Martin Regg Cohn: For a celebration that’s so towards discrimination, right here’s a lesson Ontario’s NDP continues to be struggling to study

The training of Ontario’s New Democrats stays a piece in progress.

As a progressive occasion, it leads the battle towards racism.

However when its personal progressives are accused of antisemitism ― and the lesser sins of insensitivity, hostility or absence of empathy ― the NDP reverts to lagging, not main.

How can New Democrats be so anti-discrimination and anti-introspection at one and the identical time?

For the occasion’s new chief, Marit Stiles, it’s proving to be a steep and bumpy studying curve.

When she took over final month, the NDP and lots of of its supporters have been nonetheless reeling ― and squirming ― over the shamelessness of an outspoken MPP on its again benches: Joel Harden had boasted bizarrely in public about his observe of confronting Canadian Jews about Israeli authorities insurance policies when canvassing door to door.

Sure, on their Canadian doorsteps. Which is thought, in variety and anti-racism circles, because the sin of viewing Jews and different non secular or racialized teams as “the opposite” ― responsible of twin loyalty and answerable for international actions on the idea of their ethnicity, religion or origin.

When the story surfaced late final 12 months, many within the occasion blustered. Harden spouted the customary shibboleths about not being antisemitic, merely anti-Israel-oppression-and-occupation.

However Harden wasn’t the one downside. The sample was changing into the issue.

Earlier in 2022, star NDP candidate Steve Parish had additionally poked Jews within the eye by stubbornly defending his resolution as mayor of Ajax to erect a road sign honouring a Nazi naval commander. Past expressing remorse for any inferred “harm,” he wouldn’t again down.

The NDP’s then-leader, Andrea Horwath, stood by him at first, proclaiming breezily if obtusely: “His values are very, very a lot the identical as my values, as NDP values.”

Till, below strain, Horwath re-evaluated these values. On second thought, she dumped Parish as a candidate.

Fortuitously for New Democrats, veteran MPP Peter Tabuns had taken over as interim chief by the point the Harden door-knocking fiasco hit the headlines (Horwath retired after the final election loss). He quietly organized for the NDP’s avowedly anti-racist caucus, which preaches variety coaching for all, to take a seat down for a refresher course of types — “Understanding the roots of antisemitism.”

Tabuns additionally requested the 2 visiting human rights consultants, Bernie Farber and Len Rudner, to ship a non-public tutorial for the offending MPP. Harden did some listening and reflecting and apologizing (which probably left his defenders speechless).

Now, Stiles has taken over from Tabuns — and finds herself main a celebration that’s nonetheless lagging. For the third time in simply over a 12 months, the occasion is embroiled in controversy over alleged antisemitism.

Sarah Jama emerged because the NDP’s star candidate on this week’s Hamilton byelection (to interchange Horwath after she give up as MPP). It additionally emerged that she had a “messy historical past” of activism, as she put it in a testy all-candidates’ debate the place she was accused of “triggering” Jews.

But Jama pointedly declined to distance herself from the slogan used at a rally by Palestinian rights teams she’d attended: “From the river to the ocean, Palestine will likely be free.”

The phrase is controversial as a result of it speaks of liberation from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea — with no Israel to talk of. It’s a slogan I heard protecting numerous rallies in Gaza and the West Financial institution after I spent 4 years because the Star’s Center East bureau chief, and whereas it’s open to interpretation, I’m undecided it interprets nicely to the streets of Hamilton or Toronto.

Mainstream Jewish groups note it “rejects the precise to self-determination for Jewish folks and requires the destruction of Israel. That is hateful towards the Jewish group,” as Ottawa-based CIJA described a previous incident at Toronto colleges.

Jama dismissed numerous allegations of antisemitism and antipathy to Israel, arguing that critics shouldn’t “conflate” the 2. Whereas most Canadian Jews perceive the excellence, the “conflation” defence is commonly used to camouflage an obsession with Israel that speaks volumes.

Many Jews at house and overseas are more and more essential of Israel’s transgressions — it’s all about context — with out being defensive. What’s indefensible is that the candidate was disinclined to make clear.

Oddly for a politician who preaches transparency, Jama refused to be interviewed by main media — together with the Star, The Globe and Mail and The Canadian Press — within the days earlier than the vote. Revealingly, earlier than Jama ran for the occasion nomination final 12 months, her social media tracks have been scrubbed of any offending tweets or posts.

We might by no means know what she didn’t need us to see, however a couple of glimpses of her previous activism escaped the sanitization train. A weird video clip reveals her making “wild conspiratorial accusations,” in response to Michael Levitt, head of the Buddies of Simon Wiesenthal Heart:

“It’s superb that, you realize, Israel’s illegitimate,” Jama railed at a Nathan Phillips Sq. protest. “The identical folks will proceed to fund the killing of individuals right here domestically and globally.”

The identical folks? Which individuals, exactly?

This was an excessive amount of for Stiles. After defending her candidate for days, she presided over yet one more NDP apology.

“I apologize for my feedback which have been dangerous,” Jama said in a written statement, utilizing new phrasing: “Jewish folks should really feel secure, and may by no means be focused due to their religion or their tradition.”

As a human rights activist, she’d at all times insisted she wasn’t antisemitic, merely combating for the rights of teams focused for hate. But she had not beforehand solid herself as a champion of Jews, who’ve traditionally been closely focused for hate in Canada — a incontrovertible fact that’s forgotten by among the most righteous human rights advocates.

For New Democrats, Jama’s byelection victory Thursday ought to have been a day of celebration, not trepidation. However as Stiles welcomes a brand new member of caucus, the rookie chief have to be pondering exhausting about her occasion’s persevering with training on antisemitism.

Martin Regg Cohn is a Toronto-based columnist specializing in Ontario politics and worldwide affairs for the Star. Observe him on Twitter: @reggcohn


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