NDP approves sanctions against Israel; measure on IHRA not debated

jagmeet singh ndp leader
Photo by BGM Riding Association/Wikimedia Commons

The federal New Democratic Party has a “morbid preoccupation” and “toxic obsession” with Israel, evidenced by the party’s adoption of a resolution that calls for sanctioning the Jewish state.

The trenchant descriptors came from Jewish advocacy groups in the wake of the NDP’s groundbreaking adoption at its virtual weekend convention of a resolution in support of banning trade with Jewish settlements and an arms embargo on Israel. The measure also states that Israel occupies “Palestinian land.”

At the same time, a much-anticipated resolution calling on the NDP to oppose the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism never came to a vote.

Of the 45 resolutions under the heading “Redefining Canada’s Place in the World” in the party’s “Convention 2021” policy book, six singled out Israel – the most of any single country.

Five of those resolutions, including the one on the IHRA, did not make it to the convention’s floor for a vote.
The resolution that passed, titled “Justice and Peace in Israel-Palestine” was endorsed by 33 riding associations and the party’s young wing.

Approved by 80 percent of voting delegates, it means New Democrats now support “working with partners for peace in Israel and Palestine, respecting UN resolutions and international law, supporting peaceful co-existence in viable, independent states with agreed-upon borders, an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and an end to violence targeting civilians.”

To that end, the party endorses “ending all trade and economic cooperation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine (and) suspending the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld.”

The measure’s preamble said Canada and Israel “trade millions in arms facilitating an illegal occupation,” while the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement “violates international law and (UN) resolutions by encouraging illegal settlements.”

It said Oxfam and UN experts support banning settlement products, as do Amnesty International and the Canadian Labour Congress.

A similar resolution at the NDP convention in 2018 to adopt a ban on settlement goods was blocked from coming to the floor for a vote.

Ira Robinson, director of the Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies at Montreal’s Concordia University, told The CJN he’s not surprised by the resolution’s passage “because it reflects a view of the Israel-Palestinian relationship that certainly exists on the political left.”

He doesn’t see the resolution “as reflecting anything more than the opinions of leftist circles within a left-of-centre party.”

Robinson said he’s disappointed, however, that the measure did not seem to have been modified by other opinions within the NDP, “reflecting the complexity of the situation,” as occurred with similar NDP resolutions on Israel under former leader Thomas Mulcair.

The party’s new stance is likely to be used by both Conservatives and Liberals against the NDP in the next federal election campaign, he predicted.

Sam Hersh, a Montreal-based Jewish member of the NDP since 2013 who helped draft the Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine motion, told The CJN the resolution builds on policies that are “already extremely popular within our party as well as within the labour movement and the Canadian population at large.”

Hersh said it’s become clear that to bring peace into the region, “we must apply more pressure on the State of Israel with whatever diplomatic powers Canada has.” This includes the boycott of products from Israeli settlements and a freeze on arms sales with Israel.

The measure’s adoption by an 80 percent margin, and its support by a “wide array” of the NDP caucus, “makes the party a leader when it comes to international human rights in North America,” Hersh said.

“This unbalanced and obsessive concern with Israel renders the NDP irrelevant on this subject and interferes with the party’s ability to address issues that should be core to the progressive agenda.”

CIJA

The resolution’s approval triggered language from Jewish organizations that all but called for the NDP to seek psychiatric treatment.

Adoption of the measure “highlights a toxic obsession with Israel to the serious detriment of the party,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

The NDP “must forego its pathological preoccupation with Israel, recognize there are two parties to the conflict, and stop infantilizing the Palestinians,” CIJA stated. “This unbalanced and obsessive concern with Israel renders the NDP irrelevant on this subject and interferes with the party’s ability to address issues that should be core to the progressive agenda.”

Neither did B’nai Brith Canada hold back.

The resolution “contributes neither towards justice nor peace,” the group said in a statement. It “does nothing to contribute to a constructive Canadian role or to the prospects of a durable peace in the Middle East.”

The party’s “morbid preoccupation” with Israel “has overshadowed even a cursory effort to address major human rights issues challenging those who believe in democracy and freedom” elsewhere in the world, B’nai Brith said.

It noted that debate and voting on the resolution took place electronically on Saturday, meaning that observant Jews could not participate.

JSpace Canada, a progressive group, used less pointed language. In spite of the resolution’s “imperfections,” the group does not believe it is “inherently prejudiced or at odds with the values of many Jews in Canada.”

The resolution “makes clear” that its target is “the occupation and not Israel proper,” JSpace said in a statement.

“By focusing its activism on the Occupied Territories, the resolution sends a message that the status quo is untenable and a liability for long-term peace and security.”

But its call for an arms embargo “fails to distinguish between Israel’s legitimate security needs and those military practices that further entrench the occupation. We would have appreciated amendments that clarified this important nuance, among others,” JSpace said.

Speaking with reporters Sunday afternoon, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that to find a solution to the Mideast conflict, “some pressure is required. And that’s something I support,” reported the Globe and Mail.

He rejected suggestions that this could open his party to accusations of anti-Semitism. “I have a really strong commitment to fighting anti-Semitism,” he was quoted as saying.

The approved resolution is “similar to what human rights organizations have called for, and I think there is good merit in what they are calling for,” Singh said Sunday on the CBC’s “Rosemary Barton Live.”

Meantime, Jewish communal mobilization may have paid off when it came to the resolution on the IHRA definition.

Last month, in one of the most comprehensive campaigns against one issue in recent memory, more than 100 Jewish advocacy groups, rabbis, synagogues, and service agencies from across the country banded together to implore the NDP to reject the IHRA resolution.

“Sanity has prevailed, and a shameful attempt to manipulate the federal NDP against Canada’s Jewish community has been rightly rejected,” B’nai Brith noted on the IHRA resolution’s failure to come up for a vote.

The online publication Ricochet reported that a letter signed by 17 Jewish New Democrats and sent out to other party members prior to the convention criticized opposition to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism as contrary to the party’s own equity policies, writing that “for primarily non-Jewish individuals and organizations to use an outlier opinion held by a small percentage of the Canadian Jewish community in such a fashion also smacks of tokenism.”

Ricochet added that within 48 hours, a counterletter signed by over 60 Jewish members of the NDP was released. It argued that “this (IHRA) definition and its examples make it possible to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.” The authors reportedly endorsed alternative definitions, such as the recent Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism.
Hersh said the IHRA resolution didn’t make it to the floor because of lack of time. “I don’t think that necessarily spells defeat.”

In 2019, Singh told a roundtable hosted by CIJA that he supported the IHRA definition “as a guiding, educational lens that could prevent anti-Semitism,” but feared it might limit criticism of Israel.

Canada adopted the IHRA definition in 2019 as part of an anti-racism initiative. Ontario adopted it last autumn.

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