When local activist Sarah Jama won the NDP nomination for the provincial by-election in Hamilton Centre, those supporting her knew that the far-right would attempt to throw as much mud at her campaign. Sarah has a long history in the city, challenging police violence, fighting against poverty, and supporting Palestinian human rights, including the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
It wasn’t long before reactionary pro-Israel voices turned to the playbook of labelling her anti-semitic for daring to show any public sympathy toward Palestinians. First, Brian Lilley (loyal mouthpiece for Doug Ford and co-founder of the far-right news outlet Rebel News) used his column in the Toronto Sun to slander Sarah for daring to support the non-violent BDS movement. Lilley used this fact and this alone as evidence of anti-semitism. Then during the all-candidates debate, Liberal Deirdre Pike opportunistically repeated the accusations from B’nai Brith. And this last weekend, the Toronto Star rehashed the same attacks going after Jama for showing any allegiance to human rights for those suffering under Israeli occupation.
Silencing pro-Palestinian voices
Although Hamilton Centre is a traditional NDP stronghold and Sarah, who has run a vibrant and grassroots campaign, is likely to win, the right-wing media and right-wing organizations like B’nai Brith focus on the race should not be surprising. Their goal is to make it impossible for any voice willing to support Palestinian causes unelectable, seen as fringe and extreme. It is the same playbook used against Jeremy Corbyn in the UK when he was leader of the British Labour Party, it is the same playbook used against Ottawa-Centre NDP MPP Joel Harden, and Toronto-St. Paul’s NDP MPP Jill Andrew. In this case, they are hoping to shame the NDP into distancing themselves and renouncing voices like Sarah’s, Jill’s and Joel’s. To their credit, the Ontario NDP has refused to do that.
As a Jewish supporter of Palestinian human rights and Sarah Jama, these attacks are especially disconcerting because the newspapers uncritically repeat accusations made by right-wing groups, like B’nai Brith, that any solidarity with Palestinians is inherently anti-semitic. These articles affirm with no evidence or support that B’nai Brith speaks for Jews when making their claims. The Jewish community is not homogenous. More and more Jews are rejecting the kind of blind loyalty to the state of Israel that B’nai Brith demands and are growing horrified at the actions of Israel as it descends further and further into a far-right colonial project willing to destroy the lives of a displaced and now occupied Palestinian people.
Reject the right, defend Jama
We need to be firm and resolute on this. Israel is a right-wing colonial state that commits gross acts against the people it occupies in the name of all Jews. It does not represent all of us and criticizing its actions is not anti-semitic. As Jama noted in her debate, we support the human rights of Palestinians and conflating that with anti-semitism is grossly dishonest.
Groups like Independent Jewish Voices are responding to these attacks, as have other anti-hate groups in Hamilton. Jama, as a Black disability rights activist for years, has been at the forefront fighting against oppression. The slander these attacks represent deserve no credence. We need defend Jama against these ugly attacks and push back against the idea that voicing support for Palestinian rights is anti-semitism. We need more voices like Jama willing to stand up for Palestinian rights and we need leaders in the NDP to be resolute in pushing back against the right-wing attack.
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