NDP Leadership Candidate Policy Comparisons: Israel/Palestine
Feb 15, 2012

NDP Leadership Candidate Policy Comparisons: Israel/Palestine

The Israel/Palestine issue is the foreign policy issue to which politians are most expect to have a cogent answer to. It is a necessary right of passage and, for many, a litmus test for political support. Unlike many other countries and regions to which my research has not indicated extensive coverage from the NDP leadership candidates, the Israel/Palestine issue provides a wealth of commentary from the candidates over the years. It is also one of those issues where there are significant differences between the candidates and so in a contest that often tends towards homogeneity, it provides a rare opportunity to test clear disagreements between the front-runners.

My rankings are relative compared to the rest of the NDP field, not relative to other parties or the veracity of the situation.

Candidate: Peggy Nash
Relative Position: Most pro-Palestinian of the candidates

Because of its status as a litmus test issue, many offer opinions on the Israel/Palestine issue but without a deep caring or understanding of the issue. Peggy Nash has actually done legitimate legwork on the issue. In 2006, Nash traveled to Lebanon following the 2006 Israel/Lebanon war as part of the National Council on Canadian-Arab Relations. Nahsh strongly criticized the devastation wrought by the attacks believing that "the IDF had gone too far" in attacking civilians and children and decrying Canada's noncommittal reaction: "Canada could have been a voice of peace calling for a ceasefire and a negotiated agreement". Nash has called for the removal of Hezbollah from the terrorist list and believes that Hamas should be at the negotiating table. Further, Nash believes that due to Canada's pro-Israel stance in recent years that we have lost our previous status as an honest broker in the region.
Choice Quote: "[It is] up to Israel, as the much larger power, to step back [from the conflict]"

Candidate: Thomas Mulcair
Relative Position: Most pro-Israel of the candidates

There can be no mistake that Thomas Mulcair is unquestionably a partisan in the pro-Israel camp and takes a set of positions that are in many ways very similar to Stephen Harper's on this issue. Mulcair is close to the dominant pro-Israel Jewish lobby in Canada, CJPAC. He has been instrumental, as NDP deputy leader, in softening NDP criticism regarding the 2009 Gaza War and the 2010 Gaza Aid Flotilla incident, as well as the softening of the general NDP platform between 2008 and 2011 which is now devoid of policy details on this issue. Mulcair opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Perhaps most memorably, Mulcai got a lot of attention for what has been characterized as a viscous public attack against co-deputy leader Libby Davies for dubious comments she made regarding the Israel/Palestine conflict. Mulcair has stated that criticism of Israel or anti-Zionism cannot be seperated from anti-semitism.
Choice Quote: "I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances.”

Candidate: Brian Topp
Relative Position: Moderate, leans pro-Israel

Brian Topp takes a relatively balanced approach to the conflict. He has referenced (interim Liberal Leader) Bob Rae's departure from the NDP for "reasonably justified", as Topp puts it, criticisms of the NDP party's "unbalanced" pro-Palestine approach. Topp support the Layton/Dewar transition back to a view that is very supportive of both Israeli and Palestinian rights. Ultimately, he supports a peaceful two state solution, as do most of them, with hard borders. Topp has identified Yitzhak Rabin, the Nobel Peace Prize winning fifth Prime Minister of Israel, as a "personal hero" and supports his view of a peaceful two-state solution as identified in the Oslo Accords. In a blog post on the subject, there was a slight twinge of pro-Israel bias as he noted the blood on the hands of some Palestinians and the possibility of irredentists on the Palestinian side without explicitly mentioning the converse. That said, Top views both the Wall and the settlement activities as impedments to peace, and support the Palestinian bid to UN membership. It is worth noting that Topp discusses this issue quite frequently; indeed, going back over a year it is the only foreign policy topic his rabble.ca blog talks about and he spent a third of his time on Power and Politics discussing this issue.
Choice Quote: "[We need to be] speaking directly and clearly to the rights of the Israeli people to legitimacy, to security, and to freedom from terror. And to the concurrent rights of the Palestinian people to those same rights.

Candidate: Paul Dewar
Relative Position: Moderate, leans pro-Palestinian

Since taking the shadow cabinet position of Foreign Affairs critic in 2011, Paul Dewar has become the most prominent NDP face on foreign affairs issues. Dewar takes a position that is more pro-Palestinian than the extremely pro-Israel Harper government, but more egalitarian than past NDP governments - a fact endorsed by Brian Topp. The major policy that Dewar has criticized thus far of the Harper regime has been Harper's rejecting of the Palestinian's UN statehood bid, an event he supports. Dewar believes we should reinvest in the  UNWRA. Dewar decried the settlement activity as a violation of the fourth Geneva Convention. I will note that while his post-Foreign Affairs critic comments mentioned above have been widely publicized, there was less material on him from before to determine my ranking than for the other candidates on this issue.
Choice Quote: "We all want to see a two-state solution, where Palestine and Israel exist side-by-side within viable, secure and agreed upon borders."

Candidate: Nathan Cullen
Relative Position: Moderate

Cullen criticized the "disgraceful" unilateral nature of Harper "picking sides" (i.e. Israel) during the Lebanon war, calling for a neutral perspective that supports both sides and an immediate ceasefire.  Cullen supports the two state solution. Little further material available, without comments on key questions like whether he supports the UN statehood bid.
Choice Quote: "Unequivocal support for either side in the Middle East is usually a bad idea because at the end of these conflicts, both sides usually have blood on their hands"

Niki Ashton and Martin Singh are going to be ignored both because of their very low chances in the race (as measured by endorsements, fundraising, and polling) and due to their limited commentary on this issue as seen from a cursory search.

A note on my rankings:
When I say a candidate is pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, I don't mean to imply they are that to the exclusion of the others. The candidates all broadly support a peaceful, just, two-state solution. That said, particularly for the more polarizing Nash and Mulcair, the lion's share of their comments are supporting the one side or the other and are using sets of arguments that are very commonly held positions for those who are partisans on the one side or the other. When I call the others moderate, it mean this in the context of the other candidates an not in an absolute sense that depends on the veracity of the situation on the ground or compared to other parties. In general, all the candidates with the exception of Mulcair are considerably stronger at standing up for Palestinian rights than Harper.

My personal views:
Readers of this blog will know that I fall somewhere between Peggy Nash's and Brian Topp's view of the conflict opposed to Thomas Mulcair's view. One can read an overview of my position here. Brian Topp is absolutely correct that legitimacy, freedom, and terror must be extended to both sides, that we must care about and advocate for both sides, and that the end goal must be a two-state solution. However there are very genuine asymmetries on the ground, such as the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009, that must be clearly identified and condemned, as Nash so strongly does. Being egalitarian in our values and hopes is not the same as being equally critical of the policies of the two sides and demanding policies from Canada that are exactly in the middle. I worry about false equivalences with the neutrality demanded by Nathan Cullen. I am very uncomfortable with the idea with Mulcair being the NDP leader, at least on this specific issue.

In a subsequent post, I will contrast the candidates' foreign policy positions on issues outside of Israel/Palestine. 

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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Nick Fillmore said...

I am concerned that the candidates are not discussing the most important issue of our time:


Anonymous said...

I agree with Nash's status as the candidate most sympathetic to the Palestinian position in this tragic conflict. I admire her bravery to publicly make her position clear, as few other politicians of any party are willing to make that stand. She has attended and spoke at many of the peace rallies and protests I've covered over the past years as a journalist.

I think you're wrong about Nathan Cullen. The Palestinian question was put to him at a public meeting in Toronto at The Centre for Social Innovation, and while I can't recall his exact response, it was close to what you view as Nash's position, and inspired enthusiastic applause from those in the audience who agree. The rest who didn't applaud- appeared to check out those who did, and take note.

Regarding Mulcair, I would really like to know if the allegations have any substance as this is a key policy issue for me in deciding who to support for leadership. I questioned some of the reports regarding Mulcair's alleged bias towards the Israeli gov't's policies as they relate to the Palestinians, and one of his supporters sent me this response:

"It is all very exagerated and misleading. It starts with attributing a quote to Tom that he never said and gets worse from there...

For example, the Libby Davies thing is blown out of all proportion.
In 2008 she said that Israel had "occupied Palestine since 1948". Israel was of course formed under borders sanctioned by the United Nations in '48 so it is wrong to use the word "occupied" going back to then. 1967 is the pertinent date toused that term about the West Bank and other territory taken in that year's war. Tom does not question that. But to say 1948 implies that Israel was an illegitimate country from the start even within the UN sanctioned borders... This led to a firestorm which had to be corected. Jack Layton hiself publicly corrected her and so did Tom, whose riding... has many Hasidic Jews. He did this in fairly constrained language, certainly with Jack's approval. No matter how many times the record has been set straight, he is constantly met with allegations that he "viciously attacked her" or "humiliated her" ..."

bazie said...

There is a large gap between the amount of information we have (and thus the accuracy of my assessment) between Cullen and Mulcair. There is very little information on Cullen's positions and the somewhat neutral sounding quotes I found are often quite old going back to the 2006 Lebanon war. Mulcair, on the other hand, has many numerous statements and been right at the center of the debate within the NDP on Israel/Palestine affecting very significant changes in official policy. So I feel far more confident with my assessment that Muclair is the furthers on the Israel side of the candidates than that Cullen is somewhere in the middle between Nash and Mulcair.

Davidd419 said...

It's interesting I like Nash, Mulcair & Cullen... although I am a supporter of Israel I prefer Cullen's moderate view. How about we just step back & let Israel & Palestine do what they want... it's not our job to sort out their mess... if they want to blow each other up so be it! It's not our job to police the world! If they wanted us to police them they'd join Canada. In the meantime we have our OWN issues to deal with.

bazie said...

I don't much mind the view that the Israel/Palestine issue is a relatively unimportant one in the larger context of domestic Canadian politics. But I do believe we should be at least cognizant of the fact that the rhetoric and actions of the Harper government do work to enable certain actions on the ground that make real and legitimate differences in the lives and livelihoods of other people in other countries. Complete indifference to the suffering of others and the influence votes have on them should not be accepted.

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