This week a controversy erupted over the list of panelists for a webinar that airs tonight, which will cover the important subject of why the Canadian government will spend $19 billion dollars on fighter jets. The event was organized by several peace and justice groups and initially announced prominent activists and members of Parliament from the Green Party and the New Democrat Party (NDP).
A shake up to the list of speakers was announced last Friday, revealing progressive MP Leah Gazan had withdrawn from the event and was replaced by another member of Parliament from the NDP and its defence critic, Randall Garrison.
Activists were shocked as Garrison has a reputation as a supporter of increased defense spending. He and the NDP back spending billions on fighter jets, but with the caveat that they should be built in Canada. His position is anathema to peace and justice groups.
Canada Palestine Association also examined Randall Garrison’s public statements on the issue of Canada purchasing new warplanes. They noted:
He made an official statement over a year ago saying that whatever jet was chosen should be a Made in Canada option and have a priority on Arctic capabilities. There was no criticism of the idea of getting new jets, just that they should be made here and contribute to the Canadian economy. The same sentiment was repeated just last month in an interview in Canadian Defence Review, where he also rejected the need for defense spending cuts despite the pandemic.”
Garrison is also considered the most pro-Israel of all of the sitting MPs from the NDP. He is one of just two NDP politicians who refused to sign a petition opposing Israeli annexation over parts of the West Bank over the summer. While NDP parliamentarians in 2016 voted against condemning the movement for boycott, sanctions, and divestment against Israel, Garrison has shared posts that denounced BDS as “cowardly and shameful.” He has also retweeted posts from the Israel Defense Forces.
As well, he is the vice-chair of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group, a caucus that promotes ties between Canada and Israel.
There is a pressing need for a serious discussion of how and why Palestinian concerns are often dismissed and marginalized. Is there ever a time or a format where it would be okay to include and platform an outspoken pro-Israeli apologist and supporter? If so, what are the conditions for that? Palestinian activists would argue that anti-Palestinianism is often tolerated by progressive groups far more than any other form of racism or bias.
What’s more, these views do not reflect Canadians at large. In a recent Ekos poll commissioned by Independent Jewish Voices, 95% of Canadians said they support investigating war crimes at the ICC, including Israel. And only 11% of Canadians back Israeli annexation of the West Bank.
The claim made by one of the organizing groups in an October 14, 2020 email promoting the event that “we are in no way endorsing these politicians” is flawed and frankly, applied rather selectively. At the minimum, giving a platform to a speaker implies that they are worth listening to and understanding. For example, would the groups that hosted this webinar have included a strident anti-Jewish personality? Or Canada’s former foreign affairs and current deputy prime minister of Canada Chrystia Freeland? Highly doubtful.
This is now being debated amongst Canadian activists because Palestinians and their supporters refused to turn a blind eye any longer to this type of legitimization of Israeli apartheid. Even if this politician is challenged during the webinar on his outrageous policies, it is in part because of the insistence of pro-Palestine solidarity groups to keep this issue in the forefront.
A statement from Canada Palestine Association concludes:
It should not be incumbent upon the victims of Israeli colonial violence to always have to point out these glaring contradictions. Contradictions that should never occur in the first place by genuine progressives and internationalists. This is not a burden we should be expected to carry any longer.”
So, the question remained: Why bestow a “progressive” cover to a politician that is against the Palestinian people?