The support for Palestine in the wake of Israel’s attack on Gaza continues to grow. Pictures and videos of the destruction and murder of thousands of civilians in Gaza have flooded social media, exposing the lie that the war is against Hamas. Massive demonstrations across the world and huge sit-ins in the United States led by Jewish organizations have helped dispel the myth that criticizing Israel and calling for a ceasefire is inherently antisemitic. Polls in the United States and Canada are beginning to show significant shifts away from supporting Israel as the prospect of ethnic cleansing and genocide grow.
Much of this has happened despite the efforts of traditional social democratic parties, including the NDP in Canada. Those of us who have been building Palestinian solidarity in the wake of Hamas’ attack on October 7 and Israel’s subsequent bombardment and invasion of Gaza have been frustrated with the reaction and actions of the NDP across the country.
ONDP shuts down principled statement from MPP Sarah Jama
In Ontario, then Ontario NDP Member of Provincial Parliament Sarah Jama released a statement the day after the attacks, contextualizing the events in the history of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and occupation. ONDP leader, Marit Stiles, was quick to denounce the statement, requesting that Jama apologize and remove the statement.
Although Jama did apologize, when she spoke in the legislature to a censure motion that the corruption-plagued Ford government introduced against her, she dared to mention apartheid and genocide in her remarks. Stiles proceeded to expel Jama from caucus making shady claims that she was not a team player. However, with significant backlash against the ONDP for removing Jama and the public sentiment shifting quickly, Stiles has now removed all tweets condemning Jama’s remarks and has started calling for a ceasefire.
Federal NDP calls for ceasefire, but maintains tepid approach
The federal NDP has been better although in a very tepid manner. The party’s critic for foreign affairs, Heather McPhearson, was early to call for a ceasefire but the Party also distanced itself from the growing protests.
At the federal convention held in Hamilton on October 14, a demonstration calling for the party to take a more vocal position against Israel was held outside the convention hall. Police were called (by the hosting facility, although the NDP has not condemned the use of police to disperse the action) and delegates participating had their credentials removed.
Although the federal NDP has taken the right position, it has been relatively muted. There has been no public display of NDP participation at any of the rallies or efforts to build broad public support for them. This contrasts with how Jack Layton, shortly after being elected leader in 2003, publicly announced the February 15 rally against the war in Iraq and encouraged members and supporters to participate.
Movements forcing NDP to take stronger position in support of a ceasefire
Finally, on November 1, 2023, the party issued a much stronger statement as a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau. It notes the extensive human costs to Israel’s attack on Gaza as well as the attacks of Palestinians in the West Bank by right wing Israeli settlers. It reiterates the call for a ceasefire, unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza, support for International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice investigations into the war, and a halt to arms trade with Israel. Although the NDP continues to refuse to name the system in Israel apartheid or what is going on as ethnic cleansing and genocide, this is by far the strongest statement the party has made.
Many on the left point out that the party took too long to come out this strongly and that previous calls for a ceasefire were hardly amplified. Anger toward the treatment of Sarah Jama is also projected onto the federal party, which has for the most part stayed silent on her expulsion from caucus (with the notable exception of Hamilton Centre MP Matthew Green). These are all fair criticisms but we also need to see this as a positive development.
The size of the movement for Palestine and the growing support for a ceasefire has pushed the NDP, giving them confidence to speak louder on the issue. No other major party in Canada has taken a ceasefire position and it is important that the NDP has done so. This helps the call for a ceasefire to reach an even larger section of the population.
Most socialists do not have any illusions in the NDP. We also recognize that right now the NDP are potentially able to mobilize larger forces than ourselves with the call for a ceasefire. We need to push NDP politicians further, push them to join the large demonstrations calling for a ceasefire, push them to encourage their members and networks to come out on the streets, and have them speak at these actions with no shame.
The right wing and the media have been trying to marginalize the Palestinian solidarity movement. We need to use every tool we have to push back and build a broad-based movement to end this war, end the occupation and fight for a just peace in Palestine.
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