Will Canada Have a Pro-Palestinian Major Party Leader

Jul 16 2017 / 11:30 pm
Niki Ashton delivers a speech at the Ottawa Women's March on Jan. 21. (Photo: Courtesy of The Hill Times, Andrew Meade)

By Yves Engler 

Sometimes silence in politics speaks louder than words.

Israel lobby groups’ response (or lack thereof) to NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton’s recent support of Palestinian rights suggests they believe previous criticisms backfired.

Two months ago B’nai B’rith attacked Ashton for attending a rally in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike and a subsequent Facebook post commemorating the Nakba, which saw 750,000 Palestinians driven from their homes by Zionist forces in 1947/48. The self-declared ‘human rights’ organization published a press release titled “B’nai Brith Denounces MP Niki Ashton for Standing in ‘Solidarity’ with Terrorists.” Rather than harming Ashton, the attack solidified support amongst the Left and youth within the party. B’nai B’rith’s smear generated significant media attention, but Ashton refused to back down. In response the Manitoba MP told the Winnipeg Free Press she felt obligated to “speak out in the face of injustice” and “I have consistently spoken out for peace and justice in the Middle East, including for Palestinians.”

A few days after accusing her of “Standing in ‘Solidarity’ with Terrorists” B’nai B’rith CEO Michael Mostyn took another shot at Ashton. Clearly writing to the Toronto Sun’s editors and his own organization’s donors, Mostyn linkedAshton’s position on Palestine to sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement, which most NDP members probably support. On top of this own-goal, Mostyn opened the door for a rejoinder by the president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. In his response Thomas Woodley described Ashton’s promotion of the Palestinian cause as an outgrowth of her “support for Indigenous rights in Canada” — for every NDP member Mostyn swayed against Ashton I’d bet Woodley convinced fifty to favour her.

Since the dustup at the end of May, B’nai B’rith — and other Israeli nationalist groups — have remained silent regarding Ashton. Yet when asked a question about Martin Luther King during an official party leadership debate six weeks ago Ashton went out of her way to link those campaigning for Palestinian rights to the US civil rights leader. Then, in a widely circulated FightBack interview at the end of June Ashton decried the NDP’s purge of pro-Palestinian candidates in the 2015 federal election campaign as “totally unacceptable.” She also called “justice for Palestine…a key issue” and referenced “the Nakba.”

Last week Ashton was part of a fundraiser in London, Ontario, put on by five prominent Palestinian solidarity activists, while this week she put out an appeal for individuals to join the party titled “End the Gaza Blockade.” It stated: “Today marks three years since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, the 50-day Israeli military offensive on Gaza…Ashton has demonstrated that she will show leadership and will never hesitate when standing up for Palestinians.”

In the past B’nai B’rith has labeled lesser transgressions “support for terrorism” or “anti-Semitism.” Their silence on Ashton’s recent moves is deafening. B’nai B’rith is effectively conceding that their previous attacks backfired and they now fear drawing further attention to Ashton’s position since it would likely strengthen her standing among those voting for the next NDP leader.

According to a February poll of 1,000 Canadians, most progressive Canadians back Palestinian rights. Eighty-four per cent of NDP supporters said they were open to sanctioning Israel, when they were asked in the context of the UN Security Council denouncing settlement building in the West Bank: “Do you believe that some sort of Canadian government sanctions on Israel would be reasonable?

While somewhat of a long shot at the start of the race, Ashton now has a reasonable chance of becoming leader of the NDP. According to a July 5 Mainstreet poll of 1,445 party members, 22.6 per cent of those asked supported Charlie Angus as their first choice candidate while 20.4 per cent backed Ashton. 7.5 per cent chose both Jagmeet Singh and Peter Julian (who has since dropped out of the race) as their top choice and 6.1 per cent went for Guy Caron while 35.9 per cent had not made up their minds. Ashton is far and away the favourite among NDP millennials.

The first ever pregnant major party leadership candidate in Canadian political history has gained this support by speaking truth to power and taking a principled position on an issue most politician have shied away from. And, she has demonstrated that the purpose of Israeli nationalist attacks is to silence them, not to have a debate. In fact, real debate is what organizations like B’nai B’rith fear the most because the more people thst know about Israel and the Occupied Territories, the more they support the Palestinian cause.

The prospect of the NDP electing a leader taking explicitly pro-Palestinian positions obviously concerns B’nai B’rith. But, their bigger worry should be the growing number of progressives who consider Israel lobby attacks a mark in favor of a politician.

– Yves Engler is the author of Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid and a number of other books. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit his website: yvesengler.com.

Posted by on Jul 16 2017 . Filed under Articles, Commentary . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 Comments for “Will Canada Have a Pro-Palestinian Major Party Leader”

  1. Jim Miles

    Good article, interesting analysis. Unfortunately the NDP, Canada’s ‘left’ party, officially upholds the two state solution, but also does the usual centre-right position of Israel being “allowed to defend itself”.

    Niki Ashton is the strongest of the candidates and is trying to take the party closer to where it should be on the left, as it has drifted right the closer it came to power. But with Corbyn succeeding in Britain, perhaps the same can happen to the NDP here. Canada needs it.

  2. Jim Miles

    Interesting and probably highly accurate analysis. Niki Ashton is on the true left; the NDP are supposedly left of centre but have drifted to the right trying to garner more votes. The official party position is the same as the official Canadian position – must negotiate for a two state solution. From all the letters I have sent to Canada’s MPs they do know better, but are scared to change for some reason (money? jobs? U.S. directed foreign policy? all of these?)

    Perhaps Niki Ashton will be able to create a Corbyn moment in Canada reflecting the people’s interest in a truly social democratic governance.

  3. me, again

    She has my vote. Anyone who stands up to the terrorist regime of ‘israel’ spokesmen/women deserves all the support she (or he) can get
    Spread the word! Open debate. It IS what the ‘israelis’ and their supporters fear the most.

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