NDP policy convention will likely sharpen criticism of Israel – but debate will be over how far to go

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The NDP policy convention will take place in Ottawa on February 16/17/18. It will debate a wide range of issues, but few will be as thorny as the Israel/Palestine issue. Read more.

New NDP leader Jagmeet Singh would probably prefer to avoid a public debate over Israel/Palestine at the party’s policy convention in February. Every party leader knows that this topic is fraught with emotional tensions and generally tries to avoid it if possible. But several forces both outside and inside the party will probably make that impossible.

First of all, Mr. Singh is a new leader, taking over the mantle from Thomas Mulcair who was widely regarded as sympathetic to Israel. Party members will be looking to see what attitude Mr. Singh has toward this issue. As a Member of the Ontario Legislature, he was one of the few people to oppose a resolution condemning BDS. However some NDP party members wonder about the significance of the fact that he took a free week long trip to Israel last year organized and funded by CIJA – a pro Israel lobby group.

Secondly, NDP policy on this issue has been based on the assumption that the answer lies in a two state solution (“peaceful, co-existence in viable, independent states with agreed-upon borders“). But the very idea of a  “2 state solution”  (i.e. a Jewish state and an Arab state), is looking ever less likely as Israel builds more settlements and Israeli politicians are increasingly open about their rejection of the idea of any Palestinian state.

Furthermore NDP leadership might have considered skating this issue off to the side had Donald Trump not made his recent controversial announcement about recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and putting the new US embassy there. His decision has raised the Israel/Palestine issue to new heights in Canadian public consciousness.

Finally, the decision of the Trudeau government to ABSTAIN on that UN General Assembly vote in which almost everyone – from the Catholic Pope to the Peoples Republic of China – condemned the US action, has has provided the NDP with an opportunity to differentiate itself from the Trudeau Liberals, and perhaps to head off any loss to the Green Party which also strengthened its position on Israel/Palestine last year.

Competing pressures inside the party

Rival factions are at work within the party trying to influence how far it should go. Some are trying to promote firmer support of human rights for Palestinians. Others, perhaps behind the scenes, are no doubt trying to avoid that outcome.

Last summer a group of 80 academics and activist members of the NDP sent an open letter to the party leadership advocating for the party to “stand with Palestine”.

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New NDP leader Jagmeet Singh will face opposing pressures on the Israel/Palestine issue

Strong statements in support of Palestinian human rights have also come from some of the NDP’s important institutional supports – including Unifor, the largest private sector union in Canada, and the Canadian Labour Congress.

In the last several months,  a draft “Palestine resolution” has been circulated widely within the party. Yazan Khader, one of those behind it, claims the resolution has received support from over 23 riding associations, and more are expected.

The draft “Palestine resolution” uses rather cautious language and is moderate in tone. Most of it calls for the applications of policies that are Canada’s “official but rarely applied” positions, calling on Israel  to – ” end its occupation and settlement program, lift the Gaza blockade, recognize its Arab-Palestinian citizens’ right to full equality, and address refugee claims fairly”. However, it does call for an outright ban on goods produced in the Israeli settlements, which will make Israel’s defenders hostile.

Already the reaction to the draft resolution has shown how volatile the Israel/Palestine issue can be for a political party, and how quickly tempers can rise on both sides.

One eager Palestinian human rights advocate writing in the Electronic Intifada excitedly wrote that perhaps the NDP was about to become “the first Canadian federal party to support the movement to boycott Israel, known as BDS”. 

That idea was also picked up by an article in the Canadian Jewish News which warned panicky Canadian Jews  “NDP to debate BDS motion at its National Convention in Ottawa.” Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal responded by writing to the NDP leadership denouncing the resolution and urging Singh to stop it from being presented at all.

Waving the BDS “bogeyman” will of course make many NDP members nervous. It will also scare the leadership.  But in fact, an endorsement of BDS seems rather unlikely, as the “Palestine resolution” does not mention BDS at all and its call to ban settlement goods falls well short of the BDS call to boycott all goods produced by Israel.

What will happen at convention?

There seems to be growing pressure in the NDP to replace its commitment to an ever less likely two state solution with a stronger stance on Palestinian human rights.

It is no secret that the NDP membership is increasingly unhappy with Israeli actions, and generally feels sympathy for the Palestinians. But it remains divided on the issue of what to do about it. Some want to take firm action. Others hesitate, concerned perhaps about security for Israeli Jews or the inevitable accusations of anti-Semitism if they stiffen their critique of Israeli actions.

The leadership, including Singh and Helene Laverdière, the NDP foreign policy critic, will likely try to find a compromise, perhaps calling for goods from the illegal Israeli settlements (including wine) to be “labelled” rather than imposing an outright ban.

Shimon Fogel, President of CIJA, recently told his members that he is working privately with several senior members of the NDP caucus to ensure “extreme left” elements are not successful in influencing NDP policy. Several NDP caucus members openly identify themselves as “friends” of Israel and participate in the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Friendship group. NDP caucus members Randall Garrison and Murray Rankin are both on its executive committee. It will be interesting to see what role they play in the upcoming convention.

Given the intense interest in the subject, and apparently growing sympathy among the NDP base for the Palestinian plight, a stiffening of NDP policy on Israel/Palestine seems very likely. The question is how far will it go?

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22 comments

  1. It is the time that we all stand up for human rights. Palestinians are under brutal occupation. We all need to support BDS until Israel realizes they can’t treat people as if they are not human.
    Palestinian children need to be freed from Israeli prisons. It is the time that the world doesn’t turn a blind eye to what is happening in Palestine.

  2. There really isn’t any middle ground. There is no reason that the human rights of Palestinians are less important than the human rights of other people. And if the NDP doesn’t stand up for human rights if all, it doesn’t stand for anything.

    1. Canadians have to understand that there is a combat relationship between Israel and those groups of Palestinians who publicly claim they want to settle with Israel, but privately claim the opposite. Canada should be doing everything possible to allow this fight to conclude, and to get Palestinians and Israel to be working of problem areas that are at a higher level, so that they have the possibilities to be able to see themselves as working for the same things.

      I am finding it wearisome that Canada does not seem to have a deep enough grasp of what the real clash is about, to understand that the UN countries, that want to see conditions for full Palestinian human rights, have to be involved with creating opportunities in the context of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Only by enabling joint action on mutually beneficial goals, will there be a formula for ending the combat dynamics in a peaceful way.

      1. I think what most Canadians understand is that this is a colonial occupation, with one group of people actively seizing the land and resources of another group of people. It mirrors a part of our own past we are doing our best to recover from.

        Of course under international laws occupied peoples have the right of violent resistance. If Israel wants peace its options are clear. But of course Israel has vastly disproportionate power, which is why the occupation and inevitable cleansing marches on and peace remains distant.

        What Canadians REALLY need to understand is that the goal of the dominant elements of Israeli society is the occupation of ALL of Palestine. We can suggest ‘peaceful solutions’ until the cats come home, without forceful containment of Israeli expansionism it will all come to naught.

        Our first goal should be to demand that Israel conforms to the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which significantly Israel isn’t a signatory too. Israel/Palestine should be a country without walls, where all people who call that place home are free to live anywhere, in equality, peace and prosperity, without regard to race or religion.

      2. Mr. Blanes,
        You wrote, “I am finding it wearisome that Canada does not seem to have a deep enough grasp of what the real clash is about,…”, Please tell us what you think the real clash is about.

        When I was born, any Palestinian could travel freely throughout the area then called Palestine (and abroad) and Jews and non Jews had equal rights. Today, those things are not true. I think that is what “the real clash” is about and want to know what you think.

      3. Dr. Parnas, you wrote “When I was born, any Palestinian could travel freely throughout the area then called Palestine (and abroad) and Jews and non Jews had equal rights.”

        I’m not sure when you were born, but as I wrote in the Canadian Jewish News this week, Israeli Jews settled on land legally acquired in the area between Bethlehem and Hebron three times between 1925 and 1947. Each time they were violently evicted by their neighbours, who didn’t like having Jews in the neighbourhood.

        If this is your idea of free movement and equal rights, it’s no wonder you don’t understand why partition was judged necessary by the majority of the world’s independent states in 1947. Two states is still the only practical and just solution today. If the Palestinian Arab’s were to negotiate in good faith toward such a solution, there is no reason that it could not be achieved in the next few years, with part of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine.

        As long as the conflict is framed exclusively in terms of the “rights of the Palestinians”, Jews will rightly wonder why nobody cares about their rights. That is the problem with your characterization of Palestine before 1947 and it is the problem with those who promote BDS today.

        When the world recognizes that the occupation is a result of an ongoing conflict, perhaps it will understand that both sides have to be pressured to change the behaviour that perpetuates that conflict. Putting pressure on Israel alone is perverse, counterproductive and merely serves to increase the cynicism of the Israeli electorate and entrench the Israeli right in power.

      4. Mr. Roytenberg,

        I was born 7 years before the declaration of the state of Israel.

        Your reference to “Israeli Jews” leaves me uncertain about who you mean. There have been Jews in the area called Palestine for thousands of years but Israeli Jews cannot have existed before Israel did.

        The time period that you cite (between 1925 and 1947) was during the British Mandate for Palestine. There was a lot of violence at that time because neither Jews nor Arabs (Christian and Muslim) fully accepted the imposition of European rule. Militias from both sides fought with each other and with the British. The Arabs thought that the British were biased towards the Jews (for which they had some evidence). The Jews accepted some things but did not like the restrictions. All of this was before Israel existed other than as a dream in the minds of some Zionists. During the time of the British Mandate partition plans were proposed (including one that called for what we now call ethnic cleansing) but none were carried out. Given the rule by criminal militias (both groups) nobody could travel very freely but I know of no legal restrictions.

        When I spoke of equal rights, I was referring to legal rights. You responded with a description of what I consider to be criminal actions. No government told the Jews that they could not travel freely or live freely. The British claimed to be neutral; however their attempts to play “referee” were considered biased by both sides. Jews accepted the partition as a “starting point” but not a final situation. Arabs rejected them completely . The British were unable to impose their will and the situation was of an essentially lawless territory. You did not say what you meant by “legally acquired” (whose laws? whose authority?) but the situation you describe sounds very believable as their was open battle between the parties.

        Today, the situation is completely different. Many laws discriminate officially on the basis of Jew/non-Jew. Israel has the power to enforce those laws. There is also unofficial discrimination. For example, waiting in a long line to leave Israel, a line that mixed Arabs with others, I was selected by an official to be moved to the head of the line and then asked if I could recite any Hebrew prayers. When I did, I was informally “fast tracked”. When I reached the Air Canada counter, the Arabs who had been standing with me had hardly moved. They had not passed the first security check.

        Any two-state solution would keep people from areas where they feel they have a right to live because their ancestors lived there. Further, the so-called “two state solution” cannot exist until there is a definition of “state” that applies to both entities. Currently the Israelis who advocate “two state” insist on an asymmetric definition. The Israeli spokesmen insist that their state would continue to be heavily armed and have control of its borders, but the Palestinian state would not. Using the word “state” in that way cannot be called “negotiation in good faith”.

        The advanced states of the world have equal rights for all and ban discrimination on the basis of ethnic background or religion. I hope that one day Israel/Palestine can be an advanced state. This will require both sides to stop looking backward and start looking forward. It will require mutual respect and that is sadly lacking.

      5. Droytenberg, you unfortunately have it backwards. The occupation is not a result of the conflict, the conflict is a result of the occupation. There is only one group whose rights are being violated, and a quick review of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives a pretty unpleasant appreciation of just how much.

        As stated over and over the occupying force is accountable for what happens in the occupied area; unfortunately the world community has failed to hold Israel accountable for the travesties its citizens commit in the West Bank, Gaza and occupied Golan Heights.

        In fact, if a ‘two state solution’ is the goal Palestinians should’t have to participate at all. The world community should summarily evict Israel from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights. After that, the two independent states can negotiate whatever issues arise between them.

        Myself, I prefer one bi-national state with equal rights for all citizens, regardless of race or religion.

      6. Certainly more fair than to suggest the conflict causes the occupation. What is happening is state-sponsored colonisation of the remaining sections of Palestine and Golan Heights. To suggest the occupation is for Israel’s defense is, itself indefensible.

        The solution won’t be found in blaming one side or another, even though the Israeli side bears most of the responsibility for the present situation. The solution will be found in adherence by both sides to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which Israel, tellingly, has not signed. Clearly the majority of Israelis have no intention of respecting the human rights of Palestinians, and are committed to their colonial project. It remains for the international to impose restrictions on Israel. Colonisation and ethnic cleansing was not tolerated in Former Yugoslavia, it was not tolerated in East Timor. And it should not be tolerated here.

      7. Would it be fair to say that the conflict was caused by a colonisation of historic palestine, starting in 1921, expanded in 1947 with the expulsion of 3/4 million Palestinians and expanded again in 1967 when the rest of historic Palestine was taken over?

      8. Are you making a distinction between colonisation and occupation? I guess occupations are meant to be temporary, which is why Israel uses occupation and claims it is temporary, while behaving like colonists.

        Yes, in my opinion the problem started before 1967. But justice won’t be served by looking back, only forward.

      9. Hey Raven, thanks for your thought. Actually Israel does NOT use the word “occupation”. It calls the West Bank “Judea and Samaria”, and claims that the area is “disputed territory”.
        As to your second thought, I think that justice can only be served by a process of truth and reconciliation. A key element of that truth is recognizing what happened in 1947/48. So looking back, honestly, is key. Only after that happens can both parties look forward, in my view.

      10. Of course Israel does call it ‘disputed territory’, but the entire rest of the world recognises it as an illegal occupation, much like the attempted annexation of East Timor a few years ago. It is also illegal colonisation, since it involves placing its own citizens (only from the ethnically Jewish portion) on the land of the occupied people. It is also ethnic cleansing because there are many cases of the Israeli government removing Arab individuals from land to be replaced with Jewish individuals or institutions, as well as established policies of preventing natural migration of Arab individuals to places they are entitled to go, like Area ‘C’, or East Jerusalem.

        There has been a great effort to sanitise and normalise Israel’s actions, which would attract harsh sanctions if it was any other country.

  3. Good analysis Peter of the NDP resolution on Israel Palestine. Likely result hopefully will be a fair and full debate on the proposal to exert greater diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions to promote Palestinian rights and move towards some sort of solution whether one state or two etc.

    I took the opportunity to send to Ms. Laverdiere the proposal of a Canadian initiative based on Jewish state of Israel with capital in West Jerusalem; Arab state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem and the internationalization of the holy sites under UNSC auspices and broad international support.

    Will be interested to see whether there will be any takeup within the NDP as it tries to formulate and pave the way for a more activist and effective Canadian policy on Israel Palestine Jerusalem.

    George Jacoby

  4. I would have no problem with MPs accepting Israeli money for a trip to the area as long as they could spend some extra time on their own and use that time to visit Palestinian areas. If the Israelis would not permit that, the MP should stay home and Skype.

    Full disclosure, I have been able to make three trips to Palestine. For all of them, my air fare was paid by the Israelis but, before I met with any Israelis, I took time to travel into Palestinian areas and meet with a variety of Palestinians. The Palestinians do not have much money and I would not take money from them.

    If the Israelis refuse to allow the MPs to take extra time to hear the Palestinians it would be a statement that these “fact finding” missions are going to restrict the facts that can be found.

  5. It disappoints me to learn that Jagmeet Singh felt comfortable accepting Israeli hospitality and $thousands in freebie flights etc. to travel on Israel’s invitation to an indoctrination process that ignores the reality of what Palestinians face.

    Surely Singh was aware of the Palestinian issue before he accepted a paid political tour.

    Did he bother to take any time to visit Gaza or the West Bank and speak to Palestinians?

    Yes, it’s time the NDP makes clear what it’s policy toward the two-state solution is and just how much influence certain party officials, including Ms Laverdiere, Garrison and Rankin have in steering policy.

    Perhaps an issue like this ought to be decided by the NDP’s rank and file rather than those already committed to specific positions.

    The thought that Bibbi has “friends” within the NDP who might backstop for his right-wing regime gives me pause to ponder the party that professes a humanitarian conscience.

  6. Peter, I posted a reply to your article yesterday and later had it confirmed, yet when I went to review it this morning I notice it no longer exists .

    What rules, pray tell, did I fall victim to?

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