On Saturday morning, I was listening to The House, the CBC’s weekly show about Canadian politics.
There was an interview with Jagmeet Singh, leader of the nominally progressive New Democratic Party. Surprisingly, given that this was the CBC, The House host Chris Hall asked Singh a question about Palestine.
It is difficult to convey in a few words the sheer cravenness of Singh’s response, so I’ve included a full transcript of the exchange below.
Hall’s question was prompted by several resolutions the NDP is expected to debate at its policy convention next weekend.
One of the resolutions, attracting many endorsements, calls for Canada to end all trade with Israeli settlements built on occupied territory, and to suspend Canada’s arms trade with Israel.
Another resolution, which is being supported by prominent Canadian Palestinian and Jewish voices, opposes the adoption of the so-called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
That misleading definition promoted by Israel and its lobby has been used to stifle criticism of Israel by falsely equating it with anti-Jewish bigotry.
What is notable is that Hall specifically asked Singh about “Canada’s relationship with Israel and the Palestinian territory.”
Singh began his reply by declaring that “The space that we’ve been occupying and I think is very important is to first of all acknowledge that anti-Semitism is on the rise, hate in general.”
He continued in that vein.
After Singh completely avoided the initial question, Hall pressed him: “Right, but what is your position on some of those resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians?”
Singh again went off on a tangent about anti-Semitism and hate crimes, never once mentioning Palestinians.
The NDP leader’s answer appeared to accept Israel lobby framing that virtually any advocacy for Palestinian rights is tantamount to an attack on Jews.
Immediately after this was broadcast, I tweeted my disgust at Singh’s answer, and compared him to Keir Starmer, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party who is busy purging supporters of Palestinian rights while bending over backwards to appease Israel lobby groups.
Just listened to @theJagmeetSingh on @CBCTheHouse. He was asked a question about Palestinian rights. His answer: I’m against anti-Semitism. He would not mention even the word Palestinians. He’s the Canadian @Keir_Starmer. Absolutely pathetic.
— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) April 3, 2021
The tweet quickly gained traction and many NDP supporters and other commentators shared their own criticisms of Singh.
On @CBCTheHouse, @theJagmeetSingh is asked specifically about resolutions at the upcoming #NDP convention responding to Israeli abuses of Palestinian human rights, but the ONLY thing Singh will talk about is antisemitism. This refusal to support Pal human rights is unacceptable. pic.twitter.com/VvD09YgzxM
— Michael Bueckert (@mbueckert) April 3, 2021
By Saturday afternoon, Singh was in damage control mode.
“Sometimes you can miss the opportunity to fully answer a question. I missed one here,” he tweeted. “Here’s what I should have said: It’s not enough for New Democrats to just express concern about the occupation and settlements.”
We have to work with other countries to uphold international law and the human rights of Palestinians. We have to send a clear message that illegal occupation on Palestinian land in the West Bank isn’t acceptable, and neither are the conditions in Gaza.
— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) April 3, 2021
Reaffirming his support for a “negotiated peace process” to achieve a two-state solution, Singh said, “We have to work with other countries to uphold international law and the human rights of Palestinians.”
He added: “We have to send a clear message that illegal occupation on Palestinian land in the West Bank isn’t acceptable, and neither are the conditions in Gaza.”
Other than the usual lip service, Singh did not specify what this “message” might be.
While some were appreciative of these clarifications, others, including Palestinian Canadian writer and activist Hammam Farah, were unimpressed.
“Frankly, Singh’s clarification isn’t good enough. And I’d urge our allies to stop thanking him for it as it only serves as a pat on the back,” Farah tweeted.
“He’s telling you he rejects sanctions. These aren’t two equal sides that won’t negotiate; it’s a colonizer that gets away with colonizing.”
Frankly, Singh’s clarification isn’t good enough. And I’d urge our allies to stop thanking him for it as it only serves as a pat on the back. He’s telling you he rejects sanctions. These aren’t two equal sides that won’t negotiate; it’s a colonizer that gets away with colonizing. https://t.co/jmQjCRa5Fh
— Hammam Farah (@HumHum83) April 4, 2021
“Repeating cliché statements isn’t enough,” Rana Nazzal, a Canadian Palestinian artist and activist, responded to Singh. “The NDP leadership has let Palestinians down too many times.”
We’re not 2 nations in conflict that need help negotiating peace!!!! Palestine is under Israel’s settler-colonial system of apartheid. Repeating cliché statements isn’t enough @theJagmeetSingh.
The NDP leadership has let Palestinians down too many times. https://t.co/PzbwSq13Kg
— Rana Nazzal رنا نزال (@rananazzalh) April 4, 2021
The reality is that there will be no “negotiated peace process” without applying meaningful pressure on Israel’s government. And that means sanctions. If you don’t support sanctions on Israel, then you do not in fact support a negotiated peace process.
— Dimitri Lascaris (@dimitrilascaris) April 4, 2021
The peace process hasn't worked for decades and has been used in bad faith to stall while Israel continues on its genocidal plans. Sanctions until all settler activity stops, because it is a violation of international law. And look at the Jim Crow laws. Do you approve of those?
— house of k./nom de guerre/نائلة (@KBLNBlog) April 4, 2021
Writer Yves Engler also noted in a blog post on Sunday that Singh’s “complete erasure” of Palestinians was hardly without precedent.
“While the House interview was appalling, Singh’s anti-Palestinian record is long-standing,” Engler writes, adding that last summer the NDP leader refused to endorse a pledge supported by dozens of lawmakers to oppose Israel’s plan to annex the occupied West Bank.
And during 2019’s general election, according to Engler, the NDP leadership “blocked a half-dozen candidates from running partly or entirely because of their support for Palestinian rights.”
People have pointed out a lot of problems with @theJagmeetSingh’s response, but the worst part I think is that it doesn’t address the main issue: Singh went on national radio and gave the impression to the entire country that it is antisemitic to support Palestinian human rights. https://t.co/c2sP3WYVjs
— Michael Bueckert (@mbueckert) April 4, 2021
Balance of power
The NDP is currently propping up the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose ruling Liberal Party lacks a majority in Parliament.
This underscores that although the NDP currently has just two dozen seats in Canada’s House of Commons, it can hold the balance of power and make substantive demands of major parties.
Its policies are especially important to Canadians seeking left-wing alternatives to the neoliberal and hawkish consensus of Canada’s main parties, the Liberals and Conservatives.
Yet just like Britain’s Labour Party, the NDP under Jagmeet Singh appears to think the path to power is by erasing key differences in its stances from those of the establishment parties.
Engler considers Singh’s response to the CBC’s questions “an over-the-top bid to appease CIJA, which has been running an aggressive campaign to pressure the NDP leadership to suppress debate” about the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
CIJA is one of Canada’s leading Israel lobby groups.
But if anything, Singh’s effort to make Palestinians disappear altogether has only ensured that the debate over Canada’s support for Israel’s crimes and abuses will be sharper than ever.
This framing is unfortunate. The story here is that the vast majority of NDP members want the party to take concrete action in support of Palestinian human rights. The only ones who find this controversial is the party leadership which has historically shut these motions down. https://t.co/cQ6GIB6lkl
— Michael Bueckert (@mbueckert) March 31, 2021
Transcript: Jagmeet Singh on The House, 3 April
Listen to the segment at CBC.ca
Chris Hall: One last area that has emerged in a number of resolutions being put forward is about Canada’s relationship with Israel and the Palestinian territory. How do you plan to navigate those issues, because they are clearly controversial and not necessarily prone to finding a kind of common ground?
Jagmeet Singh: The space that we’ve been occupying and I think is very important is to first of all acknowledge that anti-Semitism is on the rise, hate in general. We’re seeing lots of increase in hate crimes generally speaking, and specifically anti-Semitism. So all New Democrats are committed to fighting anti-Semitism. That’s something really important. We’ve always been a party that’s been willing to talk about human rights and it’s important to be able to do that, but we’ll take a very strong position in acknowledging the rise of anti-Semitism and the importance of always defending human rights.
Hall: Right, but what is your position on some of those resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians?
Singh: Well, like all policy conventions, there’s going to be some healthy debate and healthy debate is important, but the principles that will guide me as leader will be to acknowledge that in this current time that we’re going through, that there is a real and urgent threat of rising hate. We’ve seen it targeting anti- – in terms of anti-Asian hate, targeting Asian people, people of Chinese descent in particular. And we know there’s been increased hate crimes also against people of the Jewish faith, so I think that has to be top of mind when we’re looking at decisions moving forward. And human rights will always be part of our party’s discussions about how we can be better champions and allies to protect the rights of people across the world.
Source: Electronic Intifada