ONDP and Israeli apartheid

I abandoned social democracy a few years ago, but I often find myself wishing that social democrats could at least be proper social democrats. That means focusing more or less on issues that affect the working class, pushing for anti-neoliberal policies (rather than embracing them), fighting racism and the criminalization of the poor, and so on. It might also involve some kind of capacity for enlightened foreign policy engagement (insofar as that goes, for any Western capitalist state — although the examples of Scandinavian social democracies are not particularly heinous). So here I’m going to try and sort out some of my thought on the NDP and its particular (and peculiar) brand of social democracy, and see what folks have to say. I’ll start with the most recent incident, concerning the Ontario NDP.

On Israeli apartheid and the ONDP

When some of us call for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions we are accused of being violators of the sacred principle of academic freedom. Yet, when the legislature of Ontario passes a motion condemning the use of the term apartheid when referring to Israel — and clearly, this is an attack on Israeli Apartheid Week that occurs on campuses around the world — there is little discussion on it. The motivation of the motion itself is remarkable in attempting to circumvent debate, if only by suggesting that debate does not lend itself to debate, and therefore is not conducive to the debate that one should be having about what the correct thing to debate is, and we should not have certain debates lest we debate the improper debates and lose sight of the debate.

University presidents have already smugly released their statements about the necessity of tolerating controversial discussions in advance of IAW, and so on, and so will in all likelihood not respond directly to this absurd motion — unlike when they responded directly to the question of academic boycott of Israeli institutions. Will university presidents in Ontario respond by issuing strong statements that they are not lackeys and stooges of Ontario governments and will not stand for the censoring of Israeli Apartheid Week?

It’s not like one would expect better, but the NDP is another story.

News reports suggested that the motion was endorsed by all parties — i.e., unanimously. Featured quite prominently was NDP MPP Cheri Di Novo. Only 30 members (out of a 107-member legislature) were present and voting, but due to Di Novo’s comments, the ONDP is stuck with this vile attempt at circumventing debate.

But wait, all is well. Don’t lose your faith in the ONDP. For Andrea Horwath, the leader of the ONDP, has released an open letter in which she notes quite forcefully that “[s]ingling out activists or shutting down debate, on this or any other matter, is not constructive and is entirely unhelpful.”

I would provide a source, except that I cannot find a direct source. It’s not on the ONDP web site. It’s not on Andrea Horwath’s web site. As of this writing, it’s nowhere on the Internet except buried somewhere on Rabble and a couple of blogs.

I don’t think this is enough. It’s one thing to have a prominent MPP spout some inane invective in legislature, that gets recorded in Hansard, that gets reported in the media, and it’s quite another to release a letter to activists or to those who e-mail Horwath saying “naw we didn’t mean it.” There appears to me to be something quite opportunistic about it — being everything to everyone. Who, except those who trawl this one left-wing web site and are on some listservs (note, I didn’t get the e-mail from any of the listservs I am on) would even know that the ONDP is against this idiotic motion?

It has real repercussions for activists at Ontario universities.

What’s more, it appears that the federal parliament is getting ready to entertain a similar motion. It’s unlikely that the federal NDP will let a similar debacle unfold, but there are plenty of other debacles it’s fine with — more on which, perhaps, later.

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