As of this writing, over 1,300 people have been killed by the Israeli bombardment and invasion of Gaza, most of them civilians with nowhere to run. It is, in the measured opinion of this editorial board, a humanitarian atrocity.
On this issue, the winds of change are blowing. Criticism of Israeli actions has never been more mainstream nor more common. This past week, the former deputy prime minister of the U.K., John Prescott, called Israel’s bombing of Gaza a war crime, a conclusion echoed in an open letter released by 143 experts in international law. In Latin America, traditional Israeli allies Chile and Brazil have joined Peru and Ecuador in withdrawing their envoys from Israel. Even in the U.S., public opinion is coalescing around one simple fact: nothing can justify such violence against other human beings.
Unfortunately, North America’s politicians are once again lagging behind. Even supposedly progressive US senators such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have shamed themselves by voting to support Israel’s latest invasion.
The Canadian connection
Then there’s the Canadian government. As Israel continues its spiral into a pariah state in the court of world opinion, our government has done everything short of picking up a set of pom-poms to cheer on the indiscriminate slaughter. Much has been written on the callous indifference to human life exhibited by our government, which has gone to the embarrassing lengths of repeatedly chastising United Nations officials and the UN Human Rights Council for daring to suggest that international law applies to Israel.
In Canada we have a special responsibility to condemn the violence of settler colonialism in the Middle East, given the history and ongoing colonization of Indigenous lands here. With its policy on the Middle East, the Harper government has put this country on the wrong side of history.
But who can help fix our tattered reputation on the world stage?
Justin Trudeau’s Liberals provide little opposition, as their position on Gaza is largely indistinguishable from that of the Harper government. A scant four sentences in mid-July constitute all the words that have been spilled by Trudeau on the subject.
Not wanting to be confused for a party with the freedom to stand for principle, the Greens’ president published a letter on that party’s website calling the Israeli army “the most moral of them all” and warning those who protest Israeli atrocities that their actions will bring to power a global Mullah who will ensure “synagogues are used as latrines and garbage dumps and Christians are living in constant fear.”
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe...
The NDP could be leading an “enough is enough” campaign to restore a moral compass to Canadian foreign policy. They could leave the Liberals and Conservatives alone on the Netanyahu bandwagon and condemn the slaughter of civilians in Gaza. Unfortunately, Tom Mulcair would rather muzzle his MPs than allow them to speak out on the type of moral issue that used to define New Democrats.
By all accounts Mulcair is a true believer in the myth of Israeli exceptionalism. But most members of his caucus aren’t, and the time has come for them to stand up and be counted. In this case, doing the right thing and doing the politically expedient thing are the same thing. Why isn’t the NDP doing either one?
The latest federal poll has Trudeau’s Liberals in majority territory, with 44% support. The Conservatives trail with 28%, and the NDP has sagged to its lowest point since the 2011 election with 18%. Clearly Mulcair’s official opposition strategy, imported from the Quebec Liberals, of being as inoffensive as possible until voters tire of the other guy, is not working.
When the NDP run aggressively to the centre in a bid to make themselves indistinguishable from the other parties, they lose—both the election and the moral high ground.
If voters see the NDP’s policies as a paler pink version of the Liberals', they’ll return to the familiar and vote for the more charismatic leader. That’s why taking a principled position on Palestine would not only be the right thing to do, it would also be good politics.
Canadians divided, parties united
In May of this year, just prior to the latest invasion of Gaza, a poll found public opinion evenly split in this country, with as many favouring the Palestinian side of the debate as the Israeli side. This, in spite of a corporate media landscape that overwhelmingly fails to present the Palestinian narrative. Those most likely to support Palestinian rights? They include the youngest, those in lower-income groups, Quebecers, francophones, the best educated, non-Christians and those with no religion.
This voter profile is nearly identical to the profile of NDP supporters. In other words, the NDP base, which consists of their most dedicated and engaged voters, volunteers and activists, overlaps substantially with the base of support for Palestinian rights. As if to underscore that point, the same poll found NDP voters support the Palestinian cause over the Israeli one by a ratio of three to one.
Few political parties succeed when their public positions are opposed to the deeply held beliefs of their core supporters.
By taking a position against the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians the NDP can restore its reputation as a party of principle and provide a clear differentiation between itself and the Liberals on an issue where public opinion is split, but Canada’s political parties are uniformly indifferent to Palestinian suffering.
Posterity will not be kind to those who failed to speak out against this great injustice. Fortunately the people of this country are not waiting for the political parties to get their acts together. Over the past three weeks, large rallies for Gaza have taken place in cities across the land. The size of these protests points to a growing sympathy for the Palestinian cause.
What remains to be seen is whether the politicians will find their courage and follow, but this much is certain: if the lie of Israeli exceptionalism has been like a dike against the weight of public opinion, then that dike has finally sprung a leak.