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Selina Robinson, then-Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future, speaks at an announcement in Vancouver on July 20, 2023.ETHAN CAIRNS/The Canadian Press

Premier David Eby said he was reflecting on his leadership after the “humbling” resignation of former cabinet minister Selina Robinson from the NDP, citing allegations of antisemitism in the party caucus.

But he said Thursday that he disagreed with Robinson’s “characterization” of her former colleagues, seven of whom she accused of antisemitism or antisemitic comments in a five-page single-spaced resignation letter to the NDP caucus a day earlier.

Eby said he supported all members of the caucus but personally had to contemplate why Robinson, who is Jewish, felt she had to quit rather than take her concerns to him.

“I have to accept as a leader that as a Jewish woman, with these unique experiences in our caucus, she didn’t feel safe,” he said.

“She didn’t feel safe with me to bring forward her concerns and she felt she had to resign.”

He said his caucus colleagues would also have to reflect on Robinson’s resignation. “For me it’s a message I need to examine how I work with our team,” he said.

Opposition BC United Leader Kevin Falcon called in the legislature for an independent public investigation into what he said were “stunning” allegations.

Falcon said the events leading up to and resulting in Robinson’s resignation amount to “gaslighting” by the NDP.

“The last 24 hours politically have been stunning, to say the least,” he said. “We’re talking about an individual, Selina Robinson, who is a long-term NDP member, who was a senior cabinet minister in the entire time this government has been in power until recently, making a series of allegations about systemic antisemitism within the cabinet, this caucus, the NDP party.”

B.C. Conservative Leader John Rustad demanded Eby’s resignation while Green Leader Sonia Furstenau called for efforts to bring people together.

Robinson, who is Jewish, resigned as post-secondary education minister last month after saying modern Israel was founded on “a crappy piece of land,” sparking outcry from pro-Palestinian groups that called the comments racist and Islamophobic.

She had previously said she was not going to run in the fall election, but with her caucus resignation will now sit as an Independent for the remaining few months.

Robinson’s resignation letter said the behaviour of her colleagues “broke my heart,” and referred to instances of what she called antisemitism by NDP caucus members.

She wrote of “historical antisemitism that the Jewish community has experienced from Mable (Elmore),” the NDP’s parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives.

Robinson’s letter highlighted comments attributed to Elmore in 2004, prior to her serving in the legislature, where she said in an interview, “we have vocal Zionists in our work sites and we have to battle them.”

The letter also cited remarks by Elmore that Robinson said “alarmed the (Jewish) community again of Mable’s antisemitism.” That was an apparent reference to Elmore’s remarks on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, that she used to lament the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza, saying “the deaths of thousands of civilians and thousands of children are unimaginable.”

Elmore said Thursday at the legislature she disagreed with Robinson’s allegations of antisemitism in the caucus.

“I would say that I’m committed to human rights and I would characterize that my respect for all of my caucus colleagues is that everyone across the board also shows that perspective,” she said.

Robinson’s letter says her colleagues “broke my heart” by failing to speak out against responses by Richmond-Queensborough MLA Aman Singh and Burnaby-Lougheed MLA Katrina Chen to Robinson’s call for colleagues “to stand with the Jewish community in grief and mourning,” in the days after the deadly Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel.

She says Singh and Chen replied to her e-mail to the caucus by calling for “a public statement about the plight of the Palestinians.”

“We just witnessed the slaughter, rape, mutilation and murder of 1,200 mostly Jews and two of my colleagues wanted to move quickly past what had happened and refocus government on a geopolitical conflict that has been going on for years,” she wrote.

“But it wasn’t their antisemitism that broke my heart. It was your silence to their antisemitism that hurt the most.”

In a post late Wednesday on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, Chen said that “not wanting to see more kids and people die in Gaza is not antisemitism.”

Robinson’s letter also said Jennifer Whiteside, mental health and addictions minister, had shared social media content in 2012 from an anti-Israel website.

Vancouver Island New Democrat Ronna Rae Leonard, Robinson wrote, had invited people to support a Palestinian former member of Israel’s Knesset who tried to negate the existence of Israel.

Robinson said Surrey New Democrat Jagrup Brar had quoted Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels during a speech in the legislature in 2020, while Burnaby New Democrat Janet Routledge minimized the impact of the Holocaust in the legislature, she said.

Some of her colleagues apologized for their remarks, but they left wounds, said Robinson.

“This is not the party I signed on with,” Robinson’s letter says. “It has become a party that is afraid to stand with people, people who are hurting. It is with all this in mind that I am leaving caucus to sit as an Independent. I can no longer defend the choices this government is making. Silence is not leadership. It’s cowardice.”

Robinson also said she felt she was a victim of double standards and her voice was no longer being heard within the party.

Environment Minister George Heyman, who is also Jewish, said he considered Robinson a long-time friend, but he could not agree with her allegations of antisemitism within the caucus, cabinet and party, and especially towards Elmore.

“What I am here to say is I disagree with her that our caucus members, our cabinet members are antisemitic,” he said Thursday.

NDP house leader Ravi Kahlon on Wednesday had also denied there was antisemitism in the caucus.

Eby said he spoke to Robinson hours before her announcement Wednesday and wished they could have addressed her concerns together, calling it a “missed opportunity.”

Three groups representing B.C’s Jewish community issued a letter late Wednesday saying Eby needed to “demonstrate leadership” and deal with antisemitism in his caucus, his government, and B.C. as a whole.

The open letter by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said they were “profoundly saddened” by Robinson’s departure and the treatment she said she suffered.

The letter from the Jewish groups said they have relied on “strong voices at the cabinet table to advocate” on behalf of their community, and that recent polling showed 75 per cent of B.C. residents were concerned about rising antisemitism in the province.

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