Stand up to the Israel Lobby: An Open Letter to the B.C. NDP

In February, former BC cabinet minister Selina Robinson was forced to resign because of her bigoted comments about Palestinians. She had repeated an old insulting and long-discredited falsehood, calling historic Palestine “a crappy piece of land with nothing on it” that had to await Israeli Jewish settlement to thrive.

This, along with a series of highly questionable social media posts by Robinson, vexed Palestinians and their supporters as well as members of BC’s Muslim community. More than a dozen mosques responded by banning NDP politicians and the party was forced to cancel a fundraiser in Surrey, home of many Muslim NDP supporters.

In addition to these transgressions, Robinson overstepped her authority as Post-Secondary Education Minister by interfering in the internal affairs of a BC college. She forced Langara College to reverse its decision to reinstate an instructor for her controversial remarks about the Gaza war, despite the fact that Langara’s decision had been made on the basis of a thorough internal investigation. In short, Ms. Robinson was waging an obsessive and irresponsible one-person campaign to shut down speech critical of Israel.

After her resignation, Robinson insisted that she had been pilloried simply because she was Jewish and levied rancorous and hurtful accusations of antisemitism against her NDP colleagues. IJV Vancouver responded to those comments.

Unfortunately, the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai Brith Canada, two organizations that are leaders of the Israel lobby in Canada, continue to promote a highly orchestrated campaign, insisting that hatred of Jews is rife in your caucus and the B.C. government. Premier Eby has responded by swearing to root out antisemitism in the public service.

Two alleged instances of antisemitism highlighted by CIJA seem to have had a major impact on the Premier. In the first, a public school teacher is said to have made students self-identify if they were Jewish. The two students who did so were ostensibly asked to explain to the entire class what Israel is doing in Gaza. In another classroom, a Jewish student who offered a different perspective from that of the teacher on the conflict in the Middle East is said to have been asked to leave the class and sit in the hallway on the grounds that they were creating a disturbance.

We would like to see the documentation of what is alleged to have occurred in these instances. If there is anything of substance to these allegations, appropriate responses should be taken by the appropriate authorities. But frankly, these instances do not pass the smell test. They reek of the pattern of manipulation that has been repeatedly used by the Israel lobby to distort events in order to provide supposed instances of antisemitism that we find highly questionable.

This pressure from Canada’s Israel lobby should ring loud alarm bells among members of the government because of a shocking precedent in which false, overblown and malicious accusations of antisemitism led to the ruin of Britain’s Labour Party. This was the “antisemitism” controversy that tore apart the party when it was under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. It is a cautionary tale for NDPers in BC and across the country.

Let’s make one thing clear: our organization is deeply concerned about the spread of real antisemitism that is occurring in society today. But the “antisemitism” that is alleged to be rampant in both the UK and British Columbia is not hatred of Jews as Jews. It is not discrimination against Jews as Jews, nor maltreatment of or denial of opportunities to Jews because they are Jews. The allegations of antisemitism being flagged by the Israel lobby are overwhelmingly instances in which those who criticize the State of Israel and its horrific treatment of the Palestinians are being smeared by Israel’s defenders for want of a substantive reply to this criticism.

The antisemitism smear has recently been applied by Israel and its supporters to anyone who supports the International Court of Justice’s finding that Israel’s actions in Gaza constitute a plausible instance of genocide. Similarly, Selina Robinson’s specious accusations of “antisemitism” against her former colleagues in her letter of resignation focus overwhelmingly on their completely legitimate defence of Palestinian human rights.

The toxic campaign that was conducted against the British Labour Party is detailed in journalist Asa Winstanley’s book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn. We urge you to become familiar with this history.

Long-time progressive Corbyn won the Labour Party leadership in 2015, generating a huge upsurge in Party membership, largely among the young. In the 2017 general election, under his leadership, Labour increased its share of the vote to 40% and gained an increase of 40 seats, the party’s biggest gain since the 1945 general election. The results reduced the ruling Conservatives to a minority government.

At that point poisonous accusations of antisemitism were unleashed by the Israel lobby in Britain to do what ordinary politics had failed to do. Jeremy Corbyn’s record as an opponent of all kinds of racism, including antisemitism, is exemplary. But because he was a longtime supporter of Palestinian rights and critical of their mistreatment at the hands of Israel, he was attacked by Israel and its Zionist supporters for being antisemitic. Reeling from their relentless attacks, Corbyn made the mistake of trying to appease his accusers, promising to find and “root out” the non-existent hostility to Jews that they insisted was rampant in the Labour Party. Despite the fact that Corbyn was overwhelmingly exonerated by a Labour Party inquiry, his tormentors persisted in their baseless allegations. They distorted everything he did so that it was seen through the lens of their accusations of antisemitism.

All this came to a head when pro-Israel Jewish institutions and pro-Israel Labour MPs who rejected Corbyn’s leadership deployed the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism against him. (It is no coincidence that seven of eleven examples of antisemitism appended to the IHRA Definition relate to criticism of Israel.)

Investigations by Al Jazeera revealed that all this was part of the blatant interference in Labour Party affairs on the part of Israel and Britain’s Israel lobby. Ultimately Corbyn lost the 2019 election and resigned. As intended, the slanderous accusations of antisemitism had done their job.

In conclusion, we urge the British Columbia NDP not to succumb to pressure from those whose purpose is to silence legitimate criticism of Israel. Our organization is among those that intend to continue criticizing Israel’s behaviour until the slaughter in Gaza is ended and the longstanding injustices against the Palestinian people are brought to an end. Trying to appease these malevolent accusers can only increase your vulnerability to the kind of smear campaign that was waged against the Labour Party in the UK. •

Yours truly,
Sid Shniad
On behalf of the Vancouver Chapter Executive
Independent Jewish Voices

Sid Shniad is a social justice activist and member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada.