Why Can’t Canadian Social Democratic Leader Jagmeet Singh Say ‘Palestine’

Canadian Social Democratic Leader Jagmeet Singh. (Photo: OFL Communications Department, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Yves Engler

On CBC’s The House on Saturday Jagmeet Singh was asked about resolutions submitted to next week’s NDP convention regarding “Canada’s relationship to Israel and the Palestinian territory”.

Instead of responding to the question, the NDP leader mentioned “anti-Semitism” four times. Asked again about “resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians”, Singh again failed to mention Palestine or Palestinians. Instead, he talked about “increased hate crimes also against people of the Jewish faith”.

Singh’s complete erasure of the long-oppressed Palestinians is hard to listen to. After an outpouring of criticism, he took to Twitter to calm an enraged party base with a clarification that included some customary Israel/Palestine talking points.

While the House interview was appalling, Singh’s anti-Palestinian record is long-standing. In the summer he refused to endorse a pledge, supported by 70 MPs, to oppose Israel’s plan to annex the Palestinian West Bank.

During the 2019 election, the party leadership blocked a half-dozen candidates from running partly or entirely because of their support for Palestinian rights. A year earlier Singh explicitly rejected a call from 200 prominent individuals, labor leaders and party members — including Roger Waters, Noam Chomsky, Linda McQuaig and Maher Arar — for the NDP to withdraw from the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG).

At the 2018 convention, Singh mobilized his family and dozens of members of his community to vote against allowing debate on the modest “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice”, which was unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many affiliated groups and two dozen riding associations.

Singh has been decidedly deferential to leading anti-Palestinian lobby group the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Last month he stoked a CIJA attack against leftist NDP MP Niki Ashton and Singh previously participated in a CIJA “antisemitism” smear against Dimitri Lascaris, one of Canada’s most effective advocates for Palestinian rights.

At a December 2019 event with CIJA Singh said he considered the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian working definition of anti-Semitism a useful “guiding educational lens”.

In an article breaking down that CIJA meeting, Sheryl Nestel explained, “the overwhelming takeaway from the CIJA podcast is that Singh is intent on demonstrating the degree to which he identifies with Israel. The NDP leader’s aim, it seems, was to quell any concerns that CIJA and its supporters might have about the possibility of his extending solidarity to the Palestinians.” Prior to becoming leader of the party, Singh went on a CIJA-sponsored trip to Israel.

Singh’s response to the CBC represents an over-the-top bid to appease CIJA, which has been running an aggressive campaign to pressure the NDP leadership to suppress debate regarding a convention resolution critical of the IHRA’s anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism. But, his clarification on Twitter suggests Singh and his handlers know he went too far in appeasing those promoting what Israel’s leading human rights group B’Tselem recently dubbed “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid”.

Most delegates to NDP conventions are not anti-Palestinian bigots. So, it is a bad idea to generate a burst of criticism regarding the party leadership’s anti-Palestinianism days before you are angling to suppress debate of pro-Palestinian resolutions.

To succeed in suppressing debate at the convention requires delegates to be naïve/trusting in the leadership. If it wasn’t already clear to anyone mildly engaged in NDP affairs, the leadership prefers to align with right-wing anti-Palestinian groups that smear progressives than a membership increasingly supportive of Palestinian rights.

It will be interesting to see what the NDP leadership is prepared to do to block members from debating widely supported pro-Palestinian resolutions at the convention. Hopefully, Singh’s House interview riles up delegates to aggressively challenge the NDP leadership and do what’s right.

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

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)