Last month Montréal saw some of its largest ever protests by racialized communities. On May 15 upwards of 10,000 came out for Palestinian rights with about 80% of those participating from an Arab or other racialized background. The racial makeup of the protests in other cities wasn’t dissimilar.
Alongside those taking to the street, huge numbers signed petitions and statements supporting Palestinian rights. The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it generated over 100,000 letters to the government regarding Israel’s attacks on the Al-Asqua mosque, ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem and violence on Gaza. A slew of Canada’s most prominent Black and indigenous activists — from Black Lives Matter to Desmond Cole, Idle No More to Ellen Gabriel — publicly supported the protests. The recent protests for Palestine have been among the largest uprisings of racialized Canadians in recent history.
So, anti-racists are right to be appalled with Annamie Paul’s deflection, refusal to side with Palestinians and inability to criticize Israeli apartheid.
What prompted most to take the street or write government officials was righteous outrage at probably the starkest racism on the planet. On one side is a country with a $44,000 per person GDP, nuclear arms and staunch support from the world’s superpower. On the other side is an imprisoned population with a GDP per capita of $2,000 and no army, let alone nuclear weapons.
Two thirds of the 2 million living in Gaza were ethnically cleansed from what is now Israel. Palestinians in Gaza can’t leave a 363 square km — between the size of Saskatoon and Winnipeg — open-air prison to view the homes their families were driven from 70 years ago but my longtime friend in Vancouver, Michael Rosen — who hasn’t been to Israel, has no familial connection to the country and has never even been religious — can emigrate there.
But the Green Party leader chose to ignore the uprising of racialized Canadians opposed to some of the starkest racism on the planet. Even worse, she is now claiming her anti-racism critics are racist.
Paul’s two statements last month on the conflict were as bad or worse as what the Trudeau government said. In so doing Paul ignored the pleas of Arab and Muslim Canadians, as well as her own party’s democratically determined policy, which repeatedly calls for pressure to be brought to bear on Israel to comply with international law. Before her first statement whitewashed Israeli racism and belligerence, Green MPs Jenica Atwin, Elizabeth May and Paul Manly privately pressed Paul to respect party policy.
When Atwin, Manly, May and many other Canadian political figures expressed support for the besieged Palestinians, Paul’s senior adviser Noah Zatzman smeared them as anti-Semitic and threatened to defeat them. After a huge letter writing campaign, the Green executive council terminated Zatzman’s contract. But Paul kept Zatzman on as a “volunteer” adviser, effectively flouting the executive council’s decision. She has also steadfastly refused to criticize Zatzman’s anti-Palestinian attacks despite a direct request from the Green executive to do so. Instead, she has reportedly threatened to sue the council over their request.
At the same time as this was playing out, Paul refused to talk with Atwin and blocked a number of individuals, including former Green leadership candidate Judy Green, from running for the party. When Atwin responded to Paul’s autocratic and anti-Palestinian behavior by leaving the party the dispute became leading news.
Instead of recognizing her central role in this debacle, Paul responded by calling her opponents “racist” and “sexist”. While Paul’s deflection is transparently self-serving, deeply anti-Palestinian and damaging to equity struggles, much of the dominant media has echoed the establishment–minded politician’s framing. Under the caption “standing her ground” Paul was on the front page of Saturday’s Globe and Mail and a Toronto Star editorial claimed, “the only positive to be found in the party’s sad spiral into irrelevance is the conduct of its embattled leader, Annamie Paul” who has been “attacked by the left fringe of the Green movement.”
Paul’s recent actions have been remarkably cynical, autocratic and anti-Palestinian. But even before she took the helm of the Green’s Paul rode a wave of autocratic and anti-Palestinian decisions. Paul’s rise was largely the outgrowth of former leader Elizabeth May’s disregard for party democracy. Despite promising to stay out of the leadership race, May threw her substantial influence behind Paul, fearing eco-socialist and pro-Palestinian forces in the party led by Dimitri Lascaris.
After members voted for a pro-Palestinian resolution proposed by Lascaris at the party’s 2016 convention, May demonstrated extreme disregard for party democracy. She threatened to resign and forced the party to hold a special convention six months later in Calgary to revaluate that single vote. May also expelled Lascaris and two others from her shadow cabinet and the party initially barred Lascaris from running to be leader of the Green party. Ultimately, Paul defeated Lascaris on the eighth-round of voting by 2,000 votes.
While Paul benefited greatly from May’s massive influence, soon after taking her position Paul butted heads with the May-aligned Federal Council. As a new leader, Paul requested the party pay her the salary of an MP ($185,000) and demanded significant funds be plowed into her Toronto riding where she faces long odds of winning.
As part of this conflict, Paul’s people sought to publicly embarrass the council. The manager of Paul’s unsuccessful Toronto Centre by-election, Sean Yo, implied the people around May were anti-Black and anti-Jewish in a story the Toronto Star headlined “Senior Green officials are sabotaging the first Black woman to lead a Canadian political party, ‘disgusted’ insiders say”.
That the Green party has a race problem should not be controversial. Black Green activist Matthew Sloly has long complained it is the least diverse of all the federal parties. But Sloly is harshly critical of Paul (as well as May’s) autocratic and anti-Palestinian outlook.
Other Black voices within the Greens are challenging Paul. Anti-Racist Equity Consultant Lisa Gunderson, who was seeking the party nomination for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, recently dropped her bid saying she was “concerned that recent events are not consistent with Green values.”
The idea that the way to solve the Green party’s lack of racial diversity is for the party leader’s senior adviser to smear all those, disproportionately Arab and Muslim Canadians, promoting Palestinian rights is outrageous. To frame opposition to Paul’s leadership as simply driven by racism is to ignore her autocratic behavior and anti-Palestinian racism.
Paul has severely divided and damaged the Green Party and is apparently fine with that. Certainly, there have been no public attempts to heal a glaring rift in the membership. If one were to ascribe motives based on her actions, it would seem she aims to purge the internationalist, anti-racist left from the party. By calling them racists. A tactic much of the media is applauding.