Federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair has been facing a growing backlash from sections within the NDP over his support of Israel’s most recent attack of Gaza. The Israeli government has killed nearly 2,000 Palestinians as of the writing of this article, 80 per cent of whom have been civilians.
The NDP remained silent for a full two weeks from the start of Israel’s campaign. Mulcair was silent even as four Palestinian children were murdered by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) while playing on a beach in Gaza. Inaction from the NDP on one of the most blatant expressions of imperialist aggression of our time has naturally shocked many NDP members who expected their party to stand for justice and the rights of an oppressed population.
When Mulcair and the NDP leadership finally broke their silence, a full-on backlash from significant sectors within the party emerged when Mulcair actually sided with the Israeli state. Mulcair’s statement read, “The firing of rockets by Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants at civilian populations is utterly unacceptable. Hamas is a recognized terrorist organization and Israel has the right to defend its citizens from these attacks, while doing its utmost to protect civilians.” Mulcair’s statement on Gaza is appalling. It is absolutely unacceptable for the leader of Canada’s working-class party to stand on the side of an imperialist oppressor that has systematically suffocated the Palestinians for decades, and who has now proceeded to decimate Gaza while killing thousands, all in an effort to distract from internal problems plaguing Israel. Mulcair’s statement flies in the face of traditional NDP policy, re-affirmed at countless policy conventions, which state that the party stands for the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves from Israeli occupation.
In response to this betrayal, many NDP MPs’ offices have been occupied by protesters across the country, including the office of the NDP’s Foreign Affairs critic, Paul Dewar. The group, “Voters4Gaza”, which was spontaneously created to organize these occupations, wrote a list of demands to the NDP. The group explained, “We expect better from a party claiming a tradition of social justice, human rights, and strong relationships to social movements.” They call on the NDP to, “Demand that Israel immediately stop its attack on Gaza….Condemn Israeli war crimes and responsibility for deaths in Gaza….Demand an end to Israeli Occupation of Arab Lands and the dismantling of Illegal settlements.…” Voters4Gaza is a reflection of the prevailing opinion of rank-and-file NDP members on Palestine. After all, section 4.1 (f) of the 2013 NDP Policy Book states that the NDP believes in, “…an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and an end to violence targeting civilians.”
This backlash is rapidly growing to encompass key sectors of the NDP. Under growing public pressure, several NDP politicians have taken it upon themselves to unequivocally condemn the actions of the Israeli state and call upon Israel to halt the attack on Gaza. Well-known Vancouver MP Libby Davies took to Twitter with a series of tweets that appeared to contradict Mulcair’s so-called “balanced” statement on the bombing of Gaza. The NDP’s federal youth wing, the New Democratic Youth of Canada (NDYC), published a public letter that called out the party leadership for their support of the Israeli state. The NDYC’s letter read, “As the next generation, we are destined to inherit incredible political, environmental, and logistical challenges. For us, the past 21 days have been deeply disheartening, as we now see that we are also destined to inherit a more violent world. And it isn’t only because Stephen Harper has proven himself (yet again) to be incompetent at representing Canada on the world stage but rather, also due to the hesitation from our Official Opposition when it comes to standing up for New Democratic values on this issue.” (Our emphasis) This letter reveals how ground is shifting within the NDP.
As this article goes to print, the party is being shaken with news that Sana Hassainia, the NDP MP for the riding of Verchères-Les Patriotes, has quit the federal caucus to sit as an Independent MP in Parliament. Hassainia stated, “It was not an easy decision to make, even if I have been thinking about it for months. My decision to leave the NDP was precipitated, among other things, by the party’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” She goes on to say, “To declare that we are in favour of peace in the Middle East is not a position, in fact it’s a non-position — it’s a way to avoid the issue and postpone a discussion on a topic that ‘angers’.” (CBC News, 20 Aug. 2014)
This growing pressure, both from within and outside the NDP, has forced Mulcair and the NDP leadership to partially back down from his original statement. In an op-ed piece in the Toronto Star on Aug. 10, Mulcair wrote, “New Democrats have long been committed to a policy of supporting peaceful coexistence in viable, independent states with agreed-upon borders, an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and an end to violence targeting civilians.” This is a step in the right direction; at least, the piece confesses that Palestine is under occupation. However, Mulcair’s updated position is far from where it needs to be. Repeating the same trumped-up argument from his original statement, Mulcair once again writes, “During the current conflict in Gaza, we have criticized the indiscriminate rocket fire and breaking of ceasefires by Hamas — and have been clear that Israel, like all countries, has the right to defend itself from attacks.” Mulcair is nowhere near standing in solidarity with Palestinians resisting Israeli imperialism.
As the NDP leadership gets closer to power, the greater is the pressure on them to appear to be “responsible managers” of the capitalist system and of imperialist interests abroad. This explains Mulcair’s support for Israeli imperialism, and support for the oppression of the Palestinian population. If the NDP were to support the struggle by Palestinian and Israeli workers against the Israeli state, in a struggle to overthrow Israeli imperialism, the feeling amongst the NDP establishment is that this would endanger any possibility of the NDP forming government.
In the past 18 months, the NDP has faced defeat in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Ontario. In all three cases, the NDP ran campaigns that did more to appeal to corporate Canada than the interests of their working-class base. All that this rightward turn has done is alienate the party from its supporters. When the NDP looks no different than the Liberals, why bother voting NDP? On the other hand, if the NDP were to take a principled stand against exploitation and oppression, both at home and abroad, this would enthuse workers and young people to vote for a party that stood against the pro-bosses’ agenda of the Liberals and Conservatives.
And to those who write off the NDP because of the actions of its leadership, the growing discord and backlash over Gaza reveals the tensions that exist within the party — between its leadership and its base which senses that the party is moving away from its traditional working-class values. If Mulcair and other party tops continue to move towards supporting a failed capitalist system, these tensions will only continue to grow. In this era of crisis, new disagreements will erupt in the party on issues of austerity, the environment, imperialist wars, etc. When these conflicts occur, Marxists will be there with a real alternative to capitalist barbarism — socialism.
No support for the criminal attack on Gaza!
NDP must stand in solidarity with the resistance to Israeli imperialism!