New Democrats are not the first Canadian politicians splintering on the Israel-Palestine issue.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on October 13, 2023.
OTTAWA—In politics, timing is everything. Members of the New Democratic Party are finding that out as they meet in Hamilton, Ont., this weekend for their first in-person national convention in five years.
One hot-button resolution presented for consideration was a motion by the “Socialist Caucus” calling on the party to “strengthen its defence of Palestinian human rights by actively campaigning for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli State until Israel ends its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.”
According to party officials, that resolution did not make the cut allocated to those deemed a priority in a party ranking system. However, given the nature of unfolding events in Gaza and Israel, it is expected that someone will table an emergency resolution crafted for convention support.
The convention happens to be in the riding of newly-elected Hamilton Centre MPP Sarah Jama who was already in hot water before her election to the provincial legislature because of anti-Jewish comments.
In a 2021 video, Jama spouted conspiracy theories about the local police, claiming they were protecting Naziism and Jews. She accused successive Israeli leaders of funding the killing of people locally and globally.
On the eve of the March 16, 2023, byelection to replace outgoing NDP leader Andrea Horwath as MPP in Queen’s Park, Jama’s video was widely circulated, prompting new leader Marit Stiles to distance her party from the comments.
“We’ve all ended up at rallies and stuff, where maybe she didn’t use the right choice of words.”
Last week, Stiles was again apologizing for Jama, but resisting calls for the Hamilton Centre MPP’s expulsion from caucus. Jama also apologized for a tweet she sent out immediately following the horrific Hamas attack on innocent Jewish civilians in their homes or attending a music festival.
In the tweet, Jama called for “an end to all occupation of Palestinian land,” claiming the attacks were prompted by “violence and retaliation rooted in settler colonialism that has taken the lives of far too many innocent people.”
She failed to mention the more than 1,000 Jews killed in the attacks, and the taking of more than 150 hostages by Hamas.
Stiles immediately distanced herself from Jama’s viewpoint, saying it didn’t align with party policy. It did, however, align with multiple statements Jama made before she ran for political office.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and interim Liberal Leader John Fraser have both called for Jama’s ejection from the NDP provincial caucus, a demand that Stiles has rebuffed. She said Jama’s statement stemmed from a “personal impact … as someone with Palestinian family members.”
Stiles may withstand calls for Jama’s ouster, but with the national convention taking place in Jama’s Hamilton riding this weekend, the controversy shines a bright light into crevices of the party that remain divided.
Middle Eastern politics always plays a global role. New Democrats are not the first Canadian politicians splintering on the issue.
The beginning of the end of Annamie Paul as the short-lived leader of the federal Green Party was largely predicated on internal struggles over Israeli-Palestinian politics.
She lost a caucus member to the Liberals because of internal party differences on the Middle East.
The NDP has long been seen on one side of the issue, with multiple resolutions supporting the Palestinians. Under normal circumstances, a resolution to strengthen support for Palestine could be a giant convention yawn, not unexpected but not too newsworthy, either.
But the timing of this convention, on the heels of horrific massacre of hundreds of innocent civilians by a group of terrorists, means whatever happens will make international headlines.
With barbaric images of beheaded children, and brutalized elderly victims, Hamas has managed to forfeit any semblance of a legitimate political movement.
Instead, it has reinforced its reputation as a terrorist organization that has no intention of supporting the existence of the state of Israel.
Multiple observers have focused on the toxic leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Paradoxically, the events of the past week may result in his ouster as the obvious breach of vaunted Israeli security efforts is still unexplained.
How could Hamas carry out such a well-financed and orchestrated attack without anyone in Israeli intelligence getting wind of what was being planned?
It is a security faux pas equivalent to the horrific wakeup call sent to the world on Sept. 11, 2001, with the downing of the twin towers in New York.
No finger-pointing can explain away the utter atrocities that were visited upon innocent civilians while they went about enjoying their normal daily lives.
Supporting Hamas in this disaster would be a huge mistake for Jama and the New Democrats.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.