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July 23, 2014

NDP's anti-Palestine sentiment is part of a much wider problem

Tyler Levitan

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Paul Manly aimed to run as a federal NDP candidate for the new riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith, British Columbia. His key focus areas range from environmental and energy issues to health care, but he has been denied candidacy for this riding by the federal NDP because of his association to the issue of Palestine.

Paul’s father, Jim Manly, is a retired United Church Minister and former NDP MP. He and his wife Eva are vocal supporters of Palestinians’ human rights. In 2012, Jim was on a boat carrying humanitarian aid to the besieged people of Gaza. The boat was illegally seized by Israel in international waters. Jim was imprisoned by the Israelis and held incommunicado, and the NDP never spoke up about this violation of a Canadian’s human rights. His son, Paul, criticized the NDP caucus and spoke publicly about Israel’s violation of international law through its illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip as he campaigned for his father’s release.

While the federal NDP has not given a written reason for denying party candidacy to Paul Manly, a spokesperson told him over the phone that the reason related to what he said and did during his father’s imprisonment in Israel. This will not surprise anyone who has followed the NDP’s record on Palestine since Thomas Mulcair’s ascendancy to the party’s leadership.

In 2008, during Israel’s bombing campaign of Gaza in which it killed roughly 1400 Palestinians—including over 300 children—Mulcair stated, “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances.” In 2010, when Vancouver MP Libby Davies stated that Palestine has been occupied by Israel since 1948 (a perfectly legitimate position to take based on historical realities), Mulcair referred to her comments as “grossly unacceptable.” Across the party, there was a lack of support for Davies’ right to express her views on this issue.

As Independent Jewish Voices and others in the Palestine solidarity movement warned in advance of the NDP leadership vote in 2012, Mulcair’s abhorrence of Palestinian rights made him a grossly unacceptable candidate for the leadership of a social democratic party. Today, the shift of the NDP to the centre is complete, and its allegiance to pro-Israel lobbying groups is secured.

This allegiance is obvious in the behaviour of Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar in recent months. During our Prime Minister’s recent junket to Israel, Harper made a speech in the Israeli parliament that condemned the use of the term “apartheid” in reference to Israel. He chastised students for daring to echo the language of Israeli and international critics who have found Israel guilty of this international crime. In a debate entitled “Canada’s Role in the Mideast” on CBC’s Power and Politics featuring Dewar, Evan Solomon asked the Liberals’ Marc Garneau whether he would “condemn those on campuses who talk about Israel as an apartheid state”; Garneau answered, “Yes I would…. I think it’s incorrect, and that ultimately it is anti-Semitic, yes.” When Solomon asked Dewar if he would say the same, he responded, “I’ve said that publicly before.”

More recently, Dewar participated on a panel for a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—widely considered to be one of the most powerful lobby groups in Washington, and accused of having a corrupting influence on American democracy. One of several pro-Israel lobbying organizations in Canada—the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs—boasts on its website about its “impact” in 2012-2013. A couple of examples are: they sent over 400 “influential Canadians” on missions to Israel, including MPs, Student Leaders, Journalists, Christian leaders, and University Presidents (they also send First Nations leaders, Police Chiefs, and business leaders), and this accounts for only 12% of their budget. They boast about having distributed over 100,000 “pro-Israel products” on Canadian university campuses—the same site upon which our Prime Minister, and MPs representing the other major political parties in this country, claim that Palestine solidarity activism equates to a hatred of Jews.

What is abundantly clear is that Canada’s pro-Israel lobby (which also includes Christian Zionists and others with an interest in Western imperialism), which is by no means a “Jewish lobby”, has a disproportionate influence over our political decision-makers. While a debate was sparked in the United States about the corrupting influence of the pro-Israel lobby after publication of professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s bestselling The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy, no such discussion has taken place north of the border.

It is time to break the taboo and begin public discussion of this issue. Christian Zionists, Conservative Jewish organizations that falsely claim to represent Canada’s diverse Jewish communities, and other Canadians with vested interests in Western imperialism, are bullying those of us who support equal rights in Israel/Palestine by exploiting use of the term anti-Semitism. When they do this as a way to silence dissent against the Israeli government’s racist policies, they cheapen the real suffering of Jews who have been discriminated against simply for being Jewish. And of course, they make it very difficult for us to have an honest and open discussion about the facts on the ground in Israel and Palestine. The daily oppression of Palestinians is real, as is the continued ethnic cleansing to which they are subjected.

It is not anti-Semitic to expose the corrupting influence of this lobby over Canadian domestic and foreign policy, just as it is not anti-Semitic to criticize the racist policies of a foreign government—even if that government claims to represent each and every Jewish person on the planet. The NDP’s latest iteration of anti-Palestinian sentiment is part of a much wider problem in Canada that needs to be called out for what it is.

Tyler Levitan is the Campaigns Coordinator for Independent Jewish Voices – Canada, a national human rights organization that promotes a just peace in Israel and Palestine based on the application of international law and respect for the human rights of all parties.

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