As the people of Gaza continue to face an unrelenting military assault, the calls for a ceasefire are growing. In the past week, the demand for a ceasefire has been building with labour unions, faith groups, and civil society. Pressure from these groups has forced elected officials to also take up the call for a ceasefire. Despite initially taking a position of unconditional support for Israel, the federal NDP and some of its provincial counterparts, including the Ontario NDP (ONDP), are now calling for the Canadian government to officially call for a ceasefire.
The work of Palestinian solidarity activists in labour unions, faith organizations, and communities, have helped build the confidence of institutions and elected officials to make the call for a ceasefire. Unfortunately, the Ontario NDP decision this week to expel Sarah Jama from caucus has weakened those efforts and bolsters right-wing attempts to shut down free speech on Palestinian solidarity.
Sarah Jama first elected official to call for ceasefire.
On October 10, Sarah Jama, Member of Provincial Parliament for Hamilton Centre and then ONDP caucus member, released a statement titled “A call for an immediate ceasefire.” In the statement, she called for a ceasefire and de-escalation and rightfully, identified the root of the violence as Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian land and the apartheid Palestinians face.
Jama’s statement was the first from a Canadian elected official calling for a ceasefire, a demand that now has support from dozens of elected officials across Canada.
Still, Jama faced immediate backlash, including a call from Doug Ford for her to be removed from the ONDP caucus, a demand ONDP Marit Stiles has now capitulated to.
Since Israeli bombardments began two weeks ago, Sarah Jama has steadfastly supported Palestinian liberation. Jama’s courage in naming the reality Palestinians face under Israeli occupation has been essential to building the confidence of others to push back against the full-scale support for Israel we have seen from Canada’s politicians.
On Monday, Stiles announced that Jama was removed from the ONDP caucus, claiming that Jama was not being a team player and leveraging dangerous stereotypes about Black women. In removing her from caucus, the ONDP has shifted the focus from the need to build a broad-based call for a ceasefire and to the internal dynamics within the NDP.
Expulsion bolsters Ford, undermines free speech
As Jama mentions in an address to the legislature on Monday, Doug Ford has attempted to detract from his scandal-plagued government by targeting her. Doug Ford and the Conservatives’ campaign to malign, and censure, Jama is an unprecedented attack on free speech and democratic rights.
The ONDP removal of Sarah Jama bolstered the Ford government’s attacks for expressing solidarity with Palestinian people and contributes to attempts lead by the right to stifle free speech on Palestine.
The ease with which Ford and the Conservatives were able to restrict the ability of an elected representative to speak and participate in the legislature for saying things that that the government does not agree with is distressing. This reflects the length to which Ford, and his federal counterpart Pierre Pollievre, are willing to go to be able to continue to cheerlead Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people without opposition.
These attacks on Sarah Jama are also happening in an environment where workers, students, and community members are facing reprisals for expressing solidarity with the Palestinian freedom struggle. Black and brown people are especially vulnerable to these attacks. It is no coincidence, then, that Jama, a Black, Muslim, disabled woman, has faced threats for speaking up, including being slandered by Doug Ford. Accusations of supporting terrorism waged against those supporting Palestine bring back ugly memories of the heightened Islamophobia and xenophobia that followed 9/11 and never left.
Jama must be reinstated
By expelling Jama, the ONDP leadership has decided to cower in fear at a time when decisive action and solidarity are needed. In doing so, they are abandoning the tens of thousands of workers across the province who have been taking the streets supporting Palestine in the last two weeks – including many NDP voters.
NDP members, supporters, and activisits, including members of the ONDP and Federal NDP Caucuses, former MPPs, former candidates and the Hamilton labour council, are lining up to support Jama. Many people in the NDP remember that when the party called for Canada to remove troops from Afghanistan, the right cast Jack Layton as “Taliban Jack” but, in the end, Layton and the NDP were vindicated eventually for doing the right thing by taking an anti-war stance. This is the fortitude that is required as we watch a genocide unfold each day in Gaza.
In the current moment, we urgently need everyday people to support the call for a ceasefire. The NDP could be part of building broad-based, mass support for a ceasefire, an urgent first step to stop the daily murder of hundreds of civilians in Gaza. In expelling Jama, the ONDP has made it more difficult to support this call.
But the ONDP can also change directions. Reinstating Sarah Jama immediately would be a clear message not only that we must fight together for a ceasefire, but also that attacks on free speech for Palestinian solidarity will not be tolerated.
Building the movement for a ceasefire.
On Monday, when her censure was about to be debated, Sarah Jama addressed the legislature:
Thirteen days ago, I called for an immediate ceasefire and de-escalation by the Israeli government, which had begun a horrific siege on Palestinians in Gaza. Since I made that statement, Israel has only escalated its assault on millions of Gazans. The Israeli Defence Forces have killed thousands of Palestinians, destroyed residential areas, and ordered the evacuation of at least 20 hospitals in northern Gaza. Israel is telling people who are already injured, sick, and dying in hospitals in Gaza to leave.
Since I made my statement, Israel has bombed refugee camps, UN schools, hospitals, airports & the Rafah border crossing between Gaza & Egypt. The unspeakable destruction continues, & represents collective punishment against all Gazans in retaliation for attacks by Hamas. The Ford government has nothing meaningful to say about these atrocities, and has now targeted me to distract from its own scandals.
Those of us committed to Palestinian life refuse to be distracted. I restate my call for an immediate ceasefire by Israeli forces, and for the immediate restoration of food, water, fuel, and electricity to Gaza. I applaud the many elected officials in Canada who have joined this call in recent days, and I hope even more of you will speak out. I ground my words in the realities of Israeli apartheid, and Israel’s ongoing domination and occupation of Palestinian lands. Governments and institutions in Canada are trying to use their weight to silence us. to silence workers, students, educators, and peace-loving people who dare to support Palestine.
To every person taking risks to speak up for Palestinian dignity and safety, I see you, I hear you, and I am with you.
As Jama lays out, the task for those of us committed to Palestinian life must not be distracted. We must focus on continuing to pressure the federal government to take up the call for an immediate ceasefire by Israeli forces, and for the immediate restoration of food, water, fuel, and electricity to Gaza.
Demand Sarah Jama’s reinstatement by adding your name to this open letter and this petition by Faculty 4 Palestine defending free speech on Palestine.
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