The ongoing squabbles in the Green Party of Canada stopped short of a bloodbath Monday, after opponents of leader Annamie Paul abruptly holstered their figurative weapons.
A litany of threats against the leader was dropped that day. These included a non-confidence vote by the party’s national governing body, which was to take place Tuesday. But the vendetta against Paul went further, with one faction on the national board taking steps to strip Paul of her membership in the party. Also, a $250,000 fund that had been allocated for Paul’s campaign in the Toronto Centre riding, where she hopes to gain a seat in the House of Commons, was apparently withheld.
Ostensibly, the turmoil was a result of Paul’s reaction to the conflict between Israel and Hamas last spring. At the time, the leader posted an innocuous message on Twitter calling for de-escalation and a return to dialogue. This was met with an outraged retort from Jenica Atwin who was, at the time, one of the Green party’s three MPs. Apparently not a big fan of de-escalation and dialogue, Atwin called Paul’s statement “totally inadequate.”
Matters escalated after Paul’s senior advisor responded with an impolitic rant of his own, accusing MPs of antisemitism and threatening to eject sitting Green MPs and replace them with Zionists.
At this, Atwin crossed the floor, joining the Liberal party. Within days, her new political masters had apparently read her the riot act and she recanted her words. The principles that led her to cross the floor could not, evidently, withstand the pressure from the prime minister’s office.
There is a great deal that this quick synopsis overlooks. Paul has been accused of being uncommunicative with Green MPs and other officials. In response, she has said that she is a victim of racism and sexism.
None of this should be a surprise, perhaps. Paul was always going to have an uphill battle. During the leadership contest when she was elected, less than a year ago, Paul was the subject of horrific racist online attacks based on her identity as a Jewish Black woman. During that campaign and since, she has walked a moderate line on foreign policy and her statement during the Gaza conflict was in keeping with a reasonable, balanced approach to the issue.
But there are people in the Green party for whom reason and balance on this issue are unwelcome. The candidate who Paul defeated narrowly on the final ballot is one of Canada’s most vocal anti-Israel campaigners. One almost suspects some members were merely waiting for an opportunity to pounce.
While the members of the party’s national council did not explain their actions in apparently backing down from the fight, it is likely that at least a modicum of common sense prevailed, with activists realizing that they were preparing to defenestrate their leader weeks, or even days, before a possible federal election call.
The whole fiasco has been disturbing. A leader with superb credentials in international affairs is thrown into turmoil because she refused to take a one-sided approach to a significant issue. To suggest Paul has been anything like a Zionist firebrand is nonsense. Her “crime” was not jumping on a bandwagon on to which too many of her grassroots members (and perhaps a couple of her MPs) have jumped.
She got a reprieve this week. Depending on how she does in the expected federal election, she may face the same opponents again afterward. On the other hand, could this represent a turning point?
Whatever your politics, Paul is an impressive individual. Her voice – especially on the never-more-relevant issues of environment and climate change – is needed in our politics. Whatever her gut views about Israel and Palestine, Paul is smart enough to know that a party that subscribes to an anti-Israel line is going nowhere fast.
Arguably the most successful Green party in the world is that in Germany. Annalena Baerbock, its candidate for chancellor in September’s election, is aiming to replace Angela Merkel and some opinion polls say she will win. Put mildly, Germany and its politicians have a unique appreciation of issues involving Jews and the Jewish state. But it is likely significant that, of all the world’s Green parties, Germany’s is perhaps the most open to Israel, in all its complexities. Thoughtful voters recognize that a reasoned approach to the Israel-Palestine issue is a sign of a party that is ready for prime time.
Advocating for Palestinian human rights is important and admirable – assuming it is genuine and not merely an excuse to excoriate Israel with no constructive impact on actual Palestinians. But spouting hateful slogans and libels about Israel does not instil confidence in ordinary voters. Annamie Paul knows this. It could save her party – if they let her.