Nov. 22, 2013
NDP solidly supports Israel
We call it the “kishkes” question. Any politician can mouth platitudes that sound good to Jewish voters. But most of us can differentiate between a politician who knows the right things to say versus one who truly understands the Jewish experience and why Israel is central to the Canadian Jewish identity. At a Montreal conference recently, New Democratic party leader Thomas Mulcair showed he gets it.
Canadian Jewish News reported on Mulcair’s comments at an event sponsored by the Montreal Friends of Peace Now and the Labor Zionist History Circle. Mulcair said he is “a friend of Israel under all circumstances,” and said that “singling out Israel as a pariah” is wrong. He said the movement to apply boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel is “exactly the wrong direction we should be going in” and said the accusation of apartheid against Israel “serves no purpose.”
Most significantly, Mulcair showed that he understands the bottom line when it comes to Israel’s survival. “Anyone who proposes a one-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians has been asleep for 60 years,” CJN reported Mulcair as saying. “It’s not a realistic solution, it’s not going to happen. It would mean invariably the death of the state of Israel.... It’s just another way of saying Israel does not have the right to exist.”
These comments are significant because they are unambiguous – and the NDP has equivocated in the past. The policy of the NDP and, before it, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, was strongly Zionist until 1967, when the party began to move to a position that took into consideration the Palestinian position as well. By the time of the Second Intifada, which coincided with a steep decline in the federal NDP’s success, the party was heavily influenced by anti-Israel activists, such as B.C. member of Parliament Svend Robinson. While the party may have had a balanced policy approach on the books, the loudest voices in the party were often stridently critical of Israel. The late former leader Jack Layton had to patch over a few such incidents, including forcing Vancouver MP Libby Davies to backtrack on a statement that effectively denied Israel’s right to exist.
In the race to succeed Layton, Mulcair was seen as the most pro-Israel candidate, but the issue hardly came up. Mulcair’s victory had to do with other things, mostly the potential he had to preserve the party’s historic inroads in Quebec. His recent comments are among the most extensive and clear Mulcair has yet made on the topic.
Of course, Mulcair has some strong words for the Conservative approach to the issue. The Stephen Harper government’s robust and vocal support for Israel, Mulcair suggested, has diminished Canada’s role on the international stage.
“Canada is absolutely nowhere, we are not players. Our voice could count for a lot,” he said, according to CJN. “Stephen Harper says he is a steadfast ally [of Israel], but what do allies do, if not take part in the process?... Working for peace means working with countries that don’t necessarily agree with us. That’s the essence of diplomacy. We [an NDP government] are going to be at the table ... and not just harp on the sidelines.” He added: “You can’t get change if you criticize from the outside.”
This assertion has been made before by New Democrats, Liberals and others. At the risk of saying that Canada should not overestimate our self-importance, it is hard to discern Canada as having had a great impact on the last round of Mideast peace talks (or the one before that, or before that, back until maybe 1956), so we should not rend our garments over the loss of an influence we may never have had in the first place. There is something to be said for a lonely voice for Israel on the international stage adding a tiny bit of balance to a global dog-piling that even a UN interpreter dubbed over a hot mic “a bit much” recently.
We might also take mild exception to Mulcair’s well-intentioned statement that “[c]reating a homeland for the Jews is one of the noblest things the world community was able to accomplish since the war.” The UN may have voted for the Partition Plan, but when it came to the battle for survival in 1948-49, the Jews of the Yishuv were joined by very few but Diaspora Jews and a small number of idealistic non-Jewish volunteers. Israel is a noble accomplishment, we concur, but let’s not give credit where it is not due.
That aside, Mulcair’s position is laudable. He even went so far as to declare that “100 percent” of his caucus and “everyone in the NDP” supports a two-state solution arrived at through mutual negotiation and resulting in borders that allow each of the peoples to live in peace. According to CJN, Mulcair acknowledged that there have been “attempts within the party to chip away [at that position], but they have gotten nowhere.”
This assertion of unanimity is extraordinary. It is a sign of a leader almost daring dissidents to speak up, but also of a leader secure enough in his position to draw a line in the sand. A quick peruse of blogs, online comments and trade union convention resolutions suggests that not all of the people who might be expected to support the NDP are quite so enthusiastic about an Israel living in peace and security. But Mulcair is effectively telling them that they have no place in his party.
This is deeply significant. It affirms a Canadian consensus among all mainstream parties that Israel has a right to exist and suggests that anyone who disagrees is a fringe element. Let us give credit where it is due and acknowledge that Mulcair has staked out an honorable and fair-mind.