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

Under intense pressure from Muslim and First Nations leaders, B.C. Premier David Eby has removed a senior cabinet minister for saying Israel was founded on a “crappy piece of land.”

Selina Robinson will remain in the New Democratic Party caucus but has agreed to resign as minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills.

“I’ve been in meetings and on phone calls with people who were telling me they feel hurt by this and who feel alienated from our government,” Mr. Eby told reporters on Monday. He said it was a difficult decision given how important Ms. Robinson’s voice is to the Jewish community, as the most senior Jewish politician in the province. But “she screwed up. She made a really significant error. And so, we need to address the harm that was caused by that.”

The Premier initially resisted calls for Ms. Robinson’s resignation, but demands for her ouster continued to mount on the weekend, particularly with the Muslim community but also among First Nations leadership.

At issue are remarks Ms. Robinson made during a Jan. 30 online discussion hosted by B’nai Brith Canada, in which she decried the lack of understanding among younger people about the Holocaust and the origins of the state of Israel.

“They have no connection to how it started, they don’t understand it was a crappy piece of land with nothing on it – there were several hundred thousand people, but other than that it didn’t produce an economy, it couldn’t grow things, it didn’t have anything on it,” she said.

More than a dozen British Columbia mosques and Islamic associations issued a joint statement saying that no NDP MLA or candidate for the coming provincial election will be welcome until Mr. Eby fires Ms. Robinson. Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called her comments “offensive and irresponsible.”

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Early on Monday, Ms. Robinson issued a statement promising to take anti-Islamophobia training and said she now understands that her remarks contributed to Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism, and perpetuated harmful narratives of colonialism that caused pain to Indigenous communities.

“I also know that there will be those who are not willing to speak with me. I have broken the trust of many, including friends and allies. It is fair for them to not want to engage with me, I know I will have to earn back their trust,” she wrote.

But within hours, it was clear that action would not assuage her critics.

The NDP caucus met in Surrey, with angry protesters outside demanding Ms. Robinson be fired. Soon after, the Premier cancelled a scheduled news conference on housing policy and instead held an afternoon media availability at his cabinet officers in Vancouver, where a handful of local police officers stood watch outside in case of another demonstration.

Nico Slobinsky, a spokesman for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said Ms. Robinson’s departure from cabinet demonstrates that Jewish leaders “are held to a different standard than non-Jewish ones.”

In a statement, Mr. Slobinsky noted that on International Holocaust Remembrance Day late last month, one of Premier Eby’s staff mistakenly posted: “We stand with the Muslim community throughout Canada on this sorrowful day of remembrance.”

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Mr. Eby apologized, saying the post should have been linked to an anniversary tribute to those killed in the deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque in 2017.

“We were asked to accept that stunning gaffe as a mistake. And we did,” Mr. Slobinsky said.

“The community is both offended and hurt by what has happened to a great ally,” he said, referring to Ms. Robinson. “Given this obvious double standard and loss of Jewish representation in cabinet, Premier David Eby must share what steps he is going to take to repair the relationship.”

Ms. Robinson was not present at the Premier’s news conference. While he spoke, she issued her second statement of the day, this time stating she was stepping aside from cabinet. “While I had previously decided not to run again in the next election, I remain committed to my constituents for the remainder of my term.”

Her comments last week angered three organizations of Palestinian-Canadian and Jewish-Canadian university professors who said the statement is offensive and historically inaccurate.

“Palestine had a thriving economy, as well as a complex network of trade and commerce which contributed to the economic vibrancy in the region prior to 1948,” states the letter from the coalition, which University of B.C. climate justice professor Naomi Klein announced she helped create. “Minister Robinson’s comments erase a colonized people’s history, perpetuating historically inaccurate and racist narratives intended to justify Israel’s colonial violence against the Palestinian people.”

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Hani Faris, a political scientist who has taught about the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at UBC for more than three decades, said the idea tracks back to the British Earl of Shaftesbury’s description of the region as “a land without people to a people without a land,” which was later used by the nascent Zionist movement in the late 19th century.

Ms. Robinson perpetuated a theory that the Zionist movement “had put forth at the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century – especially after the establishment of the state of Israel,” Dr. Faris said.

The Israel-Hamas war has been a virtual minefield for Canadian politicians, especially among progressives. The Ontario NDP expelled an MPP from its caucus in October for expressing support for Palestinians. Sarah Jama condemned Israel as an “apartheid” state for its “collective punishment” of Gazans and said that pro-peace and pro-Palestinian voices were being silenced.

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