No room for anti-Israel commentary in Canadian politics

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper © Oded Balilty / Pool
It would seem the height of Orwellian doublespeak to eliminate a political candidate for calling a war crime a war crime. And all the more so if you’re a leading member of Canada’s New Democratic Party.

And yet that’s exactly what happened this week when Nova Scotian Morgan Wheeldon, an NDP candidate for the riding of Kings-Hants, was forced to step down when a Conservative troll found a statement on his Facebook page from 2014 calling Israel’s bombardment of Gaza a “war crime.”

I suppose that party brass doesn’t read much Orwell, or UN reports on actual Israeli war crimes in Gaza - but perhaps it should become required reading.

Especially if you set yourself up as the main ‘progressive’ opponent to the ruling Conservative Party, whose leader Stephen Harper carries on what is surely the creepiest political ‘bromance’ with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bar none.

And yet in last week’s televised leaders debates it was clear that while the two parties differ on the controversial Harper backed C-51 ‘anti-terror legislation’ the NDP and the Conservatives were duking it out for the pro-Israel vote. When Harper needled him, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair responded that “Israel has no better friend than the NDP.” It seems he was correct.

The damning out-of-context statement on Wheeldon’s Facebook page in the wake of Israel’s 2014 bombing of Gaza that killed over 2,200 Palestinians was this:

“One could argue that Israel's intention was always to ethnically cleanse the region — there are direct quotations proving this to be the case. Guess we just sweep that under the rug. A minority of Palestinians are bombing buses in response to what appears to be a calculated effort to commit a war crime.”

While the UN itself has accused Israel of war crimes during ‘Operation Protective Edge’, the NDP cried foul, stating: “Our position on the conflict in the Middle East is clear, as Tom Mulcair expressed clearly in the debate. Mr. Wheeldon's comments are not in line with that policy and he is no longer our candidate.”

So that’s that then. Call a war crime a war crime on your personal Facebook page, and there’s no room for you in Canada’s ‘progressive’ party.

What has happened to Canada, and for that matter to the NDP? Their take-no-prisoners approach to criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank has recent precedents, and they all lead back to Thomas Mulcair.

In 2008, Mulcair led a caucus revolt against then leader Jack Layton when he criticized the Harper government’s decision not to participate in the United Nations Conference on Racism on the grounds that its mention of certain Israeli violations of international law was ‘anti-Semitic’.

Mulcair successfully muzzled NDP criticism of the January 2009 Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which killed 1,400 civilians, as well as the subsequent Israeli attack on the Gaza Flotilla, which killed nine.

And in 2010, Mulcair joined forces with the Conservatives and the Liberals in calling for the ouster of long time MP Libby Davies, (who has since resigned from politics) as NDP House Leader after her comments to a journalist that occupation of Palestine had begun in 1948.

While the NDP’s position is more than apparent to keen observers (as author Yves Engler notes, even NDP pioneer Tommy Douglas was an ardent Zionist), it's odd that Israel has suddenly become an election issue in Canada in the midst of recessionary times.

Is freedom of speech completely dead in Canada? Can no one criticize Israeli war crimes without fear of repercussions?

It would seem that only Elizabeth May, leader of the tiny but scrappy Green Party, is free to speak her mind on foreign policy issues. Her candid comments have helped the Green Party usurp the NDP’s former role of ‘unofficial opposition’ to the ruling Conservatives. And indeed, after Paul Manly was barred from running for the NDP on the grounds that his comments about Israel incarcerating his aging father John Manly (captured with other crew members of a ship bearing aid to besieged Gaza) were of concern to the party executive, he joined the Green Party.

The general mood of muzzling any dissent against Israel would seem at odds with Canada’s allies. Comparing the situation here to say that of the UK - where Labour MP's were asked to vote in favor of a Palestinian state, the prime minister was forced (via growing public opposition) to resign as patron of the Jewish National Fund and Senior Foreign Office Minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi chose to resign over the government's policy on Gaza – makes Canada look backward at best.

In an international context, it would now appear that Canada has the least control of any G7 country over its own foreign policy. Perhaps even less than in the US where tax dollars go more directly to maintaining the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Bizarrely, no matter who wins the upcoming election, Canada’s Middle East policy now seems to be firmly based on Likudist agendas.

Hadani Ditmars, for RT

Hadani Ditmars has been reporting from Iraq since 1997 and is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone. Her next book Ancient Heart is a political travelogue of historical sites in Iraq.www.hadaniditmars.com

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.