The pro-Palestine resolution that passed this weekend at Canada’s New Democratic Party NDP convention was a significant step forward; the struggle now is to make sure it is implemented and followed, not lost in some bureaucratic abyss as happened to other policy items after the 2018 NDP convention.
However, the dust-up over another proposed resolution to reject the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism led to that issue being buried during the prioritization process. This process allowed for electronic voting two days before the convention began, on the priority of resolutions to be discussed, ranked within different categories. Although this was an improvement over the traditional “closed-door” system that had succeeded in preventing any pro-Palestine resolution from ever reaching the floor in prior conventions, it also meant the Zionist lobby had to step up their game to defeat the broadly supported #NoIHRA resolution. For almost a month, there was a fierce onslaught by Zionist lobby groups in Canada to challenge the content and even the “legitimacy” of this resolution.
At the end of the day, their efforts were successful enough to push the resolution down to #6 on the priority list in “Redefining Canada’s Place in the World”. Due to the virtual nature of the convention and other technical glitches, most categories dealt with only 2 resolutions. The pro-Palestine resolution that did pass was ranked #2 in the same category.
Along with the usual arguments made by pro-Israel advocates that the IHRA is not “legally binding” and “allows for criticism of Israel”, there was another insidious defense put forward and emphasized in the weeks leading up to convention. A letter sent to the NDP leader, reportedly spearheaded by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs CIJA and signed by dozens of organizations, stated: “A rejection of the IHRA definition of antisemitism is tantamount to telling the Jewish community that we cannot define our own oppression” and went on to say the NDP should not be involved in “choosing how – or how not – to define antisemitism for Jewish people.” Another proponent on Twitter even used the slogan “Nothing about us, without us”.
For Palestinians, whose voices are so marginalized and will be even more marginalized by the IHRA, this level of hypocrisy was stunning. Have Palestinians ever been included in debates over what constitutes anti-Palestinian racism? For that matter, is any major political formation even interested in discussing it? If they were, Palestinians would tell them that the IHRA is the embodiment of anti-Palestinian racism. Its examples specifically limit how every Palestinian can describe and narrate their own history and censor their critique of the political movement Zionism, that decimated their nation and way of life.
If the IHRA definition had limited itself to just that, a definition, then we would not be having this discussion. But since it insists on adding its “illustrative examples”, then we are dealing with a much broader political issue. Would anyone accept a definition of Islamophobia that included multiple restrictions on when you could criticize Saudi Arabia, for example? I think not.
The Zionist lobby in Canada is happy to call on all levels of government, as well as many institutions like universities and churches, to adopt (and implement) the IHRA. So, it is acceptable for others to discuss and vote on this definition of anti-Semitism, so long as you are in favour of it and will pass it. If there is a chance of strong opposition, then suddenly the debate becomes inappropriate.
Progressive Jews who were a strong component of support for the #NoIHRA resolution also found themselves under attack, accused of being “tokens”. Many of them responded on social media, 60 Jewish members of the NDP put out a letter and several had a statement published in an alternative newspaper.
But the damage was done, the chill set in and even one NDP Member of Parliament felt the need to distance himself at the last moment.
The IHRA is a dangerous piece of institutionalized anti-Palestinian racism, that should not receive legitimacy of any kind. However, for Palestinians and their supporters in Canada, repression is already in full swing and they are subjected to workplace harassment, visits at home by security forces, and accusations of “terrorism”.
It is imperative to hold the NDP leadership to account over the new pro-Palestine resolution, but also to call out all levels of government in Canada that are complicit in sustaining and enabling Israeli war crimes and the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people. Our response to the Zionist lobby’s onslaught to try and delegitimize the Palestine solidarity movement must be to intensify the work on all our campaigns – one struggle, many fronts.
By Marion Kawas
Expanded version of this article in Mondoweiss.