Category Archives: Canada and Israel

Ontario anti-racism committee members tied to racist JNF

Independent Jewish Voices and the United Jewish People’s Order’s exclusion from an Anti-Racism Directorate committee has rightly been criticized. But, the Ontario government’s more appalling decision to appoint individuals tied to an explicitly racist organization has been ignored.

Two years ago the Liberals put forward a plan titled “A Better Way Forward: Ontario’s 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan How we’re taking proactive steps to fight and prevent systemic racism in government decision-making, programs and services.” As part of the initiative, the government’s Anti-Racism Directorate set up four subcommittees last year to look at anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

A number of members of the subcommittee on anti-Semitism have personal or institutional ties to the Jewish National Fund, which practices a form of discrimination outlawed in a famed seven-decade-old Supreme Court of Canada ruling.

A member of the subcommittee, Madi Murariu, is the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) Associate Director for Ontario Government Relations and Public Affairs. CIJA and JNF Canada often work together and sponsor each other’s events. Additionally, CIJA staff fundraise for the explicitly racist organization and JNF Canada CEO Lance Davis previously worked as CIJA’s National Jewish Campus Life director.

Another subcommittee member, Karen Mock, chairs JSpaceCanada, which was a “participatingorganization” with JNF Canada on a 2016 event honouring the life of former Israeli president Shimon Peres. Mock also sat on the board of the Canadian Peres Center for Peace Foundation, which raised funds for the Israeli-based Peres Center For Peace. In Israel the Peres Center operated a slew of projects with JNF Canada and other branches of the racist group.

Zach Potashner represents the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center on the subcommittee. One of its directors, Tony Comper, was guest of honour for the 2009 Toronto JNF Negev Dinner fundraiser and a Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Spirit of Hope Benefit chair, Ron Frisch, chaired JNF Toronto’s Campaign and Negev Dinner.

Brianna Ames, a volunteer with the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, represents that organization on the subcommittee. A CJPAC founder and former executive director, Josh Cooper, left the organization to become head of JNF Toronto in 2009 and subsequently CEO of JNF Canada. Another founding member of CJPAC, Michael Levitt, was a JNF Canada board member.

A co-chair of the subcommittee on anti-Semitism is Andrea Freedman, President of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. Freedman’s organization regularly promotes JNF Ottawa events and funds the centre where it’s based (adjacent to the Jewish Federation of Ottawa offices). The other subcommittee co-chair is Bernie Farber. During Farber’s quarter century at the Canadian Jewish Congress the organization and its personnel had many ties to the JNF.

I found no support from Farber, Mock or the rest of the above-mentioned individuals for Independent Jewish Voices’ campaign to revoke JNF Canada’s charitable status (or other criticism of the explicitly racist organization). An owner of 13 per cent of Israel’s land, the JNF discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel (Arab Israelis) who make up one-fifth of the population. According to a UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.” Echoing the UN, a 2012 US State Department report detailing “institutional and societal discrimination” in Israel says JNF “statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

Indicative of its discrimination against Israelis who aren’t Jewish, JNF Canada’s Twitter tag says it “is the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners  — Jewish people everywhere.” Its parent organization in Israel — the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael — is even more open about its racism. Its website notes that “a survey commissioned by KKL-JNF reveals that over 70% of the Jewish population in Israel opposes allocating KKL-JNF land to non-Jews, while over 80% prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens.”

JNF-style discrimination was effectively outlawed in this country in 1951. In 1948 Annie Noble decided to sell a cottage in the exclusive Beach O’ Pines subdivision on Lake Huron to Bernie Wolf, who was Jewish. During the sale Wolf’s lawyer realized that the original deed for the property restricted sale to “any person wholly or partly of negro, Asiatic, coloured or Semitic blood.” A Toronto court and the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to invalidate the racist land covenant. But Noble pursued the case — with assistance from the Canadian Jewish Congress — to the Supreme Court of Canada. In one of the most important blows to legalistic racism in this country, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ ruling and allowed Noble to purchase the property. This decision led to the abolition of racist land covenants in this country.

Should we laugh or cry at an Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate subcommittee led by individuals with ties to an organization practicing discriminatory land-use policies outlawed in this country seven decades ago?

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Palestine debate symbolizes weakness of NDP internal democracy.

The NDP leadership’s suppression of debate on the Palestine Resolutionexposed the hollow nature of its democracy. It also highlighted party insiders’ extreme deference to the dominant media.

As I detail here, the party machinery employed a variety of manoeuvres to avoid debating a Palestine Resolution unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many outside groups and over 25 riding associations. Far and away the most widely backed foreign policy resolution at the party’s recent convention, it mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it calls for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”

The suppression of the Palestine Resolution wasn’t an anomaly or based on arcane policy disagreement, as party apparatchiks have repeatedly claimed since the convention. For two decades the party machinery has put Palestine resolutions sponsored by the Socialist Caucus and submitted to conventions by different riding associations at the bottom of the priority list, which means they are not discussed at the convention. During more recent conventions a broad range of internationalist minded party activists have come close to rallying a sufficient number of delegates to overturn the de-prioritization of Palestine solidarity resolutions at poorly publicized sessions before the main plenary. According to the Socialist Caucus website, at the 2011 convention “delegates at the foreign policy priorities panel succeeded in moving the Canadian Boat to Gaza resolution from very low on the list up to #2 position. But minutes before we could vote on approval of the content of the resolution, party officials herded 30 to 40 MPs and staff into the room to vote it down.”

In another authoritarian anti-Palestinian move, during the 2015 federal election the NDP responded to Conservative party pressure by ousting as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates because they defended Palestinian rights on social media. In the most high profile incident, Morgan Wheeldon was dismissed as the party’s candidate in a Nova Scotia riding because he accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza, when it killed 2,200 mostly civilians in the summer of 2014.

Ousting a candidate elected by a riding association or suppressing debate on a widely endorsed resolution are stark examples of anti-Palestinian authoritarianism. But, a simple look at the polls highlights the party leadership’s democratic deficit on the subject. According to a 2017 poll, most NDP members have a negative or very negative view of the Israeli government and believe Canada is biased towards Israel. Even without the party taking up the issue, the Ekos poll of 1,000 Canadians found that 84% of NDP members are open to sanctioning Israel and 92% thought the Palestinian call for a boycott was reasonable.

No issue better highlights the divide between members’ wishes and leadership actions. In short, the Palestine question symbolizes the weakness of NDP internal democracy.

Various historic and current ties between the party brass and Israel lobby groups contributed to their suppressing debate on the Palestine Resolution, but while important, these relations aren’t the defining factor. Nor, is the party leadership’s hostility to members’ wishes on Palestine primarily ideological. Unlike his predecessor, party leader Jagmeet Singh isn’t anti-Palestinian. Rather, he is an ambitious politician operating in an anti-Palestinian political culture.

The main force driving the suppression of debate on the Palestine Resolution was fear of mainstream media backlash. Party leaders believe (correctly) that the Palestine Resolution’s call for a ban on settlement products, which after a half-century of illegal occupation should be entirely uncontroversial, would elicit a corporate media backlash. Additionally, they are right to fear the dominant media’s capacity to shape attitudes, especially on issues far removed from people’s daily concerns.

The dominant media can also be cynically manipulative. On the eve of the convention the Globe and Mail, probably at the prodding of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, published a story linking planned speaker Tamika Mallory to Louis Farrakhan. The story was titled “Supporter of homophobic, anti-Semitic U.S. religious leader to speak at NDP convention.” Even though Mallory was to speak as an organizer of last year’s Women’s March in Washington, half the story was about Palestine resolutions, which Mallory had nothing to do with. In fact, the convention organizers who invited her to speak confusingly renamed, deprioritized and then blocked the Palestine Resolution from being debated. To add insult to injury, most Palestine Resolution proponents would have preferred fewer convention speakers to give members more time to debate/determine party policy.

Electorally focused NDP leaders are right to fear media backlash for challenging Canada’s anti-Palestinian status quo. But, at some point members need to ask themselves why devote time, money, votes, etc. to a social democratic party, especially at a level where they’ve never formed government, if it is unwilling to push the parameters of official debate to the left? While those receiving a salary from the organization may feel differently, expanding the range of ‘politically acceptable’ discussion is a central reason for a third party’s existence.

And really, why be scared of the big bad media wolf? NDP provincial governments have legislated substantial social gains despite media-generated hysteria. The media decried the introduction of the Agricultural Land Reserve in B.C., public auto insurance in Manitoba and the party’s crowning glory, Medicare. Big media bitterly denounced the party when it implemented Medicare in Saskatchewan in 1962. During the 23-day-long doctors’ strike in response to Medicare, the Moose Jaw Times Herald ran editorials headlined: “Ugly Image of Dictators”, “Neutrality Never Won Any Fight For Freedom”, “Legal Profession Next to be Socialized” and “The Day That Freedom Died In Saskatchewan”. That editorial claimed “the people of Saskatchewan are now awakening and find that their province has been slowly, and in recent months much more rapidly, transformed from a free democracy into a totalitarian state, ruled by men drunk with power.”

In fact, the dominant media has condemned almost every progressive policy implemented by the left in the world over the past two centuries, from public schools, to banning child labour, pensions, shorter work days, daycare and more.

Leaving aside the abandonment of real left wing policy at the core of the NDP’s ‘avoid media backlash at all costs’, this may not even be the best short-term electoral strategy. The media has vilified leftist (pro-Palestinian) Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, but he is well placed to be the next Prime Minister of Britain. On a lesser scale a similar dynamic is at play with Bernie Sanders in the US.

On the specific question of the NDP’s challenge to Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession, the growth of online news and global television stations makes it easier than ever — if the party cared to try — to defend critical positions. Additionally, the long-standing nature of the conflict, the growing number of Canadians from countries more sympathetic to Palestinians and decades of solidarity activism on the subject, mean there are many politically active people who are yearning for a challenge to the Liberal/Conservative status quo. They are likely to be galvanized by media attacks.

NDP Palestine policy offers a sort of barometer by which to evaluate the party’s commitment to democracy and social justice. Right now the forecast doesn’t look good.

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Is raising money for a right wing government really charity?

Is it a charity or political fundraiser for a right-wing foreign government?

People need to take a look at Canada’s Jewish Federations.

Together the United Jewish Appeal/Combined Jewish Appeal of Toronto, Montréal, Winnipeg, Windsor, Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Vancouver and Atlantic Canada raise over $100 million annually. The largest in the network, UJA Toronto’s endowment and planned giving arm, has $500 million in assets and planned gifts. CJA Montréal has over $300 million on hand.

In a recent letter to the Canadian Jewish News, Morris Sosnovitch asked why UJA Toronto gives a quarter of its budget to a country with a $360-billion national budget. All Canadian taxpayers should ask why tax deductions are given for the $13.7 million UJA Toronto, $3.8 million CJA Montréal, and $1.12 million CJA Vancouver donated last year to Israel, among the world’s 25 wealthiest countries, run for the past decade by one of the most right-wing governments in the world. The Jewish Federations also oversee the United Israel Appeal Federations Canada. In 2016 that registered charity raised $80 million.

Beyond annual allotments, the Federations have repeatedly topped up their annual donations to Israel. In a particularly disturbing comment on Israel’s supporters, aggression has been good for fundraising. Following the IDF killing 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza in the summer of 2014, UJA Toronto launched an emergency appeal. Led by Fred Waks, the staunch advocate of late billionaires Bernie and Honey Sherman, the special appeal raised over $5.6 million.

Alongside its fundraising support, UJA Toronto has organized an annual Walk with Israel for 46 years. Additionally, UJA Toronto cosponsored an event under the title “We Will Not be Silent: A March Against Global Anti-Semitism.” The Times of Israel reported: “The purpose of the march was passionately summed up in Bill Glied’s closing remarks: ‘Thank God for the IDF. Thank God for Israel. And remember together we must stand. Never again!'”

The cross-country UJAs are the source of most Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) funding. While it refuses to reveal details, CIJA’s budget is between $8 and $11 million a year. To get a sense of its politics, CIJA backed moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, getting rid of the Iran nuclear accord and Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. Recently CIJA called on Canadian Jews to write the government to request Canada take more Eritrean, Sudanese and other African refugees that Israel is seeking to expel. Apparently, CIJA wants a state in the Middle East as Jewish as possible but supports multiculturalism in Canada.

The CJAs also fund a variety of other pro-Israel institutions. The Federations give millions of dollars every year to campus Hillels, which refuse to associate with Jews (or others) who “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the state of Israel.”

The Federations also provide millions of dollars to Jewish day schools that promote the Israeli nationalist narrative. A MarchCanadian Jewish News cover story titled “What to teach Jewish students about Israel?” detailed the growing importance given to classes on Israel at Jewish day schools. While students have long been “taught from a young age to see Israel as the land of milk and honey,” in recent years Jewish day schools have ramped up their indoctrination in reaction to “anti-Israel student groups on campuses throughout North America.”

One of the five “Faces of Success” in a CJA booklet promoting Montréal Jewish schools is a man named Oliver Moore, a graduate of McGill Law who works with the notoriously right-wing NGO Monitor in Jerusalem. Moore is quoted stating: “My experience attending Jewish high school imprinted me with a Zionist ethic and a profound appreciation for Israel’s importance. It troubles me that Israel is under constant political threat and that its legitimacy is questioned. What I find especially disturbing is that the language of human rights has been distorted to dispute its right to exist. That is why I’ve decided to go to Israel and examine this issue in depth, and when I return to Canada, to contribute to Israel advocacy.”

Simultaneously, the Federations suppress Jewish advocates of Palestinian rights. They largely refuse to let Independent Jewish Voices book rooms at Federation community centres. In 2009 CJA canceled an IJV room rental at the Gelber Conference Centre in Montréal for a talk by Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. The Jewish Community Centre of Ottawa openly refuses to rent space to IJV because it “advocates for positions that run counter to the objectives of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.” In 2011 UJA Toronto threatened to “sever ties” with the Morris Winchevsky Centre over a United Jewish Peoples’ Order talk by Auschwitz survivor Dr. Hajo Meyer titled “Never Again for Anyone.”

Incredibly, there has been little public criticism of UJA’s anti-Palestinianism. Despite delivering tens of millions of dollars a year to Israel and spending a comparable sum on Israel advocacy in Canada, the organization presents itself as an apolitical “charity.”

It’s past time to bring some pressure to bear on these morally odious institutions. Taxpayers should tell political leaders they don’t want to subsidize a wealthy country in the Middle East and the Canada Revenue Agency should be pushed to investigate whether Federation funding to CIJA and other politically engaged organizations contravene their rules about charities spending no more than 10 per cent of their budget on politics.

It’s time for those who care about peace and international justice to treat the Federations the same way they treat Palestinians.

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Overcoming NDP’s shameful anti-Palestinian history

The NDP leadership’s naked suppression of debate on the “Palestine Resolution” is rooted in a long pro-Israeli nationalism history.

At last month’s convention the party machine blocked any debate of the Palestine Resolution, which 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.”

As I detailed previously, the Palestine Resolution was confusingly renamed, deprioritized and then blocked from being debated on the convention floor. The suppression of a resolution unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many outside groups and over 25 riding associations was the latest in a long line of leadership anti-Palestinian actions.

However, the first leader of Canada’s original social democratic party actually took a sensible humanist position, criticizing the colonialist/nationalist movement’s impact on the indigenous population. In 1938 CCF (the NDP’s predecessor) leader J. S. Woodsworth said, “it was easy for Canadians, Americans and the British to agree to a Jewish colony, as long as it was somewhere else. Why ‘pick on the Arabs’ other than for ‘strategic’ and ‘imperialistic’ consideration.”

After Woodsworth’s 1940 death the party’s stance shifted and by the end of World War II the CCF officially supported Zionism. Future CCF leader and premier of Saskatchewan Tommy Douglas and long-time federal MP Stanley Knowles were members of the Canadian Palestine Committee, a group of prominent non-Jewish Zionists formed in 1943 (future external minister Paul Martin Sr. and Alberta premier Ernest C. Manning were also members). In 1944 the Canadian Palestine Committee wrote Prime Minister Mackenzie King that it “looks forward to the day when Palestine shall ultimately become a Jewish commonwealth, and member of the British Commonwealth of Nations under the British Crown.”

Not long after 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homeland. In 1947/48 CCF officials said the refugees should not be allowed to return. CCF MP Alistair Stewart said that taking in anything more than a small proportion of the refugees might destroy Israel and would be “asking more than any modern state would be prepared to accede to.”

Despite general misgivings towards arms sales, the CCF backed Canada selling 24 F-86 Sabre jets to Israel in the lead-up to its 1956 invasion of Egypt. The party justified Israel’s invasion alongside declining Middle East colonial powers Britain and France. Party leader M.J. Coldwell said:

Israel had ample provocation for her action in marching into Sinai… Egypt’s insistence that Israel be made to obey United Nations resolutions [while it had] hampered Israel’s shipping without lawful excuse. Egypt’s insistence that Israel be made to obey United Nations resolution sounds no less than cynical coming as it does from a government which for years ignored and flouted the Security Council and United Nations when they ordered free passage for Israel’s ships through Suez.

The NDP also took up Israel’s justification for invading its neighbors in 1967. They criticized Egypt’s blockade of Israeli shipping while ignoring that country’s strategic objectives, which the CIA concluded were the: (1) “Destruction of the center of power of the radical Arab Socialist movement, i.e. the Nasser regime.” (2) “Destruction of the arms of the radical Arabs.” (3) “Destruction of both Syria and Jordan as modern states.”

Despite Ottawa’s strong pro-Israel alignment, NDP leader Tommy Douglas criticized Prime Minister Lester Pearson for not backing Israel more forthrightly in the 1967 war. Describing the NDP convention shortly after the Six-Day War Toronto Star reporter John Goddard wrote, “the delegates were solidly behind Israel. I remember David Lewis leading the discussion at the Royal York Hotel, the look of steely resolve on his face, and the sense of relief in the room over the defeat of the Arab armies.”

After Israel conquered East Jerusalem in 1967 the party came out in favor of a “united Jerusalem”. “The division of Jerusalem,” said David Lewis, a significant figure in the party for four decades, “did not make economic or social sense. As a united city under Israel’s aegis, Jerusalem would be a much more progressive and fruitful capital of the various religions.”

As Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai, Lewis made “impassioned warnings that Israel was in danger.” During his time as federal leader from 1971 to 1975 Lewis spoke to at least one Israel Bonds fundraiser, which raised money for that state.

Just after stepping down as federal leader Lewis was the “speaker of the year” at a B’nai B’rith breakfast. In the hilariously titled “NDP’s David Lewis urges care for disadvantaged”, the Canadian Jewish News reported that Lewis “attacked the UN for having admitted the PLO” and said “a Middle East peace would require ‘some recognition of the Palestinians in some way.’ He remarked that the creation of a Palestinian state might be necessary but refused to pinpoint its location. The Israelis must make that decision, he said, without interference from Diaspora Jewry.”

After a trip to that country Tommy Douglas said “Israel was like a light set upon a hill – the light of democracy in a night of darkness – and the main criticism of Israel has not been a desire for land. The main enmity against Israel is that she has been an affront to those nations who do not treat their people and their workers as well as Israel has treated hers.” (Douglas’ 1975 comment was made after Israel had driven out its indigenous population and repeatedly invaded its neighbours.)

The NDP labelled the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was created in 1964, a danger and vociferously opposed the UN granting it observer status in 1974. Federal party leader Ed Broadbent called the PLO “terrorists and murderers whose aim is the destruction of the state of Israel.” (Apparently, multiple players within the NDP-aligned Broadbent Institute voted against allowing the full convention to debate the Palestine Resolution at an early morning session prior to the main plenary.) In the late 1970s the NDP calledon the federal government to intervene to block Canadian companies from adhering to Arab countries’ boycott of Israel, which was designed to pressure that country to return land captured in the 1967 war.

Ontario NDP leader from 1970 to 1978, Stephen Lewis was stridently anti-Palestinian. He demanded the federal government cancel a major UN conference scheduled to be held in Toronto in 1975 because the PLO was granted observer status at the UN the previous year and their representatives might attend. In a 1977 speech to pro-Israel fundraiser United Jewish Appeal, which the Canadian Jewish News titled “Lewis praises [Conservative premier Bill] Davis for Stand on Israel”, Stephen Lewis denounced the UN’s “wantonlyanti-social attitude to Israel.” He told the pro-Israel audience that “the anti-Semitism that lurks underneath the surface is diabolical. The only thing to rely on is Jew helping Jew.” (Stephen Lewis’ sister, Janet Solberg, was maybe the loudest anti-Palestinian at the NDP’s recent convention. Former president of the Ontario NDP and federal council member, Solberg was a long time backroom organizer for her brother and works at the Stephen Lewis Foundation.)

In the 1989 book The Domestic Battleground: Canada and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Irving Abella and John Sigler write, “historically, the New Democratic Party (NDP) has been the most supportive of the Israeli cause, largely because of its close relationship to Israel’s Labour party, and to the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union movement.”

Excluding non-Jewish workers for much of its history, the Histadrut was a key part of the Zionist movement. Former Prime Minister Golda Meir remarked: “Then [1928] I was put on the Histadrut Executive Committee at a time when this big labor union wasn’t just a trade union organization. It was a great colonizing agency.” For its part, Israel’s Labor party (and predecessor Mapai) was largely responsible for the 1947/48 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, 1956 invasion of Egypt and post 1967 settlement construction in the West Bank.

Relations with Israel’s Labor party continue. Labor Knesset Member Michal Biran was photographed with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh at the recent convention. In the lead-up to that event Biran wrote:

Western progressives must not buy into the simplistic notion that peace is Israel’s gift to bestow upon the Palestinians… Palestinians must make peace with Israel as much as the converse. Here again, recognition [of a Palestinian state] achieves nothing: it will not cause Hamas to halt its missile attacks; it will not encourage the PA to cease payments to terrorists to incentivise murders of Israeli civilians; it will not convince Mahmoud Abbas to cease his antisemitic screeds and Holocaust revisionism. Unilateral recognition offers a free diplomatic gift whilst demanding no Palestinian concessions essential to peace.

When proponents of the Palestine Resolution tried to reprioritize their resolution so the convention could debate it, Singh mobilized his family and community to block it. Two dozen Sikh delegates, including members of Singh’s family, voted as a block against allowing the full convention to debate the Palestine Resolution, which failed 200 to 189. A Facebook meme by Aminah Mahmood captured the sentiment: “When they USE Brown people to vote down the Palestine Resolution.” (Later in the evening I asked Jagmeet Singh’s brother if he voted against the Palestine Resolution, but he refused to answer.)

The suppression of the Palestine Resolution should stir internationalist minded party members to finally confront the NDP’s anti-Palestinian legacy. A first step in breaking from this odious history could be ending all ties with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Israeli Labor Party, Canada–Israel Parliamentary Group and other Israel lobby organizations/forums. If the party believes in justice this is the least it should do.

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Convention provokes rage against NDP machine

They came, mostly young people, to fight for justice. They came to support the rule of international law, to help solve a longstanding injustice through non-violent means; they came to tell an oppressed people you have not been forgotten; they came to do what is right for a left wing political party; they came to speak truth to power.

And how did the left wing party respond? By using the “machine” — orders from on high, backroom arm-twisting, opaque block voting and procedural manoeuvring — to prevent debate. Silence in class!

While NDP insiders probably feel they dodged the “Palestine Resolution” bullet at their recent convention, many party apparatchiks may come to regret their undemocratic moves. Their naked suppression of debate might stir rage against the machine they’ve proved to be. At a minimum it has provoked many to ask why.

Why, when the Palestine Resolution was endorsed unanimously by the NDP youth convention and by over 25 riding associations, did the powers that be not want it even discussed?

Given 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” one can only assume that the party machine either supports the indefinite Israeli occupation of Palestinian land or has some sort of problem with boycotts and economic sanctions. Clearly the NDP is not against boycotts and economic sanctions in principle since they’ve recently supported these measures against Russia, Venezuela and elsewhere.

If, after a half-century of illegal occupation, one can’t call for boycotting Israeli settlement goods, then when? After a century? Two?

Or is the problem the particular country to be boycotted? Does the NDP hierarchy believe that anti-Semitism can be the only possible motivation for putting economic pressure on Israel to accept a Palestinian state? Or perhaps it is simply a worry that the dominant media would attack the party?

Whatever the ideological reason the bottom line is the Palestine Resolution was buried to ensure it wouldn’t be discussed. When its proponents sought to push it up the priority list at an early morning session before the main plenary, the party hierarchy blocked it. In a poorly publicized side room meeting they succeeded 200 to 189. NDP House Leader Guy Caron mobilized an unprecedented number of current and former MPs, including Murray Rankin, Randall Garrison, Craig Scott, Tracey Ramsey, Alexandre Boulerice, Hélène Laverdière, Nathan Cullen and others, to vote against debating the most widely endorsed foreign policy resolution at the convention (Niki Ashton was the only MP to support re-prioritizing the Palestine Resolution.)

Apparently, the party leadership discussed how to counter the resolution at two meetings before the convention. In a comment on a Guardian story about the need for the NDP to move left, Tom Allen, a staffer for Windsor Tecumseth NDP MP Cheryl Hardcastle, describes “panicked” planning to defeat the resolution. “As for the part about the ‘party establishment (being) easily able to deflect challenges from the left.’ I would respectfully submit that this is wrong. As an NDP staffer I can tell you that it wasn’t easy at all this time and, especially with regards to the ‘Palestinian Resolution,’ which required a great deal of panicked last minute organizing to defeat (and only then by a close margin).”

Why would the party establishment risk turning off so many young activists, exactly the sort of member new leader Jagmeet Singh claims he wants to attract?

A quick look at some of the more prominent supporters of shutting down debate suggests an answer.

Victoria area MPs (defence critic) Randall Garrison and (justice critic) Murray Rankin who voted against debating the Palestine Resolution are members ofthe Canada Israel Inter-Parliamentary Group and took a Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs paid trip to Israel in 2016. After the IDF slaughtered 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza in the summer of 2014, Rankin offered words of encouragement to an emergency fundraiser for Israel.

Party foreign critic Hélène Laverdière, who voted to suppress the Palestine Resolution, took a paid trip to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference in Washington in 2016 and participated in a Jewish National Fund event in Israel.

British Columbia liaison and critic for democratic institutions, Nathan Cullen also voted against debating the Palestine Resolution. “I am strongly in support of Israel”, Cullen bellowed in a 2016 statement about how people should be allowed to criticize that country. In 2014-15 Cullen’s office took in Daniel Gansthrough CIJA’s Parliamentary Internship Program, which pays pro-Israel university students $10,000 to work for parliamentarians (Gans then workedas parliamentary assistant to NDP MP Finn Donnelly). In 2014 Cullen met representatives of CIJA Pacific Region to talk about Israel, Iran and other subjects. According to CIJA’s summary of the meeting, “Mr. Cullenunderstood the importance of a close Canada-Israel relationship.”

Maybe the loudest anti-Palestinian at the convention was former president of the Ontario NDP and federal council member Janet Solberg. Unsatisfied as a settler in Toronto, Solberg pursued a more aggressive colonial experience when she moved to historic Palestine as a young adult.

Just before the convention the President of the Windsor-Tecumseh Federal NDP, Noah Tepperman, sent out an email to all riding associations calling on them to oppose Palestine resolutions. In it he claimed, “boycotts based on religion, nationality or place of origin directly contravene the spirit of inclusiveness to which we in the NDP are committed.” He further alluded to an anti-Jewish agenda by connecting the different solidarity resolutions to “a backdrop of already-high-and-rising antisemitism here in Canada as well as abroad.” But, Tepperman sits on the board of the Windsor Jewish National Fund, which is an openly racist organization.

The truth is pro-Israel-no-matter-what-it-does NDP members in positions of power within the party won a narrow battle. How the war goes will depend on the lessons learned by those seeking a party that’s an instrument of real change, that fights against all forms of racism and oppression.

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Montreal Gazette’s anti-Palestinian bias

Shame on the Montréal Gazette. Shame on Dan Delmar. Even when McGill’s uber-Israeli nationalist administration dismisses allegations of “anti-Semitism” the paper and its writer uses them to smear freedom promoting students.

In October Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee activist Noah Lew cried “anti-Semitism” after he wasn’t voted on to the Board of Directors of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). At a General Assembly Democratize SSMU sought to impeach the student union’s president Muna Tojiboeva. The ad-hoc student group was angry over her role in suspending an SSMU vice president and adopting a Judicial Board decision that declared a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution unconstitutional. While they couldn’t muster the two thirds of votes required to oust the non-Jewish president of the student union, Democratize SSMU succeeded in blocking the re-election of two Board of Directors candidates who supported the effort to outlaw BDS resolutions.

After failing to be re-elected to the Board of Directors at the same meeting Noah Lew claimed he was “blocked from participating in student government because of my Jewish identity and my affiliations with Jewish organizations.” Lew’s claim received international coverage, including coverage in the Gazette.

As she’s done on previous occasions, McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier echoed the Israel activists’ claims. Fortier sent out two emails to all students and faculty about the incident with one of them noting, “allegations have arisen suggesting that the votes against one or more of those directors were motivated by anti-Semitism.” At the time she announced an investigation into the incident.

Released two weeks ago, the investigation dismissed Lew’s claim of anti-Semitism. After interviewing 38 students over three-and-a-half weeks, former Student Ombudsman Dr. Spencer Boudreau concluded that he could “not substantiate the notion that the vote was motivated by anti-Semitism” and couldn’t find “evidence that would equate students’ protests about Israel’s policies with anti-Semitism.” Rather, Boudreau found that the vote was “motivated by politics, that is, based on his [Lew] support for Israel and Zionism and/or for his view of the BDS movement.”

Instead of covering the investigation, the Gazette repeated the Israel nationalist’s baseless smear. A story headlined “Student says anti-Semitism still an issue in McGill student government” quoted Lew and Israel lobby organizations objecting to the report’s findings. The article barely acknowledged the central conclusion of the investigation and failed to quote from it.

Four days after the news story Gazette columnist Dan Delmar criticized the report in a story titled “If anti-Semitism isn’t the problem on campus, what is?” The long-time anti-Palestinian commentator wrote, “for many if not most Canadian Jews, this writer included, the phenomenon of campus anti-Semitism in Canada is a reality and has been particularly problematic for nearly two decades.”

While the Gazette’s attacks are shameful, they are not surprising. The paper has engaged in a multi-year smear campaign against Palestine solidarity activists at McGill. According to a search of the Gazette’s database, the paper has published 12 stories referring to anti-Semitism at McGill since 2014 (I couldn’t find a single Gazette story detailing anti-Black, Asian or indigenous discrimination at the elite university). Rather than a sudden growth of anti-Jewishness, the spate of anti-Semitism stories are a response to students campaigning to divest from corporations complicit in Israel’s occupation. Between 2014 and 2016 there were three votes inspired by the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement at biannual SSMU General Assemblies. After two close votes, in February 2016 a motion mandating the student union to support some BDS demands passed the union’s largest ever General Assembly, but failed an online confirmation vote after the McGill administration, Montreal’s English media and pro-Israel Jewish groups blitzed students.

Since that vote Lew and other anti-Palestinian activists have sought to have SSMU define BDS resolutions as unconstitutional. Concurrently, the university’s board of governors is seeking changes to its endowment’s social responsibility criteria, which would effectively block the possibility of divesting from companies violating Palestinian rights or causing climate disturbances.

The Gazette has ignored the Israel activists and administration’s extreme anti-Palestinian measures. The paper has also ignored the administration’s pro-Israel orientation. In May Principal Fortier traveled to that country and in November McGill Vice-Principal Innovation Angelique Mannella participated in an event put on by the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund.

In his column Delmar asks, “If anti-Semitism isn’t the problem on campus, what is?” The answer is obvious: Many students feel embarrassed and angry about their university — and other Canadian institutions’ — complicity in Palestinian dispossession. When they try to channel their emotions into non-violent action to help liberate a long-oppressed people they are blocked by powerful institutions and called names. The problem is the anti-Palestinian bias of those institutions, including the Gazette.

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NDP could break elite consensus against Palestinian rights

The anti-Palestinian consensus among Canada’s three main political parties is crumbling and NDP members could bury it this weekend.

After taking an all-expense paid trip to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference in Washington and participating in a Jewish National Fund event in Israel 14 months ago, the NDP’s foreign critic has begun challenging Canada’s contribution to Palestinian dispossession. Hélène Laverdière has repeatedly criticized the Trudeau government’s silence on Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. In response she tweeted, “a devastating day for those who believe in peace, justice and security in the Middle East. Where is Canada’s voice in protest of Trump’s decision on #Jerusalem? I urge Canada to condemn this decision in the strongest of terms.”

The party’s foreign critic also asked the federal government to condemn Israel’s detention of 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi and hundreds of other Palestinian children who are usually tortured by Israeli forces. Similarly, Laverdière has pressed Ottawa to properly label products from illegal Israeli settlements and submitted a petition to Parliament calling “upon the Government of Canada to demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

Two weeks ago I received an email on behalf of party leader Jagmeet Singh titled “all people deserve the same human rights”, which listed the party’s recent support for Palestinian rights. It noted, “the NDP shares your concerns about Palestine. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his team of New Democrats have a consistent record of defending Palestinian rights as well as raising concerns over Islamophobia.”

A series of factors are likely driving Laverdière’s shift. She probably never backed former NDP leader Tom – “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances” – Mulcair’s position. Additionally, last year’s NDP leadership race unleashed ever bolder expressions of support for the Palestinian cause.

Amidst the campaign, Laverdière was criticized for speaking at AIPAC’s 2016 conference in Washington and participating in an event put on by the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund. In August the NDP Socialist Caucus called for her resignation as foreign critic and it has submitted a motion to this weekend’s convention calling for her to be removed from that position.

Ottawa’s high-profile abstention at the UN General Assembly after Donald Trump announced that he would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem has given the NDP an opportunity to distinguish itself from the Trudeau government. And media coverage of subsequent Palestinian resistance, most notably Ahed Tamimi’s courageous slaps, has provided additional opportunities to highlight the Liberal’s extreme anti-Palestinianism.

The NDP leadership is also trying to head off members’ calls to boycott Israel (according to a 2017 Ekos poll, 84% of NDP members were open to sanctioning Israel). At least five resolutions (among more than ten concerning Palestine/Israel) submitted to the convention call for some type of boycott of Israel. The NDP Socialist Caucus has called on the party to “actively campaign” in support of the (just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize) Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions‘ movement’s demands.

With probably more backing than any of the 100+ resolutions submitted, 30 riding associations and youth committees endorsed “Palestine Resolution”, which calls for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.” Of course, party leaders fear the media response to any type of boycott resolution being adopted.

Whatever the reason for Laverdière’s shift away from anti-Palestinianism, it remains insufficient. As I’ve detailed, the NDP continues to provide various forms of support to Israel and the party has an odious anti-Palestinian history. In the mid-1970s the party opposed Palestinian Liberation Organization participation in two UN conferences in Toronto and Vancouver and party leader Ed Broadbent called the PLO “terrorists and murderers whose aim is the destruction of the state of Israel.”

That year NDP icon Tommy Douglas also told the Histadrut labour federation: “The main enmity against Israel is that she has been an affront to those nations who do not treat their people and their workers as well as Israel has treated hers.” (Douglas’ 1975 speech was made while Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai, after it repeatedly invaded its neighbours and ethnically cleansed 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland.)

A progressive party worth its salt campaigns on an international issue in equal measure to its government/society’s contribution to that injustice.

Over the past century Canada has played no small part in Palestinians’ dispossession. Hundreds of Canadians provided military force to realize the crassly anti-Palestinian Balfour Declaration and this country’s diplomats played a central role in the UN’s decision to give the Zionist movement most of Palestine in 1947.

Today, Ottawa regularly votes against Palestinian rights at the UN and subsidizes dozens of charities that channel tens of millions of dollars to projects supporting Israel’s powerful military, racist institutions and illegal settlements. Additionally, Canada’s two-decade-old free trade agreement with Israel allows settlement products to enter Canada duty-free and over the past decade Ottawa has delivered over $100 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority in an explicit bid to advance Israel’s interests by building a security apparatus to protect the corrupt Palestinian Authority from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building.

Hopefully, in the years to come the NDP can help Canada make up for its sad anti-Palestinian history. Perhaps this weekend the party will finally bury official Canada’s anti-Palestinian consensus.

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