Supporters of Palestinian Rights Should praise NDP’s Dramatic Policy Shift

Has a leading Canadian politician ever shifted so dramatically on a major policy issue?

Eighteen months ago, Jagmeet Singh refused to utter the word “Palestine” but on August 26 he sent out an email announcing the New Democrats’ position on Israel. It says: “We believe Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories is at the centre of the challenges facing the Palestinian and Israeli people.” It makes 13 demands of the minority Liberal government that the NDP supports in Parliament. These are:

  1. Respond to reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Israeli human rights NGOs and the United Nations and accept their recommendations to states
  2. Refer the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to the International Criminal Court
  3. Increase pressure on the Israeli government to stop its plan to annex Palestinian territory in violation of international law
  4. Condemn the construction of illegal settlements, demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, and evictions from East Jerusalem, including Sheikh Jarrah
  5. Call on Israel to end forcible displacement of villagers in Masafer Yatta
  6. Increase funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which supports Palestinian refugees
  7. Condemn Israel’s undemocratic nation-state law
  8. Condemn the Israeli government’s attacks on civil society in Israel and Palestine, including the recent designation of six Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist”
  9. Condemn the ongoing blockade of Gaza and increase Canadian humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza
  10. Condemn military detention of Palestinian children, and reaffirm support for the Convention on the Rights of the Child
  11.  Vote for Palestinian human rights at the United Nations
  12. End all trade and economic cooperation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine
  13. Suspend the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld

Emailed to a large number of anti-apartheid minded individuals, though not published on the party’s website, the message reflects a remarkable turnaround for Singh that deserves a PhD level analysis. In the lead-up to the NDP’s April 2021 convention Singh was asked about a number of widely supported resolutions regarding “Canada’s relationship to Israel and the Palestinian territory”. Instead of responding to the CBC radio interviewer’s question, the NDP leader mentioned “antisemitism” four times. Asked again about “resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians”, Singh again failed to mention Palestine or Palestinians. Instead, he talked about “increased hate crimes also against people of the Jewish faith”. Singh’s complete erasure of the long-oppressed Palestinians was stunning. But activist efforts at the party convention and a series of other factors soon shifted his position, as I detailed three months ago in “NDP policy on Palestine much improved”.

All Palestine solidarity campaigners should take heart from Singh’s shift and welcome the open panic to his 13 demands among some apartheid lobbyists. Former Conservative Senator Linda Frum — who heads the board of an organization launching its fundraising campaign next month with a conversation between Stephen Harper and George W Bush — labeled Singh’s letter “utterly depressing”.

While patting ourselves on the back for the step forward, we should also take advantage of the moment to move the struggle against apartheid forward. NDP MPs Randall Garrison, Lisa Marie Barron, Gord Johns and Bonita Zarrillo are all listed on the website of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group. Garrison is vice-chair of a group promoting “greater friendship” and “further co-operation” between Canada and Israel.

It is contradictory for a party to participate in a group promoting “co-operation” with Israel while criticizing Canada’s contribution to Israeli apartheid. Point 1 of Singh’s 13-point program is to effectively call Israel an apartheid state. Since Amnesty International published “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel system of domination and crime against humanity” in February, NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson has repeatedly asked foreign minister Melanie Joly why the Liberal government rejects Amnesty’s conclusion (Human Rights Watch, Al Haq, B’tselem and the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinians have all recently employed the apartheid description).

Four years ago I helped organize “A Call for the NDP to Withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group”. Roger Waters, Noam Chomsky, Linda McQuaig and 200 other prominent musicians, academics, trade unionists and NDP members signed the public letter. Singh immediately rejected the call. We should raise the Interparliamentary Group again. It’s time for Singh to formally disassociate the party from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group.

But first Singh and the NDP must be praised. This policy shift took courage. The inevitable attacks from partisans of Israeli apartheid must be overwhelmed by support from Canadians of conscience.

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People's History of the Canadian Military . Read other articles by Yves.