By Marion Kawas
The Canadian election campaign has another 2 months to go and it has already become too much to bear. Palestinian activists are either bullied and targeted by our known adversaries or betrayed by our “friends” and told we’re not even allowed to raise our voices. The blatant pro-Israel stands of the current Conservative government are well-known, but the pervasive and bludgeoning reach of the Zionist lobby seems to have reached new heights (or lows). All three major federal parties in Canada need to be sent a loud and clear message that Palestinians and their supporters will not be censored and Palestinian rights are not expendable.
In the last week, the latest round of brouhaha was instigated by the New Democratic Party NDP leadership with the purge of some candidates mildly sympathetic to Palestinian rights. The resulting dissent has put them in damage control mode, especially since many supporters of the Palestinian people have also historically been involved in some way with the NDP which paints itself as the “party of change”. Several people were even deleted from various FaceBook groups (including Rabble) for refusing to drop the challenges on this issue. But the issues of censorship and the need to hear the Palestinian voice have refused to go away. On August 20, the Ontario Civil Liberties Association issued a strongly-worded letter defending the freedom of speech of two of the ex-candidates and noting that what one of them said was common parlance in Israel’s mainstream media. The letter went on to state – “The NDP’s stance in barring any criticism of Israel is undemocratic and wrong. Morgan Wheeldon and Jerry Natanine were not breaking confidence with a democratically-determined party policy platform, or engaged in any such mutiny. They have uttered words critical of Israel, in contexts of democratic discourse.”
Of course Palestine is not the only issue in this election, and Palestinian and Arab Canadians (contrary to some perceptions) are just like everyone else – parents, workers, seniors, disabled etc. with a myriad of concerns . But for supporters of Palestinian rights, the dilemma here is huge. The Zionist lobby are allowed to be “one issue” and have unlimited resources and time to check candidates’ social media accounts for the last 6 years, making any support for Palestine a “red line” issue. Is there no brave voice in the NDP leadership willing to speak out and say this is unacceptable? Sadly, so far, no!
And to ask Palestinian-Canadians and their supporters to vote for a party that is clearly complicit in the trampling of human rights, with the faint hope that after the election things will improve, simply will not cut it. Especially not with the current NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, who proudly pronounced himself an “ardent supporter of Israel”, even before being elected party leader. Palestinians will not be silenced and after 67 years of dispossession, they no longer believe in hollow promises. So if the NDP leadership wants to own up and say they’ve thrown the Palestinians under the bus as have the other major Canadian political parties, then please be honest and do so. And engage in that debate as to why Palestinian rights (and any discussion of them) are expendable and be judged accordingly.
Does criticizing the NDP (or considering voting for another party, say the Greens) mean you’re supporting Stephen Harper or you don’t want change? Of course not! And frankly, it is arrogant and insulting to everyone’s intelligence to use such fear-mongering tactics. Many pro-Palestinian activists and their organizations have historically supported the NDP at one time or another, but for how long do we join the march to the bottom line no matter the cost, even if it means silence on critical issues? The progressive community expected more from the NDP so this is indeed a bitter pill to swallow.
Expanded version of this article at Mondoweiss.net