MP doubles-down on Palestinian solidarity while leadership runner-up condemns Canada’s ‘indecency’

Niki Ashton has doubled-down on Palestinian solidarity after being attacked by a Canadian Jewish advocacy group over a planned event with Jeremy Corbyn. 

“We as a country are not only failing to stand up for the human rights of the Palestinian people and the importance of the rule of law,” she said during a March 7 webinar co-hosted by the Palestinian Youth Movement and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights at the University of British Columbia. “We are encouraging ongoing oppression.”

The veteran NDP MP came under fire from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) last week for agreeing to participate in a March 20 online discussion with the former Labour leader.

“It became about something else,” she said of the criticism she received. “And in that moment we saw the way in which so many want to demonize those speaking out for justice for the Palestinian people, those speaking out on the left for a bold vision of our society — where human rights are respected, where peace and justice aren’t just slogans, but something that we live.”

Despite this “weaponization of anti-Semitism,” Ashton participated in the youth-led event — “Canada’s Complicity: Policies on Palestine” — along with federal Green Party leadership runner-up Dimitri Lascaris and Independent Jewish Voices Canada representative Sheryl Nestel.  

Ashton called for the development of an independent foreign policy based on peace, justice and the rule of law.

“We know that Canada on many fronts, when it comes to many countries, has been all too happy to go along with the U.S. imperialist agenda – and pushing our own imperialist agenda,” she said.

According to Lascaris, speaking out on Palestine falls within the purview of every Canadian.

“For those of us who reside in Canada and who care about the Palestinian cause, the most important reason for focusing on the plight of Palestinians is the complicity of the Canadian government in their suffering and oppression,” he told the online audience.

“The Canadian government purports to speak in the name of all Canadians,” he said. “And therefore, when it advocates for Israel, it’s implicating each and every Canadian in its indecency, in its disregard for human rights.”

In an email to the Sidebar, Global Affairs Canada outlined the government’s position. 

“Canada values its longstanding relationship with Israel, and supports Israel’s right to live in peace and security,” it said. “Canada also has positive relations with and supports the Palestinian Authority. Canada remains committed to engaging with Palestinians to help them build the institutions and capacity necessary for a viable state achieved as a result of a negotiated agreement.”

The email continued: “Canada is committed to helping vulnerable Palestinians and provides significant humanitarian and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as for Palestinian refugees in the region. In line with Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, our international assistance is helping Palestinians to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.”

But according to Lascaris, Canada’s neglect of the Palestinian people reaches back to Lester B. Pearson’s pivotal role in the 1947 division of Palestine and continues to this day.

“Our government allows the Israeli consulate to recruit Canadian citizens, dual citizens, to serve in the Israeli military,” he said. 

Canada regularly opposes or abstains on UN resolutions supporting the rights of Palestinians, Lascaris said, and both the Harper and Trudeau governments have “vilified” the BDS movement.

Lascaris lamented the fact Canada signed a strengthened trade agreement with Israel shortly after an Israeli sniper shot a Palestinian-Canadian, who was clearly identified as a doctor. He also criticized the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism as “plainly designed to silence the voices who are critical of Israel’s human rights abuses.”

The IHRA definition, which has been adopted by the federal government, the Ontario government, and a number of Canadian municipalities, was the primary focus of Nestel’s remarks.

She said the definition was originally intended to be a research instrument, not the basis of public policy.

Some of the 11 examples of Anti-Semitism which accompany the definition “are clearly intended to silence pro-Palestine speech,” she said, because they conflate anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

This has played out most noticeably on university campuses, said Nestel, a “very engaged Jew” and former Israeli citizen.

“We know that the impact of the IHRA is to create a chilling effect for activists, professors, students and others who can be penalized, in a variety of ways that are not actually visible, for their research or activism.”

She said the IHRA definition encourages the suppression of the Palestinian narrative.

“What Canadian pro-Israel groups such as B’Nai Brith and the (CIJA) are really, I think, attempting to do is get the IHRA imposed as a speech code,” she said.

For its part, GAC said Canada enshrined the IHRA definition in 2019 as part of its anti-racism strategy and that it “encourage[s] its adoption internationally wherever we can.”

“There have been concerns expressed that this definition will be used as a tool of censorship,” GAC said. “The fact that these discussions are taking place demonstrates that the definition is not a tool of censorship; rather, as a non-legally binding working definition, it is an educational tool that will better equip us all to address antisemitism in its various forms.”