CBC News Viewpoint | Oct. 14, 2004 | More from Larry Zolf
Veteran journalist and Canadian political expert Larry Zolf is a regular contributor to CBC News Online. Larry has been a critic, reporter, producer and consultant for CBC news and current affairs since he joined the CBC in 1962. Born and raised in North End Winnipeg, the hotbed of general strikes and socialism, Larry has covered stories such as integration in Mississippi and the October Crisis in Quebec. He was one of the hosts of the CBC’s flagship current affairs television show "This Hour Has 7 Days." He is now retired.
Recently, Ontario lawyer Arif Raza sent a letter with 26 New Democrats’ signatures to party leader Jack Layton. The letter says: "We have been deeply hurt and angered by this sudden lurch toward Israel."
The basis of the attack was the Canada-Israel Committee sponsorship of a trip to Israel for two NDP MPs from Winnipeg, Pat Martin and Judy Wasylycia-Leis.
Layton, the letter charged, had fallen "under the undue influence" of the Canadian Jewish Congress, causing the party to mute criticism of Israeli policies. The letter was not answered, but the group distributed copies of it to NDP caucus members and put the text on a website.
Pat Martin’s response to the letter was that it was the "loony left " in the party trying to get its way. Ed Morgan, the president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said the letter reeked of the conspiracy theory of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The Toronto Star said the letter accused the NDP of abandoning its support for Canada’s Palestinian community. The Star said this was "one of the sharpest attacks on his leadership" since Layton became leader.
Layton was a bit flummoxed but he finally answered. He said the NDP favours two states in the Middle East, one Palestinian, one Israeli. He also said the party was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s security barrier and considered it "illegal."
"The NDP," he said, "is committed to a solution in the Middle East that reflects the rights of the Palestinian people to statehood and self-determination and also the right of Israel to statehood and security."
The letter sees Layton as some sort of sell-out of the Palestinian dream, but Layton is none of that; his stand on the Middle East is pure socialist pragmatism.
Before Layton became leader, when then NDP MP Svend Robinson openly endorsed the Palestinian cause and taunted Israeli soldiers as quasi-nazis, his hostility to Israel was palpable, but he was expressing the views of a sizable group within the party. Certainly Layton did not run for the leadership on a pro-Israel ticket.
But the pro-Arab NDP dissidents don’t really understand the significant role the Jewish community plays in Canada. Zionism is the natural air that most Canadian Jews breathe deeply. Justice Minister Irwin Cotler is a prominent Zionist. New Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella’s husband, Irving Abella, is one of the leading Zionists in Canada and a former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Their role in Canadian society cannot be underrated. They provide the stimulus for a lurch toward Israel that the Liberals and Tories have been engaged in for years. Compared to the Liberals and Tories, the NDP is truly a lurch to the Palestinian side.
Layton is far more careful. In his home riding the Arab voters easily outnumber the Jews and that vote went massively to Layton. One senses in his reply to the letter that he feels betrayed by a group he has done much for as a politician.
The NDP dissidents have got it wrong. The "lurch towards Israel" in the NDP is a phantom analysis that makes no historical sense at all. The NDP is one party that does try to be objective in the hothouse of ethnic politics.
The Jewish community has in the Canada-Israel Committee the best lobby on Parliament Hill. Their program of getting MPs to go and see Israel is a sound one. Their belief is that exposure to real Israelis in the setting of Israel is the best possible way of persuading people to become pro-Israel. Theirs is a sophisticated operation unequalled on the Hill for effectiveness. The Canadian Jewish Congress runs a close second.
One feels sorry for the poor letter writers. They raise the "undue influence" of the Canadian Jewish Congress, which makes them sound like cry-babies. Their strategy is not a sound one; attacking Layton, their best friend on the Hill, is hardly a successful stratagem.
Perhaps they lashed out against a friend because their frustration level is high. Perhaps they’ve lurched into a direction they may not have intended.