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”.
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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