NDP deputy leader Libby Davies, left, faced calls for her resignation last week after she told a blogger she believed Israel has been occupying Palestine since 1948, the year of Israel’s independence.
Davies conducted the video interview with David Katz – editor of the CommentsFromLeftField.com blog – after speaking at an anti-Israel rally in downtown Vancouver on June 5.
In the interview, given just after speaking at the rally, Davies said she believed the occupation of Palestine began in 1948, in response to Katz’s question of whether she thought the occupation began in 1948 or 1967.
“It’s the longest occupation in the world,” she said, adding that she supports calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel.
During the interview, Davies admitted that she was unsure of her answers, saying she’s not necessarily very “knowledgeable” about the Middle East.
Katz posted the interview online shortly afterward.
In the weeks following, calls for Davies’ resignation and for her removal as the NDP’s deputy leader came from the government – Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly asked the NDP to fire Davies during question periods in the House – as well as from the opposition Liberals. She was also publicly scolded by members of her own party, notably the NDP MP for Outremont, Thomas Mulcair, who called Davies’ comments “grossly unacceptable”.
NDP Leader Jack Layton said Davies’ views are “not party policy,” but he’s given no indication he will remove her from leadership positions within the NDP.
Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC) said Davies’ views are not surprising, given her history of being “consistently hostile towards Israel… and [she] has displayed a unidimensional approach in understanding the conflict in the region.”
In a statement last week, B’nai Brith Canada also called for Davies’ removal for what it described as “outrageous remarks.”
“Layton has gone on the record… stating that her remarks are not the policy of his party. If that is the case, then [he] should take the next step and relieve Davies of her leadership positions in the party,” Frank Dimant, B’nai Brith’s executive vice-president said.
On June 11, Davies issued a written apology on her website, which read:
“My reference to the year 1948 as the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory was a serious and completely inadvertent error. I apologize for this and regret any confusion it has caused. I have always supported a two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have never questioned Israel’s right to exist and the Palestinian’s right to a viable state.
“New Democrats have long called for a peaceful, negotiated end to the conflict where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side with secure borders. This is a policy I fully support. I reject the allegation that I hate Israel, and I reject the assertion that I said that Israel is illegitimate or an abomination. Neither are true.”
In response to queries from The CJN, Davies’ office said she was “not available” for comment.
In a June 15 statement, Bob Rae, Liberal MP for Toronto Centre, rejected Davies’ apology and said her original interview comments were “not the off-the-cuff ramblings of [just] any ill-informed or biased person.” He said that as deputy leader of a national political party, she was “fully cognizant of her responsibilities” when she stated that Israel has been occupying territories since 1948.
“The logical implication of these comments is that Israel has no right to exist. This rhetoric is responsible for more than ‘confusion,’ and an ‘inadvertent error.’ The appropriate decision, is for Mr. Layton to ask for her resignation as deputy leader and for Ms. Davies to issue an apology to all Canadians. Nothing short of that will do,” Rae said.
Preceding her appearance onstage at the anti-Israel rally, Katz’s video showed organizers exhorting the crowd with chants of “Long Live Palestine! Long Live the Intifadah!” and praising Davies as a politician who “wears the keffiyah.”
They also contrasted her to Harper, who was called a politician that “welcomes war criminals” into Canada, a reference to late-May visit to Ottawa by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Davies then took the microphone and addressed the crowd, saying Harper should stand up and fight to “end the siege of Gaza and this so-called friendship with Israel.”
She said after a recent visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, she now understands the “worldwide movement” against the “illegal occupation of Palestinian lands… it is inhumane. It is illegal.”
In the wake of the comments, the CIC offered to lead Layton and other NDP members on an informational tour of Israel.
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