Once upon a time progressive politics were about progress – relieving poverty, creating jobs and ensuring universal health care. Now you can favour the whole social welfare program and still be labelled a rightwing neo-con. Why? Because these days, being progressive means looking at America and Israel as the enemy.
Nowhere is this change more apparent than in the New Democratic Party’s flip-flops on the United Nations’ Durban II conference. Billed as an anti-racism conference, Durban I turned into an antisemitic circus. With luminaries of repression such as Libya and Iran organizing the conference, Durban II promises to be even worse. Our Conservative government declared Canada will have nothing to do with it. To their credit, the Liberals concurred and so did the NDP – at first. Then activists within the NDP – the people who stand as candidates, campaign in elections and attend party conferences – revolted.
Yes, the purpose of Durban II is to demonize Israel and that’s exactly why many in the NDP want Canada to attend. Stacy Douglas, who until recently was the NDP candidate for Scarborough-Agincourt, is a good example of the type.*
Douglas wrote an open letter to party leader Jack Layton imploring him to support Durban II. In her letter, Douglas doesn’t even pretend the conference has anything to do with countering racism around the globe. Rather, she sees Durban exclusively as an opportunity to smear Israel as an “apartheid” and “colonial” state.
Possibly, Douglas doesn’t even know that Durban II was meant to have a more legitimate purpose, as she writes that the conference “is about investigating various countries' roles in propping up [Israel’s] apartheid state practices.” (http://tinyurl.com/4wb3h2)
Douglas also supposes that Durban II, (which will be held in Geneva), is to take place in South Africa, and that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are Israeli citizens. (They’re not. That’s why they need a Palestinian state.)
Her idiocy extends to the conference’s problem with Jew-hatred. She asserts: “Some are concerned that by attending the conference they will be branded as anti-semitic.”
That’s wrong of course. At Durban I, people were distributing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other tracts more commonly found at neo-Nazi book fairs. Durban II promises to feature similar open Jew-hatred. That’s why Canada won’t attend – we don’t want to hold hands with racists. But for Douglas, it seems, if they loathe Israel, that’s good enough for her.
The NDP has a nasty history of anti-Israel invective. In 2002, at the height of the Palestinian terror war against Israel, Svend Robinson, then the NDP foreign policy critic, travelled to the West Bank to show his solidarity with that old murderer, Yasser Arafat.
For her part, Alexa McDonough, the previous leader of the NDP, accused Israel of “terrorism” and smeared it with the “apartheid” label.
Sid Ryan is another prominent Dipper, having run for the NDP in three provincial and two federal election campaigns. Even more importantly for the NDP, Ryan leads the Ontario wing of Canadian Union of Public Employees, the country’s largest union. Ryan may also be Canada’s most promiment Israel-basher. In 2006, he led CUPE, Ontario, to become one of the few organizations in Canada to pass an anti-Israel boycott motion (see: http://tinyurl.com/f6v7e).
In Canada’s just announced federal election, the NDP is running Samira Laouni as its candidate for the Montreal riding of Bourassa. Laouni works with the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC), an organization that calls on Canada to remove Hezbollah and Hamas from our list of terrorist organizations. The CIC’s stand is perfectly understandable, given that the organization’s president, Mohammed Elmasry, has in the past endorsed terrorism, saying that all Israelis over the age of 18 are legitimate targets.
The president of Laouni’s riding association was Hayder Moussa. The National Post reports that Moussa is also vice-president of the Association des Jeunes Libanais Museulmans de Montreal, an organization that plays Hezbollah’s war anthem on its web site. According to the National Post, Moussa was asked to resign from his position with the NDP “after the party learned of a controversial poem he had written, in which he was accused of labelling non-Muslim women as promiscuous drunks.” (http://tinyurl.com/498gs4)
Given the prevalence of anti-Israel elements in the NDP, it’s no surprise that the party reversed itself and came out in favour of Canada attending Durban II.“I’m encouraged they finally saw the light,” said Mohamed Boudjenane, executive director of the Canadian Arab Federation and a former NDP candidate (http://tinyurl.com/5yqyx4).
But then eight NDP members of parliament, including deputy leader Thomas Mulcair, staged a counter-revolt and forced party leader Jack Layton to reverse course once more.
The NDP’s latest official stance is that Canada should participate in Durban II, but only if the UN can guarantee that antisemitism won’t be tolerated at the conference. Of course, with Iran helping to plan the conference, no such guarantee can be forthcoming. And in articulating the NDP’s new position, Jack Layton said nothing about the certainty that one of Durban’s main purposes will be to vilify Israel. Why not?
Certainly, some Dippers understand that, like Canada, Israel is a liberal democracy and a force for progress in the world. Unfortunately, a majority of NDP activists see Israel as Satan incarnate.
Consider the resolution passed at the 2006 NDP national convention damning Israel’s actions during the Second Lebanon War. Beyond condemning Israel, the resolution supported Hezbollah’s pretext for war, calling on Israel to immediately quit the Sheba Farms area (which Hezbollah claims for Lebanon, though Israel captured the territory from Syria when Syria invaded Israel in 1967). Passing over Hezbollah’s history of murdering on order from Iran, the NDP resolution touted Hezbollah as a legitimate political organization and called for it to have equal standing with the legal government of Lebanon at a peace conference.
According to the Globe and Mail, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, NDP MP for Winnipeg North, asked: “Is it not important to recognize that Hezbollah is also a terrorist organization?” (http://tinyurl.com/3os257). Other delegates responded with boos, and 90 per cent of them voted for the resolution.
We’ll never see Jack Layton object to Durban II on the grounds that its purpose is to demonize Israel. He can’t. For 90 per cent of NDP activists, opposing the only democracy in the Middle East is what being “progressive” is all about.
The honour role - NDP MPs who forced their party to abandon its support for the antisemitic Durban II conference:
Dawn Black (New Westminster)
Dave Christopherson (Hamilton Centre)
Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre)
Brian Masse (Windsor West)
Thomas Mulcair (Outremont)
Penny Priddy (Surrey North)
Peter Stoffer (Sackville Eastern Shore)
Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North)
*Stacy Douglas stepped down from the NDP candidacy to pursue her doctorate in Britain. Simon Dougherty is the NDP candidate for Scarborough-Agincourt in the current (Oct 2008) federal election.
Other versions of this article appeared in the September 4, 2008, Jewish Tribune, a community paper published weekly by B'nai Brith Canada, and on the Engage website here. You can find a collection of my pieces on the Engage website here.