Over the Labour Day weekend, while many Canadians were soaking up the declining rays of summer or doing last-minute back-to-school shopping, Middle East politics eclipsed everything else – well, for those of us who track these things closely, which, it turns out includes Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party.
In fairness, it is not clear when Singh hit send on an email that made the rounds over the holiday weekend. But the contents led the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs to send out not one but two urgent emails on the issue, both of which included the word “outraged” in the subject line.
And “outrage” is a fair reaction to the contents of Singh’s missive.
“We believe Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories is at the centre of the challenges facing the Palestinian and Israeli people,” wrote Singh. This essentialist view ignores the reality that the occupation continues due to a complex interplay between anti-Israel terrorism, a lack of political will, and intractability around a two-state solution or some other coexistence plan that would lead to greater peace, which includes a lack of willingness to coexist from factions on both sides of the conflict.
“We all want to see a future where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side, in peace,” Singh writes. But then he goes on to outline a list of grievances that places responsibility only on Israelis and which, therefore, is unlikely to do anything to realize such a future.
The demands include that the Canadian government increase funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, “which supports Palestinian refugees.” The letter makes no reference to the controversial nature of UNRWA’s definition of refugees, which has refugee status passing down generations, thereby continually increasing their number, perpetuating rather than ameliorating the problem. Nor does the NDP letter mention the organization’s Palestinian education curriculum, which contains antisemitic elements that directly impede any progress towards peace in the region; allegations of corruption and mismanagement of the agency; and even UNWRA’s witting or unwitting aid of the terrorist group Hamas, with tunnels reportedly being found under UNRWA schools and rockets stored on their premises. Instead, the letter calls on Canada to “condemn the Israeli government’s attacks on civil society in Israel and Palestine, including the recent designation of six Palestinian human rights groups as ‘terrorist.’”
There are wishes for “peace in Israel and Palestine” in the NDP letter, but the lack of peace is blamed solely on one side, without acknowledging the violence and harms inflicted on Israelis. The fundamental fact of the issue is that no blatantly one-sided position will make things better for either Palestinians or Israelis and any position that places all the blame on one side will not lead to a resolution. Such a stance will only perpetuate conflict. Peace and coexistence in that region will depend on compromise on both sides.
In the larger scheme of world events, an imbalanced missive from the leader of a Canadian political party is largely irrelevant. Singh’s catalogue of blame will move the dial in Israel and Palestine not an inch. What it does is inflame the issue here at home and reinforce the trend in Canadian politics that sees this issue as a political football. At the same time as there are legitimate and important critiques of Israel’s behaviour and treatment of Palestinians, particularly those under occupation, Jewish self-determination should not be anyone’s campaign talking point.
There is a lesson here for those who support Israel, too. There is a strain that sees Israel supporters as more moral, more fair and more realistic than the activists who march against “apartheid,” “genocide” and what Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas recently called “50 holocausts” against Palestinians. However, the incessant and dishonourable contesting of the very existence of Palestinian people – if you haven’t seen it, you’re not on Jewish social media – does nothing to advance the cause of Jewish self-determination or end the human suffering or move anyone towards peace.
Extremism is not a Canadian value, nor a Jewish one – and it will not result in an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nor will it solve any of the countless challenges we are facing around the world. We need to resist the attraction of simplistic solutions to complex human problems. We need to do, think and behave better. And we need to demand that our leaders to do so, as well.