The New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP) will be holding its national convention here in Ottawa from February 16 to 18 and one of the items on the agenda is a resolution encouraging support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
There have long been anti-Israel sentiments among some members of the NDP – voiced particularly by such former MPs as Libby Davies and Svend Robinson – but recent NDP leaders like the late Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair ensured that Canada’s social democratic party maintained a balanced approach to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians that supports a negotiated two-state solution.
“New Democrats believe in… Working with partners for peace in Israel and Palestine, respecting UN resolutions and international law, supporting peaceful coexistence in viable, independent states with agreed-upon borders, an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and an end to violence targeting civilians,” states the current NDP policy book.
The resolution to be debated at the NDP convention would replace that policy with one that calls for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation” and “opposing parliamentary efforts to undermine non-violent movements seeking a just resolution.”
That last clause is undoubtedly a reference to the resolution passed in the House of Commons on February 22, 2016 condemning the BDS movement against Israel – as well as similar resolutions that have been passed by several provincial legislatures.
That 2016 anti-BDS resolution was supported by the Liberal and Conservative parties and opposed by the NDP as an attack on freedom of speech and dissent. At the same time, though, the NDP stressed its opposition to BDS and its support for a two-state solution.
So this new motion, should it pass, would be a marked change in NDP policy.
It remains to be seen whether or not the resolution will pass at the convention and whether or not it will be supported by Jagmeet Singh, the new NDP leader.
Singh has spoken in favour of Israel lifting the naval blockade of Gaza and he was an NDP member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario when it passed an anti-BDS resolution on December 1, 2016. Singh opposed the resolution on the same basis that the federal NDP had opposed the anti-BDS resolution in the House of Commons, noting in a tweet that “dissent, protest and freedom of speech are a fundamental part of democracy.”
After opposing Ontario’s anti-BDS resolution – which passed overwhelmingly with support from the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives – Singh participated in a delegation of Ontario MPPs that visited Israel on a trip organized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
Like previous NDP leaders, Singh has not, to date, endorsed the anti-Israel BDS movement. It remains to be seen whether he will follow in the steps of Layton and Mulcair and maintain a balanced approach or whether he will align himself with those in the party who would take a stridently anti-Israel approach.
Singh won a first-ballot victory in the NDP leadership race last fall as a mainstream candidate – seemingly in the tradition of Layton and Mulcair. The party’s anti-Israel faction largely supported Manitoba MP Nikki Ashton who finished in third place with less than one-third of Singh’s support. Ashton has endorsed the resolution that will be debated this month at the NDP convention.
In a Canadian Jewish News article about the NDP resolution, CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel “praised both Layton and Mulcair for their leadership, when it came to ‘pushing back against marginal elements within the party that sought to advance an extreme agenda to the detriment of the NDP’s broader policy priorities,’ and said he hopes that Singh will do the same.”
I continue to believe the BDS movement, at best, is counterproductive to the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians and to a two-state solution to the conflict; that its true goal is simply to delegitimize the State of Israel. Hopefully the NDP will also continue to recognize that.