made it clear that Zatzman was responsible. The two Green MPs released a joint statement Thursday afternoon noting, “unfortunately, the attack against Ms. Atwin by the Green Party leader’s chief spokesperson on May 14 created the conditions that led to this crisis. We have no intention of leaving the Green Party.”

Of course, the move by the Liberals to welcome Atwin into the fold was cynically electoral, but fascinating nonetheless. Generally, the Liberals govern from the right and run their election campaigns from the left, so it is smart strategy to embrace an MP identified with fighting for indigenous rights and the climate just prior to a probable election. In his statement Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “with her tireless and effective advocacy on priorities like climate action, mental health, reconciliation, and making life more affordable for families, Jenica Atwin is respected by her constituents and all of her colleagues as a champion for real change.” What’s more interesting is the Liberals’ calculation regarding Atwin’s position on Palestine. Does the party believe it serves their short-term electoral strategy to bring into caucus someone now identified with the Palestinian cause? Is it possible Trudeau’s people are calculating that after the massive outpouring of pro-Palestinian sympathy in recent weeks and the prime minister’s staunch pro-Israel positions it’s good to appear open to pro-Palestinian voices (particularly after the horrific recent anti-Muslim motivated murder in London Ontario)? If that’s the case the Liberals may actually welcome the criticism of Atwin leveled by CIJA, FSWC and other Israel lobbyists.

How will the rest of this game play out? Will there be more own goals by Paul and other fanatic supporters of Israel?

Stay tuned. This saga certainly does not seem finished.

 

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