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Ontario’s NDP takes stand against anti-Semitism

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Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath

A proposal asking Ontario’s New Democratic Party to support the global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel didn’t see the light of day at the party’s recent policy conference. At the same time, the Jewish community scored a win with the NDP’s announcement that anti-Semitism should be added to the mandate of the recently launched Anti-Racism Directorate.

The anti-Israel measure, Motion 9-11, called on the party to boycott “apartheid” Israel. It also asked the provincial NDP to “actively campaign for the Right of Return for all refugees, an end to the Israeli settlements and Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, a halt to the armed aggression, the bulldozing of homes, the destruction of olive groves and farms, the assassination of political leaders and activists by the Zionist state, and demand the removal of the Apartheid wall across the West Bank.”

Put forward by the NDP’s Niagara Centre riding association, the measure was listed in the party’s resolutions handbook under the heading, “Justice and Human Rights,” at its April 21-23 policy conference in Toronto.

But it never made it to the floor for debate, said Sara Lefton, vice-president for greater Toronto of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, indicating it was not a priority.

“It’s not on the table anymore for discussion. It didn’t receive enough support,” Lefton told The CJN.

Lefton said there was an opportunity at the convention to prioritize motions. The anti-Israel one “was not moved up. It was not something the NDP had any interest in focusing on.

“I was very pleased to see the NDP had absolutely no appetite for supporting BDS.”

CIJA had been in talks with NDP leaders before the convention. “We knew BDS is certainly not something that’s supported by the NDP leadership, or by (Ontario NDP Leader) Andrea Horwath.”

Lefton said that nothing can stop “radical” resolutions from being proposed by riding associations.

Last December, Ontario’s legislature approved a motion rejecting BDS. It passed 49 to five, with all opposing votes coming from NDP MPPs who said they were sympathetic to concerns of anti-Semitism, but argued the resolution could stifle legitimate dissent.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies wrote Horwath a blistering letter denouncing the BDS measure.

The motion was “false and defamatory,” the group’s president and CEO, Avi Benlolo, wrote on April 22.

“Let me tell you Ms. Horwath that a future for your party that involves anti-Semitism — Jew hatred — and the marginalization of the Jewish people is not a future for any legitimate organization. If passed, you would be building a future on hate,” the letter stated.

READ: ONTARIO PASSES MOTION REJECTING BDS CAMPAIGN

In a follow-up statement released after the convention, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre said that it continues “to stand by our contention that such a defamatory and slanderous resolution should not have been included in the convention agenda in the first place.”

Also at the convention, the party released its policy priorities for the coming year.

The Jewish community “should be able to live and attend prayer service without fear,” says the section titled “Stopping Anti-Semitism.”

It calls for anti-Semitism to be added to the scope and mandate of Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate, created in February to address and prevent systemic racism in government policy, legislation, programs and services.

CIJA has asked all three parties to consider formally adding anti-Semitism to the agency’s work.

The policy statement adds that an NDP government “will take proactive steps within our education and justice systems, including an education campaign, to ensure future generations are aware of the devastating impact of anti-Semitism.”

The announcement is “a huge, huge win for the community,” Lefton said. “It’s nice to see the NDP taking such leadership on … combatting anti-Semitism as a core part of their policy.”