NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh talks with Jewish community

Then Outremont MP Tom Mulcair, right, accompanies NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, second from right, on a visit to a matzah bakery in 2018.

We recently joined other Jewish leaders from across Canada for a roundtable discussion with Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP). Organized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the gathering followed a campaign during which the party made ambiguous, and sometimes troubling, comments about Israel and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Is it worthwhile for our community to engage the NDP when it was ambivalent about BDS during the last election? To answer this question, a diverse range of representatives from the Jewish community across the country –  religious and secular, progressive and conservative, young and old, queer and straight, Jewish service agencies, JCCs, and the Jewish federations – engaged Singh in a wide-ranging conversation about domestic and foreign policy issues important to our community.

Our meeting took place one week after the Dec. 10, 2019 killings in the kosher market in Jersey City, N.J. There was no ambiguity from Singh about the rise of anti-Semitism and the need to combat it. He supports a national strategy to combat online hate, is willing to consider a rebate for security costs incurred by Jewish and other targeted minorities and agrees that providing additional resources to police for dedicated hate-crime units is one way to combat anti-Semitism.

He went further, stating that the NDP supports the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism as an educational tool to help policy makers address the ever-evolving scourge of Jew-hatred.

In our meeting, Singh demonstrated a clear understanding that while criticism of Israel or its government similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic, an obsession with, and a single focus on, Israel and Israelis, as well as denying the right of the Jewish people to self-determination are indicators of anti-Semitism.

He unequivocally condemned BDS, stating that it “creates tensions and divisions,” and “does not advance peace.” Singh stated that neither he nor the NDP support BDS, believing that it is not “the right path forward.”

Singh spoke positively of his 2016 fact-finding mission to Israel, about the Jewish state’s nation-building experiment, its contribution to technological innovation, the revival of Hebrew as a language, and the diverse and complex range of political positions among Israelis. He condemned Iran and supported sanctions against the regime, while still seeking cautious ways, alongside tough sanctions, to engage that country in order to change its behaviour.

We have watched, with deep concern, the creep of anti-Semitism into progressive politics in the U.S., Britain, and Canada, in particular, on university campuses. We were pleased to see Singh take a position that distinguishes him from other progressive leaders like the U.K.’s Jeremy Corbyn. He committed to fight any kind of racism and discrimination and stated clearly that progressive Zionists had “a home” in the NDP.

We see in Singh a willingness to confront anti-Semitism within the progressive movement of Canada. For him to do so, we need to have an open line of honest communication. Our goals as a community must be to forge as broad a base of support for Jewish Canadians, our domestic concerns, and Israel as possible and not to allow those issues to become political wedges. The battle for the hearts of progressive Canadians is not lost. This model of advocacy avoids the provocation and confrontation that attract clicks on social media. We believe it is wiser to engage our political leaders as allies.

Our community’s strategy must not be to label our interlocutors as opponents, but instead to persuade them of the justice of our cause. Whichever party individual members of the Jewish community may support, having these types of conversations is one of the important ways our community contributes to ensuring Canada remains a country of care and civility.