New Liberal MP Jenica Atwin has changed her position on Israel to more closely align with her new party, less than a week after she said defecting from the Greens would not change her position on the issue.
Rookie Green Party Leader Annamie Paul is being blamed for the Fredericton MP’s floor crossing, which cut the Green caucus down to two MPs and lost them their only member outside of British Columbia. Ms. Paul now faces a challenge to her position from the Quebec wing of the party.
Former leader Elizabeth May said Monday she would not publicly state her position on Ms. Paul’s future, but she urged the new Leader to make amends with Ms. Atwin and bring her back to the Green fold.
The Liberals are also taking heat for welcoming into their caucus an MP who openly espoused anti-Israel views.
On Monday, Ms. Atwin distanced herself from her previous comments on Israel.
“Palestinians are suffering. Israelis are also suffering as well as their loved ones in Canada and around the world,” Ms. Atwin said in a statement posted to Twitter Monday. “Antisemitism is wrong. Islamophobia and racism are wrong.”
Ms. Atwin announced her defection last week at a news conference alongside veteran Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc. Mr. LeBlanc said the Liberals welcome differences of opinion and Ms. Atwin said her previous comments on Israel stand.
“I stand with Palestine! There are no two sides to this conflict, only human rights abuses! #EndApartheid,” she said in a Twitter post in May.
Since then, Jewish groups and a former Liberal MP criticized the Liberals for accepting her into the fold. In the House of Commons on Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau was asked about Ms. Atwin’s comments, and said the government is “completely against any antisemitism that would be displayed by any Canadian citizen.”
“On the question of the apartheid label, we reject it, categorically,” Mr. Garneau said on Friday.
On Monday, Ms. Atwin said she regrets if her choice of words “caused harm to those who are suffering.”
B’nai Brith Canada chief executive officer Michael Mostyn said in a statement Monday that her comments “are a positive first step, but there remains work to be done.”
Prominent Green Party activist and defeated leadership candidate Dimitri Lascaris jumped on her reversal, which the MP made four days after she said she stood by her May comments and that she planned to have “difficult conversations” with Liberals about her position on Israel.
“Progressives around the country, take note: You do not change the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party changes you,” Mr. Lascaris said on Twitter.
Ms. Atwin did not reply to an interview request on Monday and Ms. Paul was not available for comment. The Greens declined to provide a statement responding to the Quebec wing’s call for her resignation.
The Green Party’s federal council is meeting on Tuesday. For Ms. Paul to be removed, three-quarters of the council would have to agree with it, and then members would vote at a subsequent general meeting, according to the party’s constitution.
PEI Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker told The Globe and Mail he knew there was “internal strife” and he’s disappointed it “wasn’t resolved quickly or properly.”
Ms. May and B.C. Green MP Paul Manly blamed Ms. Atwin’s exit on an attack from Ms. Paul’s senior adviser, Noah Zatzman, in response to her comments on Israel. Mr. Zatzman, who has now left Ms. Paul’s office, accused unspecified Green MPs of discrimination and antisemitism. “We will work to defeat you,” he said.
Ms. Paul should apologize to Ms. Atwin and repudiate her former aide’s comments, Ms. May said.
“Losing Jenica is not something I am prepared to accept without a fight,” Ms. May said. “She is a Green – and we want her back.”
Mr. Bevan-Baker, who is also the Leader of the official opposition in PEI, said he fears what’s happened “is going to have consequences for the federal party, both immediate and perhaps longer term depending on how this plays out.”
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