The first morning of the NDP’s federal convention in Ottawa featured a showdown pitting high profile members of the party’s caucus against a significant part of its grassroots base. At stake was whether a resolution on Palestine would make it on to the weekend’s formal policy agenda. After a tense session and a close vote, the resolution won’t see the light of day at this convention. The organizers behind this latest push for the NDP to take a stronger stance on Palestine are disappointed but undaunted, telling Ricochet that they’re hopeful for change and won’t give up the fight.
“It shows the disconnect between the grassroots and the more establishment NDP folks,” Geneviève Nevin, a delegate from Victoria, told Ricochet by phone shortly after the vote in this morning’s convention session which saw a motion to prioritize the Palestine resolution defeated 200 to 189.
“There’s a generational divide on this issue,” Nevin added, noting that a number of senior caucus members, including her own MP Murray Rankin, voted against prioritizing the resolution.
Broad support, low priority
The resolution sought to expand on the NDP’s existing Mideast policy, calling for support of efforts to ban “settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.” NDP policy, and indeed even official Canadian foreign policy, is opposed to Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank.
The resolution, which had the support of 28 Electoral District Associations, the Young New Democrats of Canada, a number of current and former MPs, also included a call to oppose “parliamentary efforts to undermine non-violent movements seeking a just resolution” — a clear reference to attempts to criminalize and suppress the right to organize boycott and divestment movements targeting Israeli government policies.
The resolution was given low prioritization by the party's pre-convention committee.
“There are very concerning structural problems in the way prioritization occurs,” Yazan Khader told Ricochet, explaining the somewhat fraught process by which members have a chance to jockey to get their issues squeezed into the limited time for policy debate at convention. “Our resolution and the free tuition resolution prioritization votes were happening simultaneously at 8:45 a.m. this morning,” explained Khader.
“We’re overwhelming disappointed at this whole process of prioritization,” said Nevin.
Regardless of its broad grassroots support and its careful language proposing only a limited boycott, as opposed to more comprehensive calls to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, the Palestine resolution faced a well-organized effort to keep it off the NDP convention floor. Party staffers and MPs, including foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière, were among those jamming the room this morning to vote to keep it off the agenda. It’s not an unfamiliar dynamic: in 2011, for example, at the NDP’s federal convention in Vancouver, MPs and senior staffers packed the room to keep a resolution supporting the Canadian Boat to Gaza off the convention floor.
The door is open
Despite losing the vote, however, the organizers behind the Palestine resolution remained optimistic and determined.
“There is movement in the NDP on this issue. We think the door is open for a more progressive stance on this issue,” said Jake Cohen, a delegate from Quebec.
“The fact we nearly passed this is virtually unheard of and is a victory of sorts. We’ve gained a lot of momentum and we’re not going to stop,” said Nevin.
The pitched debate over the Palestine resolution highlights the internal contradictions facing the NDP. New leader Jagmeet Singh would be wise not to ignore the members, delegates, and supporters behind the push for this resolution. As Jeremy Corbyn has shown in the UK, principled stances on foreign policy can help fuel electoral success and membership engagement.
“We are optimistic that those who are young see through the empty talk, and are brave and willing to take a stand,” said Khader. “That is the principled stance of this generation. To ignore that is not just a problem politically, but it’s a problem electorally now too.”