Layton backtracks on UN racism conference; Senior NDP MPs fear anti-Israeli tone at Durban 2
Tue 24 Jun 2008
Byline: John Ivison
OTTAWA – An internal caucus revolt has forced NDP leader Jack Layton to revise his party’s position for a second time on Canada’s participation at the United Nations conference on racism, to be held in Geneva next year.
A delegation of eight angry MPs told Mr. Layton the NDP’s call for Canada to take part in an event critics fear will degenerate into an anti-Semitic hatefest risks alienating the party’s traditional blue-collar voting base.
The NDP initially supported the Conservative government’s boycott of the event, dubbed Durban 2 after its predecessor in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. The first conference ended in acrimony after a number of resolutions critical of Israel were adopted.
The NDP position shifted after Mr. Layton received assurances from UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour that there would be no repeat of Durban 1 at next year’s event. The new position was hailed by Muslim groups and roundly criticized by Jewish organizations, who suggested the revised decision was a cynical ploy to win Muslim votes.
However, opposition from a group of senior NDP MPs, including deputy leader Thomas Mulcair and Winnipeg MP Pat Martin, has forced Mr. Layton to backpedal. "It caused an uproar. A number of us went apes–t," said one MP.
The party is set to release a third position on Durban 2 in the next few days, in which it says Canada should not go unless it receives ironclad guarantees the conference will not become "hateful, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic." "We cannot sit idly by and condone what happened in 2001, nor can we abandon international anti-racism work," said Brad Lavigne, the NDP’s director of communications.
"Jack Layton is always looking for solutions when there’s an impasse. In this case, he suggests we set out the guarantees Canada would need to see Canada participate. We must denounce the anti-Semitism from the first conference and set clear conditions that it never happen again."
Mr. Mulcair, whose wife is Jewish, did not return calls but he is understood to have been extremely upset with the decision to advocate Canada attend Durban 2, arguing that he would lose his Montreal riding of Outremont at the next election unless the position was reversed.
It is also understood there is discomfort in caucus with the candidacy of Samira Laouni, a Moroccan with a doctorate in international economics from the Sorbonne in Paris, who is running for the NDP in the Montreal riding of Bourassa. Ms. Laouni is Quebec project manager for the Canadian Islamic Congress, an organization that deems Israel to be an "apartheid regime" guilty of genocidal crimes and calls for the Canadian government to remove Hezbollah and Hamas from a list of designated terrorist organizations.
Her riding association president until recently was Hayder Moussa, who is also vice-president of the Association des Jeunes Libanais Museulmans de Montreal. The association’s Web site has links to a number of radical Shiite ayatollahs, including Hezbollah’s spiritual leader, Sayed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.
The Web site has also featured the Hezbollah war anthem Ya Ashraf An Na ( United We Stand), which calls on Muslims to fight the tyrant because victory is promised by God. Mr. Lavigne said Mr. Moussa was asked to resign from his position with the NDP some weeks ago after the party learned of a controversial poem he had written, in which he was accused of labelling non-Muslim women as promiscuous drunks.
Neither Ms. Laouni nor Mr. Moussa could be reached for comment yesterday. Mr. Martin said he is satisfied that a compromise has been reached on the Durban issue but says he remains concerned the party is abandoning its base in the search for votes.
"I’m very pro-Israel and I can’t understand how we’ve got offside on this subject. "We just seem to gain some credibility and then we do something goofy," he said. Other MPs who are said to have backed the call for Mr. Layton to think again include Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Dave Christopherson, Brian Masse, Peter Stoffer, Dawn Black and Penny Priddy.
Mr. Layton is said to be enthusiastic about luring Muslim voters, alienated by the Liberal party’s support for the extension of Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan and the staunch pro-Israel position of Bob Rae, the new foreign affairs critic. But there are growing concerns from some veteran New Democrats that the party’s trawl for new votes is importing views that are antithetical to the NDP’s traditional positions.
One MP said the party was in danger of being "hijacked."