Ontario MPP Joel Harden came under intense criticism for an interview he did last year with OFIP chair, Peter Larson on National Truth and Reconciliation Day. He compared colonialism in Canada to that of Israel. Now, a year later the Israel lobby is “shocked, shocked” to discover the interview and has accused him of “antisemitism”. It put enough pressure on the Ontario NDP that Harden chose to apologise for some of his remarks. It’s a stark warning to other politicians. Read more…
In the wake of intense criticism from CIJA and elsewhere, NDP MPP Joel Harden was forced to apologise for the use of “antisemitic stereotypes” in an interview with OFIP last year. B’nai Brith Canada even demanded that Harden be expelled from the NDP caucus.
In the interview, Harden was very critical of Israel for its brutal treatment of Palestinians, and drew a parallel between Canadian and Israeli settler colonialism. (The interview took place at the time of Truth and Reconciliation Day in 2021).
His strong criticism of Israel apparently angered the lobby, including CIJA and B’nai Brith Canada.
But instead of challenging Harden on what he said about Israel, or trying to defend Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, or disputing whether “settler colonialism” is an appropriate paradigm for understanding Israel, they chose instead to accuse him of “antisemitism”.
This, notwithstanding the fact that Harden was quite clear during the interview in his opposition to antisemitism. (Ed. Note: OFIP basic principles include “Rejection of all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia”. We would not have run any interview which disseminates antisemitism.)
When asked about whether his outspoken support for Palestinian rights was an issue while campaigning, Harden said it rarely came up – even when he would sometimes wear a button supporting Palestinian human rights. And if that provoked a conversation with Jewish constituents who feel strongly in support of Israel, Harden explained that he was quite willing to have a respectful discusson about why he felt that we should call out Israel for its human rights abuses.
CIJA and others made it appear that Harden was roaming around his Ottawa Center constituency looking for Jews to challenge why they support Israel. They even claimed that Harden was “blaming Jews as a collectivity” for Israeli actions, a complete distortion.
But it served its purpose. Faced with the chorus of criticism, Harden chose to apologize, and continues to serve in the NDP caucus. (British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, apologised but lost his job anyway after repeated attacks over his alleged antisemitism undermined his leadership.)
The Israel lobby’s attack on Harden is meant to be a clear warning to other politicians: “You criticize Israel at your own risk”. The lobby likes to claim that its OK to criticize Israel, of course, but… just try it and see what happens.
Independent Jewish Voices Canada issued a statement strenuously objecting to the villification of Harden and declaring that he deserves support.
In part, the IJV statement defended Harden’s record of fighting anti-semitism while also fighting for human rights for Palestinians.
“Joel Harden has a clear record on fighting antisemitism throughout his political career. He is also proudly a strong defender of Palestinian human rights. These two facts are not mutually exclusive, yet the same pro-Israel groups attacking Harden right now would like to lead people to believe that advocating publicly for Palestine constitutes antisemitism. This is why they’re pushing so hard for institutions and governments to adopt the divisive IHRA antisemitism definition, which equates antisemitism with criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinian cause.“, read the statement in part.
Until this week, Harden was seen to be one of the front runners for the leadership of the Ontario NDP. Harden has now apologised for using “anti-semitic stereotypes” in the interview. That should put the issue to bed – but it may not.
Some elements of the lobby seem to still be out for more. David Cooper, Vice-President of CIJA and Andrea Freedman, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa wrote a joint letter demanding that Harden be stripped of his responsibilities at Queens Park.
For anyone who has not seen the full 24 minute interview with Harden, it is available here. When it was originally made, over a year ago, it had been seen by barely two or three hundred people. Now, thanks to the controversy, it has been viewed by over 3,700 people.
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.
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