The NDP camps on the issue of Israel
The first camp does not care to discuss the Israel-Arab conflict. They either are not knowledgeable on the topic or they do not see it as important to Canada.
The second camp consists of anti-Zionists which left-wing author and journalist Terry Glavin calls “a nasty faction within party ranks that is known for its dangerously creepy antipathies towards Israel”. They — even those among them who are nominally Jewish — are anti-Semitic because they discriminate against the Jewish state by judging her based on absurdly high standards while not judging her enemies at all. They use hateful and unjustified terms to demonize Israel, including “war crimes”, “ethnic cleansing”, “genocide”, and “terrorist state”, and they use the term “Zionist” as an insult rather than as the name of an aboriginal-based national liberation movement. Because of Mulcair’s support for Israel, they mounted an “anyone-but-Mulcair” campaign to try to stop him from becoming leader, and they failed.
The third camp consists of Zionists who back the creation of a Palestinian state and who oppose Israel’s settlements in the West Bank. Their position reflects official NDP policy. These New Democrats recognize faults on both sides of the conflict, but they rightfully see Palestinian terrorism as the core reason why there is still no Palestinian state. Mulcair stated during the latest Israel-Hamas war, “I do not agree with anything Hamas says. It is a terrorist organization that has been raining thousands of rockets on civilian populations”, therefore rejecting the anti-Zionists’ false moral equivalency between Hamas and the government of Israel. Mulcair also expressed concern for the innocent Palestinian victims and wrote a moving editorial in The Star, making the case for a more balanced approach to the conflict and for more Canadian aid to Palestinian victims. Any sensible Social Democrat who is knowledgeable about the conflict belongs to this camp.
The NDP does not appear to have an anti-Palestinian camp. There is no more need for it than there is need for the anti-Zionist camp, but one thankfully does not exist while the other unfortunately does, thereby giving the NDP its undeserved reputation as a hotbed of anti-Semitism.
The NDP’s own internal struggle
In the book of resolutions of the 2013 NDP convention, Ottawa Centre, which is the riding of NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar, presented a moderate resolution on Israel, “calling for an end to settlement activities” and “condemning rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians”. Resolutions by anti-Zionists demand “boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] against Israel until it [Israel] dismantles the apartheid wall, allows refugees to return home and ends its occupation of Palestinian lands”, denounce the “brutality of the Zionist state”, and claim that “the USA and Israel pose a much greater nuclear weapons threat to the Middle East and to humanity [than Iran]”.
The extremist resolutions on Israel, however, do not represent the mainstream of the NDP any more than other looney resolutions such as one stating that “Cuba’s socialized economy, extensive social equity achievements and quality social services ensure that human needs are put first, in stark contrast to rapacious global capitalism” or the one demanding that “the NDP actively campaign for nationalization of the big five Canadian banks and major insurance companies (including life, home and auto insurance firms)”. All resolutions presented by local ridings are included in the book, but the party establishment decides which resolutions are brought to the floor of the convention, and looney resolutions invariably get ignored.
One ally of the anti-Zionists is the lobby group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME). This group supports the BDS campaign and Gaza-flotilla projects, and it opposes Israel’s right to defend herself against terrorism. Glavin believes that CJPME influenced Mulcair into opposing Canada’s modest military contribution against Daesh (ISIS), but CJMPE is frustrated by its inability to influence Mulcair on Israel.
The leading figures of the party do not see the world in the simplistic black and white terms that extremists do. When former Conservative Foreign Affairs minister John Baird retired, NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar told the House of Commons, “this minister led like no other minister on the world stage when it came to the persecution of Gays, Lesbians, and Transsexuals”. This is a far cry from the viciously anti-Harper and anti-Baird language commonly used by the extremist wing of the party.
There is significant effort to marginalize the extremists. Morgan Wheeldon, Syed Hyder Ali, and Jerry Natanine were dropped by the NDP as candidates, and Sana Hassainia who was elected for the NDP in 2011 stormed out of the party due to Mulcair’s support for Israel.
The clean-up by the party leadership of anti-Zionism did not start with Mulcair. As journalist Mark Kennedy wrote in the Ottawa Citizen, “former leaders Jack Layton and Alexa McDonough began taking steps to avoid the party being perceived as anti-Israel”, but Mulcair is more outspoken about Israel than either of the two previous leaders. During the first debate of the ongoing election, he challenged Harper’s monopoly on support for Israel by saying, “I’ll take no lessons from anyone on defending Israel’s right to defend itself”.
Mulcair is “loathed” by the anti-Zionists, and they do not see Mulcair’s position as principled and balanced but as a sell-out to the “Jewish lobby”. Like other anti-Zionists worldwide, they attempt to use bullying to shut down moderate opinions. Some of them even blame Mulcair’s Jewish wife for having undue influence on him. But Mulcair is not silenced, and the mainstream of the party is not duped.
Anti-Semitism on the left
Having an anti-Zionist wing is a common affliction for left-leaning parties in liberal democracies. Left-wing people by definition sympathize with the less powerful, the Palestinians are much less powerful than the Israelis, and simple-minded people confuse sympathy with unconditional support.
The anti-Zionists however are misguided and juvenile for a number of reasons. This is a topic that I, as an Arab who supports Israel, have discussed in a number of articles in the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post, including:
- Kicked, Battered, and Bruised: 66+ Years of Palestinian History
- The pro-Palestinian activists are not pro-Palestinian
- The betrayal of the Palestinians by peace activists
- They don’t hate Israel. They hate Jews.
- How Israel helped me reconnect with my Arab roots
- The Arabs who support Israel, and why
- I am a Zionist because I am an Arab.
Because blind pro-Palestinian sympathies are misguided, the more knowledgeable and thoughtful Social Democrats tend to support Israel and the concept of a negotiated solution. This includes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and to a more limited extent current French President Francois Hollande. This also includes Canada’s Tom Mulcair who is currently leading in most polls during the federal election campaign.
Every political choice is a balancing act
Any political choice requires balancing a number of factors. The anti-Semitic factor within the NDP cannot be ignored by anyone who understands Jewish and Israeli history, but we also cannot ignore the fact that the NDP offers an approach and policies that are long overdue in Canada, such as a national strategy on childcare. Other parties are not free of extremists either. The Conservatives are still struggling with an anti-LGBT faction, and the Liberals have their own anti-Semites (as do all parties in fact).
Kelly McParland wrote in the National Post, “should it win power in October, Canadians will have to wonder which NDP they chose: the one portrayed by its leadership, or the one characterized by its members”. I do not accept McParland’s stated dichotomy between the NDP leadership and the members. The NDP leadership has done over the last 10 to 15 years a commendable job at limiting any significant influence by the anti-Zionists, and it has been supported in this task by the vast majority of members. There is no reason to believe that once elected, Mulcair or the mainstream of the NDP would suddenly let the crazies loose.
Mulcair strongly opposes BDS, stating, “To say that you’re personally in favour of boycott, divestment and sanctions for the only democracy in the Middle East is, as far as I’m concerned, grossly unacceptable”. Mulcair also successfully marginalized and silenced outgoing Member of Parliament Libby Davies who was the standard bearer of the anti-Zionists and who once questioned the right of Israel to exist; Davies is not even a candidate in the October election.
The anti-Zionists are opportunistic parasites more interested in using the party as a platform to demonize Israel than in seeing it elected. If they had any strength, they would form their own party so that they could have a leader who is anti-Israel like them, but they know that if they did that, they would be a fringe party like the Marxist-Leninist Party or the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party (yes, it is a real party).
The Israel-Arab conflict need not be a divisive issue within the NDP. As Mulcair wrote, “political leaders in the region and around the world must build bridges and take risks to help heal this divide”. Canadians should be helping the two sides in the conflict see each other’s point of view and find a solution that is fair and stable. Canada cannot impose a solution nor should it, but we can be a voice of reason and a voice of moderation, and that is what Mulcair and the NDP are offering.
If Mulcair is elected Prime Minister of Canada on October 19, it would be a blow to anti-Zionists. Rejected candidate Syed Hyder Ali expresses their sentiments about Mulcair when he says that the “NDP has been hijacked by pro-Israel mafia. It was New Democratic Party under leadership of Jack Layton, now it has become Non Democratic Party under leadership of Thomas Mulcair.”
Mulcair is a fluently bilingual former senior cabinet minister and a credible, competent, and charismatic leader. For sensible peace-loving people who are looking for a centre-left alternative to the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, the choice presented in this election by the NDP could hardly be better. That is why I support the NDP and why I encourage other centre-left Zionists to do the same.
- The NDP’s anti-Israel grassroots, Pat Johnson, National Post, 2015-08-20
- Edmonton NDP hopeful to protest after being disqualified by Israel comments, Ryan Tumilty, Metro News, 2015-08-16
- Thomas Mulcair is Cracking Down on Pro-Palestinian Sentiment in the NDP, James Wilt, vice.com, 2015-08-13
- Jerry Natanine, Clyde River mayor, won’t represent NDP, CBC News, 2015-08-10
- Morgan Wheeldon, NDP Candidate, Resigns After Israel Remarks Surface, Althia Raj, Huffington Post, 2015-08-09
- It’s remarkable that the NDP hasn’t self-sabotaged yet — although, it is still early, Terry Glavin, National Post, 2015-07-23
- Why aren’t we talking about “The Anti-Israel Lobby”?, Terry Glavin, Ottawa Citizen, 2014-10-16
- NDP MP quits party, citing Mulcair’s stance on Israel, The Canadian Press, 2014-08-20
- Canadians want balanced and principled approach to Mideast conflict, Tom Mulcair, The Star, 2014-08-10
- The NDP and Israel, Terry Glavin, Ottawa Citizen, 2014-07-23
- NDP steadily shifts position on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mark Kennedy, Ottawa Citizen, 2014-07-23
- Calls for NDP MP to resign after Israel comments, CBC News, 2010-06-15
February 19, 2016: Since writing this article, my opinion of the NDP and Mulcair has changed: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/canadas-left-has-turned-its-back-on-israel/