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NDP Delegates Urged to Take Tougher Stance on Israel, Palestine

Resolution at weekend convention calling for boycott of goods made in disputed territory carries political risks, say observers.

Jeremy Nuttall 15 Feb

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

Two New Democratic Party members behind a proposal to change the party’s policy on Israel say the resolution shouldn’t scare members who fear it will be used by opponents to hammer the NDP in next year’s election.

Genevieve Nevin and Jake Cohen said people upset by their resolution to ban products made in disputed Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory wouldn’t be NDP supporters in any case.

“There’s much more to gain for the people who are on the fringes of joining the NDP who just want to see this position be adopted,” Cohen said. “The people who criticize us on this position would never join the NDP anyway.”

But University of Toronto professor Nelson Wiseman said the resolution could damage the party’s chances in the 2019 election.

Both Nevin and Cohen are members of the group Independent Jewish Voices, a human rights organization with a focus on Palestinian-Israeli issues.

Their resolution aims to have the New Democrats adopt a policy calling for Israel to end its occupation of what it refers to as “Palestinian territories” and lift the Gaza blockade, which prevents aid from getting to the region.

The resolution calls for the NDP to change its policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict, including banning the importing of products made in disputed areas, and to oppose efforts in Parliament to “undermine non-violent movements seeking a just resolution.”

The NDP’s current policy on Israel essentially calls for Canada to seek peaceful co-existence in the region, including ending Israeli occupation of “Palestinian land.”

Unlike Nevin and Cohen’s resolution, the current policy doesn't propose any immediate action like banning products made in Israeli settlements.

One movement referred to as Boycott, Divest and Sanction has been met with resistance in Canada and other western nations. BDS pushes for cutting economic ties with Israel to pressure the country into granting Palestinians their “fundamental rights.”

But Nevin said her resolution has some similar aspects but is not the same as the agenda promoted by the BDS movement.

“Our resolution doesn't call for sanctions, in that way it’s different than the BDS movement,” she said. “We’re specifically targeting banning of products from the illegal settlements.”

The pair said their resolution is finding support among progressives in Israel and from a former Israeli diplomat. The list of Canadian people and organizations endorsing it include NDP MP and former leadership candidate Niki Ashton, former MP Libby Davies and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

But Wiseman, a political science professor, warned that adopting the resolution would be risky.

The party’s opponents would use it to hammer the NDP in an election, Wiseman said.

“There is growing support for the Palestinian position in Canada,” he said. “However, this resolution is far outside the mainstream of Western thinking. So it would put the NDP in this odd position.”

Resolutions are submitted to the party then go through a committee where they can be tweaked and then forwarded to panel discussions. If the resolutions pass the panel they make it to the floor for a vote and if passed become party policy.

Wiseman said if the resolution reaches the floor and is rejected, it could give NDP popularity a boost. Either way, Wiseman said, he expects the resolution to divide the party.

Former interim NDP national director Karl Belanger said he doesn’t see a need for the party to adopt a new policy on Israel. Its current approach has worked for the party, he said.

“I believe the NDP’s current official policy on Palestine and Israel is wise and should remain the policy,” Belanger said. “It allows the NDP to have a strong position when issues are arising.”

But Nevin and Cohen maintain the resolution will be a positive one for the NDP.

The recent leadership race has created an opening to talk about it, Cohen said.

“We think that our party and the Canadian public is ready for this issue to come front and centre,” he said.

NDP delegates are gathering on Ottawa for a three-day convention that begins Friday, the first since Jagmeet Singh won the party leadership.

It could go before the paragraph that starts: Resolutions are submitted to the party then go through a committee where they can be tweaked and then forwarded to panel discussions. If the resolutions pass the panel they make it to the floor for a vote and if passed become party policy.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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