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In April, Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) will host their convention, this year virtually, and members should have the opportunity to vote on two widely endorsed pro-Palestinian resolutions. But Canada’s pro-Israel lobby is pressuring the party leadership to suppress debate around one of the resolutions, which seeks to rebuke the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.
The definition was adopted by the federal government and Ontario, in ways that avoided public debate. Now the pro-Israel lobby wants to stop members of the social-democratic NDP from challenging the IHRA definition.
The second resolution dubbed the “Palestine Resolution” has received the support of 33 NDP riding associations. It calls for “an end to Canada’s support for illegal settlements” and “suspending the flow of weapons to and from Israel until Palestinians are free.”
Last week B’nai B’rith sent a statement to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh urging him “to ensure that resolutions rejecting the IHRA definition of antisemitism are, themselves, rejected.” In an op-ed titled, “NDP radicals should stop politicizing antisemitism” heads of the Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants claimed former NDP MPs Svend Robinson and Libby Davies “peddled” antisemitism by promoting the anti-IHRA resolution. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) then put out a statement criticizing the NDP, tweeted about it a separate op-ed critical of the party’s IHRA resolution. CIJA also sponsored a letter signed by 100 Jewish organizations pressuring Singh to vote against the anti-IHRA resolution. Employing progressive-sounding language, the letter says “A rejection of the IHRA definition of antisemitism is tantamount to telling the Jewish community that we cannot define our own oppression.” The content completely ignores Palestinians whose rights the IHRA definition tramples on.
A member of the Ontario Legislature and a top Israeli diplomat has already used the IHRA definition to attack NDP MP Charlie Angus for sharing in January a Guardian article that reported on Israel’s failure to vaccinate Palestinians. Recently Israeli MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh — daughter of Irwin Cotler — wrote that the International Criminal Court investigation into Israel violates “the consensus” of the IHRA definition.
On its face, the Israel lobby’s bid to subvert NDP democracy is an over-the-top reaction to a somewhat symbolic resolution. The vote will set the party platform and is not a law. More broadly, the frenzied response is out of proportion with the potential consequences if it does pass. A powerful state, Israel is not on the precipice of collapsing because of pro-Palestinian NDP resolutions. Its GDP (nominal) per capita is greater than both France and Japan, and only $500 less than Canada’s.
What’s more, the economic divide between Israel and Gaza is almost certainly the largest of any bordering peoples on the planet. In the military sphere, Israel is one of nine countries that possesses nuclear weapons (even though it has never officially acknowledged having nuclear weapons). It has one of the most robust armed forces in the world, and far and away, has the most destructive capacity in the region. Additionally, the U.S., the global hegemon, guarantees Israel’s military strength in the region.
In the country in which the IHRA resolution outburst is taking place, the government is firmly anti-Palestinian. The Trudeau government has expanded a trade agreement that treats settlements in the occupied West Bank as part of Israel, turns a blind eye to the illegal recruitment of Canadians into the Israeli military, and allows hundreds of millions of tax-free donations annually to Israeli charities, including some that support the IDF, West Bank settlements and explicitly racist organizations.
In November the former Canadian attorney general and minister of justice, Irwin Cotler-—who Hill Times recently counted among the 50 most influential Canadians on foreign policy—was appointed Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.
Canada’s main opposition Conservatives are more supportive of Israel and the sovereigntist Bloc Québecois has more MPs than any party on the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group. After a battle over Palestinian rights that nearly split the Green party, the Israel lobby’s preferred candidate recently became its leader. Last week Annamie Paul attended an Israeli wine and Canadian cheese lobbying event hosted by CIJA, Hillel Ottawa and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC).
At the institutional level CIJA, B’nai B’rith, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, Honest Reporting Canada, StandWithUs, Christians United for Israel Canada, Israel on Campus, etc., all have more money and staff than ever before. The same goes for softer arms of the lobby such as United Jewish Appeal Toronto and Federation Combined Jewish Appeal Montréal, as well as Leo Baeck, Hebrew Academy and other private Jewish day schools as well as Hillel and CJPAC.
The lobby’s institutional capacities have enabled their NDP campaign, of course. But just because you have the power to create a political storm doesn’t mean you have to. So why intervene so forcefully in NDP affairs?
Despite working on behalf of a powerful state backed by the global hegemon, the Israel lobby is vulnerable on the ideological plane. The facts on the ground are overwhelming and polls show Canadians are increasingly sympathetic to Palestinians. As such, the Israel lobby has become ever more dependent on intimidating people from discussing what B’Tselem recently dubbed “a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”
The lobby’s substantial power rests uneasily alongside the injustices it seeks to maintain. Like most bullies, it gets angry when the target wants to talk. It doesn’t want to hear the other’s point of view. Hopefully, NDP members stand up to the bully and do what’s right.
The Canadian Foreign Policy Institute will host a webinar, “Palestine Solidarity: why the NDP convention matters,” on April 5, 2021, at 7 p.m. EST.