In response to the horrific attack committed against Israeli civilians over the weekend and the appalling and ongoing indiscriminate bombing of Gaza by Israel, which together have killed thousands of civilians, Ontario NDP MPP Sarah Jama released a statement with the headline, “A CALL FOR AN IMMEDIATE CEASE FIRE.”
Jama’s statement reads:
“The generations long occupation of Palestine, as explained by Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur for the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territory, is apartheid i.e., “a political regime intentionally prioritizing fundamental political, legal, and social rights to one group over another in the space on the basis of racial-national-ethnic identity.” We are seeing this definition of apartheid in real time through the continued violation of human rights in Gaza through the use of white phosphorous chemicals, the withholding of access to food, fuel, electricity and water, and the destruction of the only exit from Gaza that isn’t controlled by the State of Israel- the Rafah border.
“Especially with this context in mind, the news coming out of Israel and Palestine is deeply concerning. For 75 years, violence and retaliation rooted in settler colonialism have taken the lives of far too many innocent people. I call for an immediate ceasefire and de-escalation. We must look to the solution to this endless cycle of death and destruction: end all occupation of Palestinian land and end apartheid. Canada must hold true to its history of peacemaking, and refrain from military intervention. My heart genuinely goes out to all those impacted by this on-going violence.”
Shortly after the statement was posted, Ontario NDP leader Marit Stiles issued remarks in response, declaring that Jama’s comments “do not reflect our Party’s position…was not approved by our Caucus.” Stiles’ statement said that she had asked Jama to retract the statement and ”state clearly that she decries any violence against both Israeli and Palestinian people and that she agrees with the federal NDPs stance.”
Ontario’s Conservative premier Doug Ford and the interim leader of the Ontario Liberals, John Fraser, soon after called for Jama to be expelled from the Ontario NDP Caucus. Premier Ford also specifically called for Jama to resign, claiming that she publicly supported the violation and murder of Israeli civilians. This is a shocking and egregious lie.
Sarah Jama, a disabled, Black, and Muslim woman, has been repeatedly targeted by racists and right-wing extremists for her bold public stances in support of material social justice and equity. Among those targeting her are extreme right-wing pro-Israel advocacy groups, who argue that any criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic. In fact, it is the act of equating the political state of Israel with all Jewish people, or with the religion of Judaism, that is itself anti-Semitic.
Jama’s statement factual
Everything in Jama’s statement is factually accurate. The people of Palestine have been subjected to horrific brutality for decades. The state of Israel has carried out its project of ethnic cleansing and colonization with the financial and political support of the US, Canada, and other Western nations. The UN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the major Israeli human rights group B’Tselem have all determined the situation imposed upon Palestinians to be the crime of apartheid. However, neither the criticisms of Jama’s statement nor the reporting on it have engaged with or even acknowledged these facts.
In the days following the attack, Israel has openly declared its intent to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. In announcing Israel’s military response, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated, “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.” After declaring that “Israel is at war.” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared a video of Israeli aircraft bombing neighbourhoods in Gaza on Twitter. Israel has since followed through on this, prohibiting all food, water, power, medical supplies, or aid of any kind from entering Gaza. This is, by definition, collective punishment – a war crime. Human Rights Watch has confirmed that Israel is deploying incendiary ‘white phosphorus’ munitions in Gaza and Lebanon – an illegal weapon, and one that Israel has used before. All of these actions are being actively supported and condoned by political leaders in the West, including Canada and the United States.
None of these facts lessened the pressure on Jama. Ultimately, she responded the following day, October 11, with two tweets attached to her initial statement. The tweets read: “To be clear, I unequivocally condemn the terrorism by Hamas on thousands of Israeli civilians. I also believe that Israel’s bombardment and siege on civilians in Gaza, as was also noted by the United Nations, is wrong. As a member of the Ontario NDP caucus, I stand by the position of our federal party, and believe that violence against civilians is never justified, and that there is no military solution to this conflict.”
Endorsing ethnic-cleansing of Palestinians status quo in Canadian politics
The day before, on Tuesday, October 10, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow – celebrated by many upon being elected as a win for the left – tweeted her condolences to the families of those murdered or kidnapped by Hamas, and to Jewish communities in Toronto. She also included in the tweet that Toronto Police had no information suggesting Jewish communities in Toronto were under threat. Chow followed this tweet shortly after with another acknowledging “Palestinian pain and severe loss of life,” but was seemingly pressured into deleting it.
Hamas obviously does not operate in Toronto, and so the Tweet can only express the profanely racist sentiment that all Arabs are, at some level, a danger to their Jewish neighbours. Chow also condemned the pro-Palestine rally and march held the same day, suggesting that the rally was in support of Hamas’ brutal murder of Israeli civilians. Again, to equate all Palestinians and all support for the people of Palestine with the actions of Hamas is fundamentally, inescapably racist.
In Canada, it is forbidden to recognize the reality of Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing in Palestine. It is forbidden as well to report on it, as none of the country’s major journalistic outlets have asked the Trudeau government to justify their refusal to accept these findings. The fact that 86 percent of Israelis blame Netanyahu and the Israeli government for the attack by Hamas seems incapable of penetrating this dome of unreality. On October 9, Haaretz, a prominent English-language Israeli news outlet, published a piece by Israeli journalist and author Gideon Levy entitled “Israel Can’t Imprison Two MIllion Gazans Without Paying a Cruel Price.” It is difficult to imagine such a piece running in The Globe and Mail, or that argument being permitted on CBC.
As Israel carries out war crimes at a shocking and escalating scale, atop the decades-long crime of apartheid imposed upon the Palestinian people, Canadian politicians are not asked or expected to condemn Israel’s egregious, unlawful and racist actions. Canadian politicians are not asked or expected to condemn Israel’s ongoing project of colonization and ethnic cleansing of Palestine – a project that has now been in operation for 75 years, since the Nakba of 1948. Canadian politicians are not asked to engage with the fact that the Israeli government literally provided political and material support to Hamas in its early years as a means of undercutting the secular Palestine Liberation Organization. In 2019, Netanyahu himself told members of his far-right Likud party, “anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas. This is part of our strategy – to isolate the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in the West Bank.”
Not only do Canadian politicians fail to condemn these actions, but the Canadian government continues to actively support and profit from the ongoing catastrophe of inhumanity imposed upon the Palestinian people with both their official statements, foreign policy, arms sales, and UN votes.
Opposing war crimes a liability in Canadian politics
The Gaza Strip holds roughly 2.3 million people, half of them under the age of 18. There is no air force. There are no bomb shelters. At least 97 percent of the water available is contaminated and unfit for consumption. The unemployment rate is nearly 50 percent, and even higher for young people. More than 80 percent of the population lives in poverty. Prior to the siege, Palestinians in Gaza only had access to a few hours of electricity per day.
Now, Israel is prohibiting anything necessary for human survival from entering Gaza while dropping thousands of bombs each day on one of the most densely populated places in the world, one frequently called ‘the world’s largest open-air prison.’ Medical workers and UN staff have been killed in the bombing. Apartment buildings and neighbourhoods have been leveled, entire families wiped out. Israeli forces are amassing hundreds of thousands of troops for a ground invasion. The death toll will be unthinkable. All of this has been tacitly or explicitly endorsed by politicians in the US, UK, and Canada – all of whom sell weapons, military vehicles, and munitions to Israel.
Recognizing and opposing war crimes and crimes against humanity is a liability in Canadian politics, and in Western politics more generally. For acknowledging reality and calling for a ceasefire, Sarah Jama is attacked with heinous and disgusting lies, abandoned by her party and its leader, and targeted by the Premier of the province. As a customer of Canada’s arms industry, and an ally to the broader project of Eurocolonial dominance in the world, the Canadian government is both politically and financially invested in Israeli war crimes and apartheid. By product of government policy, it is in Canada’s interest for Israel to be permitted to commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide. It is not in Canada’s interest for Palestinians to have rights, or for Palestine to exist. Fundamentally, it is not in Canada’s interest for Palestinians to exist either.
The vast majority of those who make up Canadian politics and media lack both the moral courage and human decency to be honest and serious about what is happening, and has been happening for 75 years. Sarah Jama does not. I am proud to stand in solidarity with her, and I am proud to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine – who will know liberation.
Did you like this article? Help us produce more like it by donating $1, $2, or $5. Donate