TORONTO — When it comes to the Middle East, Jack Layton seems to be trying to balance his new role as leader of the official Opposition with calls from his party’s hardliners to sanction Israel.
In early June, the New Democratic Party leader met with Israeli Ambassador Miriam Ziv to clarify his party’s stance on the latest Gaza flotilla, the peace process and other controversial issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Earlier this week, I met with [Ziv] and urged the government of Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza. I also indicated that it was not New Democrat policy to support the flotilla, but reiterated [our] concern for the safety of protesters and urged that the utmost caution be used,” he wrote in a June 9 entry on the NDP website.
An embassy spokesperson called the meeting “productive and friendly,” adding that Layton “showed an earnest willingness to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the ambassador.”
Layton’s website commentary was perhaps a pre-emptive effort to change the impression his party is inherently anti-Israel.
At last weekend’s NDP national convention in Vancouver, a small but vocal segment of the party failed to push through motions in support of the flotilla and in favour of sanctions against Israel.
A hard-left group called the NDP Socialist Caucus spearheaded the motions. The same group also advocates boycott, divestments and sanctions against Israel, and accuses it of practising apartheid.
Earlier this month, two NDP members of Parliament, Alexandre Boulerice and Alex Atamanenko, representing the ridings of Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie and B.C. Southern Interior, respectively, were listed as supporters of the Canadian Boat to Gaza on the group’s endorsement page.
Boulerice later removed his signature after Layton announced the party does not endorse the flotilla, but members are free to do so. As of The CJN’s deadline, Atamanenko was still a signatory.
On Tuesday, NDP Senior Press Secretary Karl Bélanger, sent an e-mail to The CJN noting that none of the NDP Socialist Caucus motions were adopted at the convention.
“New Democrats recognize Israel’s legitimate security concerns regarding the smuggling of weapons into Gaza and have called for international arrangements to address these concerns,” Bélanger wrote. “The NDP has called for an end to the blockade of Gaza to alleviate the human suffering caused by the conflict. New Democrats echo the UN’s concerns about potential clashes between Israeli forces and the activists.”