In an historic victory, Annamie Paul was elected leader of the Green party of Canada Saturday, becoming the first Black person and the first Jewish woman to lead a federal political party. How historic this news is will depend on her impact on Canadian politics, beginning with her showing in a by-election in the riding of Toronto Centre at the end of this month.
Paul will also be challenged by some in her party who have taken exception not only to her moderate, conciliatory positions toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue but to her Jewishness itself. During the campaign, she was bombarded with antisemitic trolling, some from within her party, some from outside agitators. She overcame her nearest opponent, Dimitri Lascaris, on the eighth round of voting. Lascaris, one of Canada’s most vocal anti-Israel activists, was endorsed by a range of anti-Zionist figures, including Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters.
Lascaris has been a lightning rod in the party and the country for anti-Israel activists. When confronted during the campaign about the overt presence of antisemitic comments, ideas and harassment directed at Paul, Lascaris redirected, saying that antisemitism exists mostly on the right of the political spectrum.
Bigotry of every form must be acknowledged and condemned regardless of where it emerges. Pretending it does not exist and accusing one’s opponents of it while ignoring its presence in one’s own movement is a deeply unprogressive approach. Paul – as well as the Jewish community and all Canadians who seek justice and equality – must be vigilant and vocal as bigots react to the increased visibility of a Black Jewish woman leader.
The Green party has a history of problematic approaches to the Middle East, including a 2016 vote to endorse the BDS movement, later rescinded after then-leader Elizabeth May threatened to quit. That incident underscored the limited power of the leader’s role in the Green party. As Paul told the Independent in a recent interview (jewishindependent.ca/paul-hopes-to-make-history), she will not have the power, as leader, to make or alter party policy. May’s gambit – threatening to quit unless a position was reversed – is a rare tool in the kit.
Paul’s varied career has included roles as a director for a conflict prevention nongovernmental organization in Brussels, as an advisor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and as a political officer in Canada’s mission to the European Union. She was co-founder and co-director of an innovation hub for international NGOs addressing global challenges and has worked with other NGOs, such as the Climate Infrastructure Partnership and Higher Education Alliance for Refugees. She was born in Toronto to a family that immigrated from the Caribbean and she converted to Judaism under a Hillel rabbi while studying at Princeton University.
In her interview with the Independent, Paul said she admires Canada’s politics of compromise, but that the climate crisis is an exceptional event that requires single-minded determination to address.
In her victory address Saturday, to a small group observing social distancing, she suggested the voting public is ready for politicians who look and think differently.
While British Columbians are focused on provincial politics with the Oct. 24 election – and the world awaits the outcome of perhaps the most consequential U.S. election in our lifetimes on Nov. 3 – we will keep an eye on the Oct. 26 Toronto Centre by-election to see the next step in the trajectory of this new leader on the federal scene.