Ontario’s Liberal Party has banned a candidate who expressed critical views of Israel on social media from seeking the nomination in the Newmarket-Aurora riding.
Education activist Shameela Shakeel is not eligible for the position, Cathy Gapp, president of the riding association, confirmed in an interview on Jan. 26. The riding association did not disclose the reason for refusing to greenlight Shakeel’s nomination.
In a brief telephone interview, Shakeel refused further comment other than to say, “The process has happened, and I accept it.”
On Twitter, Shakeel commented “Yes, I’m learning that some ‘special interests’ are more valued than others, than people, and than self-respect.”
Will Wuehr, senior communications advisor to Liberal leader Steven Del Duca, also refused to explain the action, noting only “We do not disclose details about the Ontario Liberal Party’s candidate vetting process.”
Gapp said the usual process is for local riding associations to recruit potential candidates and for the provincial level to vet them for possible problems.
A psychometrist and a long-time activist on York Region educational issues, Shakeel posted on Twitter last year, during the conflict between Hamas and Israel: “Hamas was established in 1987 (and was funded by Israel at that time, actually). Palestinians have been displaced, dispossessed, killed, and illegally occupied by the State of Israel since 1948. Do the math and critical analysis, or do you need a competence test first?”
She also spoke out in support of Javier Davila, the Toronto District School Board employee who distributed a resource list to teachers that the board later found to contain material that was antisemitic and that contained links to groups that support terrorism. (TDSB trustee Alexandra Lulka narrowly escaped censure by the board after she spoke out against those materials.)
Shakeel later said she regrets the Twitter post, telling Newmarket Today it was an emotional response to one-sided statements condemning Hamas, but not also condemning actions by Israel against Palestinian civilians.
“A lot of students who are Palestinian or Middle-Eastern or Muslim are afraid to even admit where they come from. My kids often say that,” Shakeel told the newspaper. “You can’t keep silencing one side.”
In the interview with Newmarket Today she also hinted racism may have been at play, adding “This is why people who look like me and think like me don’t run for politics.”
Jewish advocates, meanwhile welcomed the party’s decision on Shakeel.
In a social media post B’nai Brith Canada said, “As we have always stated publicly, there can be no room for antisemitism or discrimination in Canadian politics.”
In an email exchange, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said the advocacy group remains non-partisan, but will speak out whenever it feels a candidate is acting inappropriately.
“We will continue to have open lines of communications with all political parties, but every political party is responsible for their own vetting process,” he added. “We respect the internal processes of the various parties but reserve the right to disagree publicly when we feel a party has dropped the ball.”
As it does for every election, Mostyn said a survey will be sent to all parties asking for detailed responses to issues of concern to the Jewish community. Those replies will then be made available to the public “so that voters can make an informed choice.”
The Liberal controversy is not the first time Jewish issues have appeared in the early days of the campaign, ahead of the June provincial election.
Earlier this month, the NDP candidate in the Ajax riding was forced to apologize for his opposition to changing the name of a local street that honoured a Second World War Nazi naval officer.
Steve Parish, a former mayor of Ajax, was called out by B’nai Brith and Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre Canada for actions the agencies said were hurtful to the Jewish community.
The rejection of Shakeel’s candidacy for the nomination leaves only neuropsychologist Sylvain Roy as the only declared candidate for the party’s nod. Voting to select the candidate is set for Feb. 12.
Gapp said she has not yet been officially informed by the party of nomination by acclamation, but added she has faith in the party’s vetting process and looks forward to the campaign to unseat Conservative MPP and Deputy Premier Christine Elliott.