Jagmeet Singh’s cowardice on Palestine sparks Canadian backlash

Close up of smiling man at a rally

Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party. (BC NDP)

On Saturday morning, I was listening to The House, the CBC’s weekly show about Canadian politics.

There was an interview with Jagmeet Singh, leader of the nominally progressive New Democratic Party. Surprisingly, given that this was the CBC, The House host Chris Hall asked Singh a question about Palestine.

It is difficult to convey in a few words the sheer cravenness of Singh’s response, so I’ve included a full transcript of the exchange below.

Hall’s question was prompted by several resolutions the NDP is expected to debate at its policy convention next weekend.

One of the resolutions, attracting many endorsements, calls for Canada to end all trade with Israeli settlements built on occupied territory, and to suspend Canada’s arms trade with Israel.

Another resolution, which is being supported by prominent Canadian Palestinian and Jewish voices, opposes the adoption of the so-called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

That misleading definition promoted by Israel and its lobby has been used to stifle criticism of Israel by falsely equating it with anti-Jewish bigotry.

Palestinians erased

What is notable is that Hall specifically asked Singh about “Canada’s relationship with Israel and the Palestinian territory.”

Singh began his reply by declaring that “The space that we’ve been occupying and I think is very important is to first of all acknowledge that anti-Semitism is on the rise, hate in general.”

He continued in that vein.

After Singh completely avoided the initial question, Hall pressed him: “Right, but what is your position on some of those resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians?”

Singh again went off on a tangent about anti-Semitism and hate crimes, never once mentioning Palestinians.

The NDP leader’s answer appeared to accept Israel lobby framing that virtually any advocacy for Palestinian rights is tantamount to an attack on Jews.

Immediately after this was broadcast, I tweeted my disgust at Singh’s answer, and compared him to Keir Starmer, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party who is busy purging supporters of Palestinian rights while bending over backwards to appease Israel lobby groups.

The tweet quickly gained traction and many NDP supporters and other commentators shared their own criticisms of Singh.

Damage control

By Saturday afternoon, Singh was in damage control mode.

“Sometimes you can miss the opportunity to fully answer a question. I missed one here,” he tweeted. “Here’s what I should have said: It’s not enough for New Democrats to just express concern about the occupation and settlements.”

Reaffirming his support for a “negotiated peace process” to achieve a two-state solution, Singh said, “We have to work with other countries to uphold international law and the human rights of Palestinians.”

He added: “We have to send a clear message that illegal occupation on Palestinian land in the West Bank isn’t acceptable, and neither are the conditions in Gaza.”

Other than the usual lip service, Singh did not specify what this “message” might be.

While some were appreciative of these clarifications, others, including Palestinian Canadian writer and activist Hammam Farah, were unimpressed.

“Frankly, Singh’s clarification isn’t good enough. And I’d urge our allies to stop thanking him for it as it only serves as a pat on the back,” Farah tweeted.

“He’s telling you he rejects sanctions. These aren’t two equal sides that won’t negotiate; it’s a colonizer that gets away with colonizing.”

“Repeating cliché statements isn’t enough,” Rana Nazzal, a Canadian Palestinian artist and activist, responded to Singh. “The NDP leadership has let Palestinians down too many times.”

“Over-the-top” appeasement

Writer Yves Engler also noted in a blog post on Sunday that Singh’s “complete erasure” of Palestinians was hardly without precedent.

“While the House interview was appalling, Singh’s anti-Palestinian record is long-standing,” Engler writes, adding that last summer the NDP leader refused to endorse a pledge supported by dozens of lawmakers to oppose Israel’s plan to annex the occupied West Bank.

And during 2019’s general election, according to Engler, the NDP leadership “blocked a half-dozen candidates from running partly or entirely because of their support for Palestinian rights.”

Balance of power

The NDP is currently propping up the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose ruling Liberal Party lacks a majority in Parliament.

This underscores that although the NDP currently has just two dozen seats in Canada’s House of Commons, it can hold the balance of power and make substantive demands of major parties.

Its policies are especially important to Canadians seeking left-wing alternatives to the neoliberal and hawkish consensus of Canada’s main parties, the Liberals and Conservatives.

Yet just like Britain’s Labour Party, the NDP under Jagmeet Singh appears to think the path to power is by erasing key differences in its stances from those of the establishment parties.

Engler considers Singh’s response to the CBC’s questions “an over-the-top bid to appease CIJA, which has been running an aggressive campaign to pressure the NDP leadership to suppress debate” about the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

CIJA is one of Canada’s leading Israel lobby groups.

But if anything, Singh’s effort to make Palestinians disappear altogether has only ensured that the debate over Canada’s support for Israel’s crimes and abuses will be sharper than ever.

Transcript: Jagmeet Singh on The House, 3 April

Listen to the segment at CBC.ca

Chris Hall: One last area that has emerged in a number of resolutions being put forward is about Canada’s relationship with Israel and the Palestinian territory. How do you plan to navigate those issues, because they are clearly controversial and not necessarily prone to finding a kind of common ground?

Jagmeet Singh: The space that we’ve been occupying and I think is very important is to first of all acknowledge that anti-Semitism is on the rise, hate in general. We’re seeing lots of increase in hate crimes generally speaking, and specifically anti-Semitism. So all New Democrats are committed to fighting anti-Semitism. That’s something really important. We’ve always been a party that’s been willing to talk about human rights and it’s important to be able to do that, but we’ll take a very strong position in acknowledging the rise of anti-Semitism and the importance of always defending human rights.

Hall: Right, but what is your position on some of those resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians?

Singh: Well, like all policy conventions, there’s going to be some healthy debate and healthy debate is important, but the principles that will guide me as leader will be to acknowledge that in this current time that we’re going through, that there is a real and urgent threat of rising hate. We’ve seen it targeting anti- – in terms of anti-Asian hate, targeting Asian people, people of Chinese descent in particular. And we know there’s been increased hate crimes also against people of the Jewish faith, so I think that has to be top of mind when we’re looking at decisions moving forward. And human rights will always be part of our party’s discussions about how we can be better champions and allies to protect the rights of people across the world.

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Given that Singh's craven performance in face of the Israel lobby. Was that “Sometimes you can miss the opportunity to fully answer a question. I missed one here,” or was that “I blurted out what the NDP machine told me to blurted out, like Justin - but then those pesky progressives weren't fooled! But it's ok! I partially answered the question, on Tweet. It's not an august organ like the Canada state-affiliated media CBC, right??"

Had the NDP either Nikki Ashton or Dimitri Lascaris, the NDP could have been stand up for BDS and Samidoun. Now Lascaris joined the Green Party and it appears the NDP machine is trying to stifle Ashton.

Ms. Ashton, I watched the conversation with Jeremy Corbyn: excellent! Steadfastness!

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This was a shockingly inept performance by Singh. In replying in such a craven manner- on his knees to Israel- rather than presenting his credentials for the premiership, he demonstrated how unqualified he is for the post. Why should voters be expected to endorse a faction nominally controlled by such a figure, when they already have two much larger parties from which to choose, led by more skilled charlatans?

It appears that in the age of identity politics we're destined to see as in the British Conservative Party, "diversity" mobilized in order to repackage the most reactionary policies. But in the case of the current NDP leadership, the goal seems to be to suppress any expression of the party's mildly progressive values. In that regard, Singh's role is more closely akin to that of Sir Keir Starmer than of the one played by Priti Patel for the UK's Tories. He's there to ensure defeat.

I now await the angry retort that Singh's refusal to address Israel's racism must be viewed through the man's personal experience of discrimination in Canada and thus his need to placate people who already despise him and continue to support apartheid. Otherwise he'll be condemned as "uppity".

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Why is the NDP leadership not supporting what the Canadian public desires relating to Palestine / Israel issues.Poles indicate that Canadians want to see justice in the Middle East .Singh is missing an opportunity to become the next prime minister of Canada with his weak and evading statements not addressing the real issues regarding a negotiated settlement .By now it should be obvious to everyone that Israel does not want a free and independent Palestine , they want to own it all and for the Palestinians to disappear .

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Everybody should realize a politician needs funds/money to continue being a politician....appeasing the Zionists under Jagmeet Singh is nothing new...he will never stand up for Palestinian rights and equality no matter how voters/citizens believes he will because they think/believe he 'understands' the concerns of Palestinians and their fight for justice under the illegal Zionist occupation. Looks can be deceiving...as actions always speak louder than empty words/promises.

Voters will have to decide between the Green Party or Justin's words/actions when it comes to Canada willing to affirm UN Resolutions against the Zionist illegal occupation of the Palestinians.

Canada's Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau is still the best party in Canada to help push the Israeli's to the table...with the US as global leader and the EU a step behind...Canada can be a nice supporting voice for the Palestinians in this context with Justin's views.

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"Dear Justin" has made his views abundantly clear: Freeland, Champagne, Garneau, Gerald Butts, and Irwin Cotler, drones, anti-ICC; the list goes on and on. Just search in the EI. There is nothing "nice" about the Liberal Party "in this context with Justin's views".

With Singh at the helm, the only party of Canada stands up for Palestine (and against NATO) is the Green Party.

I say that as a rapidly disgusted former NDP member. First Layton (threw the party into Christian Zionist Harper's bosom), then Mulcair erased Socialism and slipped into the "Blue and White", but now Singh was too much ... Today, the NDP is the Liberal Party painted orange (or is that Blue and White?)

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Dear Peter,

The catch-22 of voting in Canada....vote with your 'heart' or vote common-sense in relations to advancing Palestinian rights against the Zionist occupiers. The CPC are dead set in their support for Zionism....The NDP under Ed Broadbent way back when would be considered "Pro-Palestinian",with these resolutions on the table the true colours of the NDP will becoming clearer....the Zionists have them by the coattails and are trying very hard to slowly rein them in....The Green Party needs to work harder to take voters/supporters away from the NDP and become the 'new' NDP in Canada.....better 'social policies' will help...The LPC will always straddle the fine line of trying to be 'friends' to both the Pro-Palestinian voters and the Pro-Israeli voters....they do just enough to pass those tests....if you believe the GP will form the next gov't in Ottawa then place your hard-earned vote with their candidate in your riding....I do not believe they are ready to lead the Nation. Thanks.

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We must call a spade a spade. Zionists are INVADERS who intend to occupy the whole of Palestine and eject anyone who disagrees with their racist ideology. They have the bare faced arrogance to demand that the world acknowledges THEIR suffering and ignores the atrocities they inflict on the indigenous population. It astonishes me that Palestinians are so magnanimous despite the way they've been brutalised by the Zionists.

By his failure to condemn Israeli racism, Jagmeet Singh is giving them the green light to carry on with their persecution of Palestinians

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.