Skip to main content
opinion

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Deputy Leader Alexandre Boulerice announce a campaign to reach out to young people and young families to understand their concerns at a news conference in Montreal on March 29, 2021.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

As it turns out, policy conventions can do a party more harm than good. Three weeks ago, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole learned that lesson the hard way. And on Saturday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh learned it as well.

The good news for Mr. Singh is that, unlike the resolution on climate change that continues to dog Mr. O’Toole, controversy over the NDP’s resolution calling for a partial boycott of Israel will fade. But it will leave a residual concern over whether the party’s criticism of Israel reveals anti-Semitism among at least some of its members.

The virtual policy convention, attended by more than 2,000 of the party faithful, adopted a number of resolutions in keeping with NDP priorities: abolishing private-sector long-term care, establishing a $20 minimum wage, increasing taxes on the wealthy, establishing permanent paid sick days.

While party leaders were able to keep several of the more foolish resolutions, such as abolishing the military, from reaching the virtual convention floor, one contentious motion that passed 80 per cent to 15 per cent called for “ending all trade and economic co-operation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine” and “suspending the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld.”

For the gazillionth time, there is nothing anti-Semitic in criticizing the State of Israel for building settlements in territory occupied during previous conflicts, or in supporting an independent Palestine state, or in urging all parties to work toward a two-state solution.

But an obsessive fixation on condemning Israel can be a mask for anti-Semitism, which is on the rise in Canada and around the world and which bedevils progressives as well as conservatives. Former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn was expelled from caucus for rejecting a report that criticized his inability to purge anti-Semitic elements from the party.

The Toronto-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs criticized NDP MP Niki Ashton’s decision to hold a virtual forum with Mr. Corbyn in March. It was also highly critical of Saturday’s resolution.

That resolution “highlights a toxic obsession with Israel to the serious detriment of the party,” CIJA said in a statement, adding “this unbalanced and obsessive concern with Israel renders the NDP irrelevant on this subject and interferes with the party’s ability to address issues that should be core to the progressive agenda.”

Speaking with reporters, Sunday afternoon, Mr. Singh said that to find a solution that will allow both Palestinians and Israelis to co-exit peacefully, “some pressure is required. And that’s something I support.”

He rejected the suggestion that this could open his party to allegations of anti-Semitism. “I have a really strong commitment to fighting anti-Semitism,” he said. “I am committed to that.”

Nonetheless, just as Mr. O’Toole was embarrassed when delegates at the Conservative convention defeated a motion acknowledging the importance of combatting climate change, even as Mr. O’Toole insisted he took the issue seriously as leader, the NDP resolution muddles the NDP’s declared opposition to anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.

The good news for Mr. Singh is that most Canadians don’t consider relations between Canada and Israel a fundamental question that could sway how they vote. Canadians do take climate change seriously, which is why Mr. O’Toole continues to take flak from the Liberals on the issue.

Mr. Singh is hoping that voters will embrace an NDP that successfully pushed the Liberals to increase support for the unemployed and for workers at risk during the opening weeks of the pandemic. (They did push, but the government was also rethinking its approach at the same time.)

“The Liberals like to take credit; New Democrats like to get results,” he maintained in his speech to delegates, Sunday, during which he pounded the themes the NDP will pound through the next election: the need for new wealth taxes, an end to for-profit long-term care and financial help for students.

But the delegates at the NDP convention did Mr. Singh no favours by hanging an Israel boycott resolution around his neck. And however stoically he defended that resolution, Mr. Singh must know it too.

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.