NDP boycott resolution marks loss for Israel lobby, win for democracy

The New Democratic Party endorsement of a partial boycott of Israel is not just a win for Palestinian rights and a blow to the Israel lobby, but is also a victory for grassroots democracy.

Canada’s leading social democrat and sometimes opposition faction, the New Democratic Party, passed a resolution Saturday, “Ending all trade and economic cooperation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine,” becoming Ottawa’s first major political group to endorse a partial boycott of Israel.

Over 80% of 2,000 delegates at the NDP policy convention voted in favor, 15% opposed. The measure further called for “Suspending the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld.”

A few hours after the vote CBC’s ticker reported NDP members “voted to sanction Israel over settlements.” A subsequent clip on their site read, “Would Singh make delegate resolution on sanctioning Israel an NDP position?” referencing by name party head, Jagmeet Singh. The Canadian Press’ report of “a resolution that demands Canada suspend arms dealing with Israel and halt trade with Israeli settlements passed with 80 per cent support,” received traction.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) put out a release under the churlish headline: “NDP resolution highlights an ongoing toxic obsession with Israel.” If anyone missed the point, the group condemned the party’s “toxic obsession with Israel,” “pathological preoccupation with Israel,” and “obsessive concern with Israel”–all of which it deemed “shameful.”

On Twitter Rabbi David Mivasair, an activist with Independent Jewish Voice, derided the CIJA as the “definition of hypocrisy” and jested the “Israel lobby in Canada, whose entire raison d’etre is to push Israel on us, says NDP is ‘obsessed with Israel.’”

CIJA’s reaction highlights how Israel has lost progressives and its lobby is ever more reliant on intimidating those who support Palestinian rights by insinuating they are antisemitic. More than a month before the NDP convention, the CIJA pressured party leadership to suppress a separate resolution critical of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. The definition has been subject to immense criticism from Palestinian human rights defenders for conflating Jews to and Israeli policies.

Indeed, the ferocious campaign to prevent a vote on the measure worked. The IHRA resolution never made it to the debate stage, casting a blow to the base that likely would have voted in favor.

A week ago Singh was asked on CBC’s “The House” about resolutions at the summit on “Canada’s relationship to Israel and the Palestinian territory.” Instead of responding to the question, he pivoted to antisemitism, which he mentioned four times, but refrained from discussing the matter at hand: Israel and Palestine. 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.” The interview generated a burst of criticism from the progressive base, with accusations of an anti-Palestinian bias on display.

The morning after the convention vote, Singh defended the resolution to the CBC’s chief political correspondent, Rosemary Barton, who described “your party voted overwhelmingly to slap sanctions on settlements and to ban arms sales to Israel.” Singh said it was important to “apply pressure on Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians.” His response equivocated somewhat and shied from a full endorsement. He then repeated the importance of applying “pressure” on Israel, three times.

Singh goes wherever pushed. That’s the case for most of the NDP caucus. Two days before the convention MP Charlie Angus tweeted a statement and wrote “I keep getting mentioned by some who want the NDP to oppose the international definition of anti-semitism. This is not the way to go. I support motions calling for justice for the Palestinian people. But I also remain deeply concerned about the growing threat of anti-semitism.”

There is no indication Angus ever said he backed the resolution. Critics had pointed out that in January a Conservative member of the Ontario Legislature and a top Israeli diplomat both used the IHRA definition to attack Angus for sharing a Guardian article condemning Israel for failing to administer COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians. Angus’ name was raised as an example of how the IHRA definition tramples Palestinian rights; under the framework of the IHRA definition, anyone who mentions reporting as stark as vaccine inequality is labeled antisemitic. Angus then cowardly threw his defenders under the bus for the Israel lobby.

Still, the aftermath is worth examining from the standpoint of what did move forward in favor of Palestinian rights. With most of the heat focused around the IHRA resolution, the resolution banning weapons sales and settlement purchases moved forwrad. From an activist standpoint, multi-pronged efforts have a strategic advantage.

Combined, more than 70 riding associations and groups endorsed the two resolutions. The NDP convention revealed significant popular support for Palestinian rights. Polls have shown Canadians are widely sympathetic to conditioning aid to Israel, but this marks the first time a major party adopted sanctions and boycotts in a policy platform. It’s not just a win for Palestinian rights and a blow to institutional pro-Israel lobbying, but a victory for grassroots democracy.