Throwing Palestinian activists under the bus

The Canadian Left needs to take a stand with anti-colonial resistance

Graphic Carl Bindman

Since Oct. 7, Palestinian activists have taken to the streets in Canada. As thousands of protesters have rallied across Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver each week demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, ruling parties have unsurprisingly turned a blind eye to their demands.

Most recently, some of the so-called leftist parties have followed suit with Justin Trudeau’s selective endorsement statements, leaving Palestinians in Canada on the sidelines. Just like many Western leaders and mainstream media outlets, left-wing parties in Canada have largely been unopposed to Israel’s ongoing genocide campaign, nor have they explicitly called for a ceasefire, revealing the hypocrisy underlying their policies.

In a tweet posted on Oct.10, Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) MPP Sarah Jama called for a ceasefire in Gaza, highlighting Israel’s settler colonialism in its occupation of Palestine. She was then immediately censured and removed from the party's caucus following a public statement asserting that she was “undermining their collective work and breaking the trust of her colleagues," as well as being accused of anti-semitism by none other than Ontario Premier Doug Ford on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

Beyond their capitulation to Canadian and Israeli settler-colonialism, the ONDP’s actions and statements on this matter have revealed blatant racism. According to the Toronto Star, Jama has advocated for Black and disabled communities and involved herself with Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights during her student years at McMaster University. She was condemned and punished for briefly speaking out, but the caucus members did not hesitate to step in and take over the exact same narrative in order to save face later.

In the Western world, the conception of progressive leftism mainly stems from the white liberal majority. Recent research conducted by the Pew Research Center indicates that many Americans believe U.S. institutions need overhauling “because of racial bias.” In Canada, this perception is often clouded by the country's historical celebration of multiculturalism. 

In fact, white liberals seem to think they are righteous on every issue. Their liberal views necessarily place them on the right side of history. Unlike conservatives, they are good people: they advocate for human rights and put the needs of their wonderfully diverse communities first. And in times like this, they campaign for neutrality. Even if, in the words of Elements of  Journalism’s authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, “being fair to both sides may not be fair to the truth if both sides do not, in fact, have equal weight.” 

More importantly, neutrality when it comes to settler-colonial occupation suggests siding with the oppressor. Over the years, human rights groups and international non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International have consistently condemned Israel's aggressions as apartheid in scores of official reports. Without recognition from political leaders, in particular from progressive ones, these reports lose significance and inaction gives the perpetrators total impunity.

This is especially true with the concept of resistance.  To Western liberals, resistance is viewed as many things: it should be peaceful, impartial, and restrained. The only thing resistance should not be is violent. Then, it is no longer resistance, but an act of terror (a label from which fellow whites are excluded). 

As history shows, oppressed groups have also used liberal forms of nonviolent resistance to no avail. On March 18, 2018, thousands of Palestinians took part in the Great March of Return in Gaza, which entailed peaceful gatherings and marches around the strip. As a result, the UN reported 214 were killed and over 36,100 injured from Israeli live ammunition, rubber bullets and drone strikes. 

Over the past few weeks, the ONDP has been no different from U.S. liberals, supporting double standards while falling prey to tired racism and Islamophobic tropes. The party has shown its complete disregard for Palestinian lives and demands. They have shut down one of the only political voices calling, not only for an end to this genocide, but for an end to an apartheid state built on dispossession. Through mainstream narratives similar to those of conservatives and U.S. democrats, the so-called Canadian left only succeeded in "othering" and dehumanizing Palestinians and Arabs in general, a concept expounded by Palestinian-American author Edward Said.

Following the public agitation and the removal of Jama from the caucus, party members unexpectedly showed support in defence of Gaza on X. On Oct. 25, Leader of the ONDP Marit Stiles—responsible for Jama’s removal from the caucus—called for the end of the Gaza siege, as well as for an immediate ceasefire, which she had not done in three weeks. The same day, MPP Joel Harden posted a video calling for governmental action, where the caption read “Stop the war. End the siege. Release the hostages.”

It took only a few days for the ONDP to pivot completely; abandoning its initial condemnation of one of its members for calling for a ceasefire, only to now begin advocating for it. 

Was the MPP's position truly in opposition to the party's political viewpoint from the start? Or was it the backlash they received on social media and public opinion that caused their change of heart? 

The Federal NDP has also been quiet in showing solidarity with Palestinians. It took the party almost three weeks to issue a statement. Additionally, it took pressure from Palestinian activists for the party to even demand that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau call for a ceasefire.  

Despite the party's history of progressive policies, the NDP is alienating itself further from the left by leaning ideologically towards Neoliberalism. Kicking out Jama is only the most recent example of this shift. As long as they fail to conduct a deep internal reflection on their principles as progressive parties and operate major changes in their political outlooks, they will continue to undermine their goodwill and legitimacy as viable alternatives for leftists and anticolonialists.