It was just over a year ago that Israeli commandos went aboard seven ships that had set sail from Turkey, intent on challenging Israel’s arms embargo on Hamas-controlled Gaza. Six of those ships were seized with little trouble. But on the seventh, the Mavi Marmara, the passengers attacked the Israeli boarders with improvised weapons. The Israelis were not prepared for the violence and were forced to use lethal force against the passengers. Nine civilians died and many more were wounded. For the crime of defending themselves against the passengers’ vicious attack, activists, politicians and opinion-makers all over the globe condemned the Israelis’ actions and the legitimacy of the entire embargo.
Since then, anti-Israeli would-be martyrs been plotting how to recreate the triumph of the original flotilla. One such group is preparing to send a Canadian-owned ship, loaded with Canadian volunteers, to Gaza, with the express purpose of forcing the Israelis to respond. Rather than reflecting the strange views of a fringe minority of a rabble-rousers, however, the plan — known unimaginatively as the Canadian Boat to Gaza — has attracted some high level political support, including at least two politicians of the left-wing New Democratic Party, Canada’s newly minted parliamentary opposition.
In the federal election just held in Canada on May 2nd, the New Democrats (NDP) benefited mightily from the collapse of two other Canadian federal political parties, the Liberals and the Quebec-based Bloc Quebecois. Millions of voters shifted their votes to Canada’s right-wing Conservative Party, which won a strong majority in parliament, and the NDP, which finished a distant second and formed the Official Opposition. So dramatic and unexpected was this sudden shift in voter support that many of the NDP candidates had never seriously considered the possibility that they would actually win their races. Such people, who put their name on the ballot to buff up their resume or as a favor to a friend inside the party, now wield considerable moral authority (if limited political influence) as members of Canada’s federal government.
This is worrisome because the NDP has never before held such clout. Thanks to the electoral collapse of its rivals on Canada’s left-wing, it almost tripled the size of its parliamentary delegation. By necessity, it has absorbed many political rookies who were only given a cursory vetting, if party officials scrutinized their pasts at all.
Barely a month after the election, the anti-Israel fringe of the NDP (a party with deep ties to organized labor and self-styled “progressives”) is emerging in full force. Surprisingly, it has come not from an unvetted rookie, but from a relative veteran of the party. Alex Atamenenko, who has represented a largely rural area of the province of British Columbia since 2006, has publicly endorsed the objective of the Canadian Boat to Gaza, and is listed on their website along with the usual collection of labor leaders and journalists. Nor is this the first time that Mr. Atamenenko has taken a stand against the Jewish State. He was sharply critical of Israel’s justified response to the original flotilla and of Israel’s defensive war against Hamas during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09.
Mr. Atamenenko has a right to his views and to endorse whatever causes that he sees fit. But what is worrisome is the muted response of his political superiors within the NDP. Last year, while still the third-place party in Canadian politics, the party reacted swiftly and strongly when one of its elected members was caught on videotape seeming to question the legitimacy of Israel’s right to exist. Jack Layton, leader of the NDP, quickly met with Israel’s ambassador to Canada and assured her that such comments did not represent the party’s position and was publicly critical of the woman who had made them (no doubt under pressure, she backed away from her marks quickly).
This time, despite exposure in Canadian national media, the NDP was strangely silent. Even after it was revealed that a second elected member of the party had also endorsed the Canadian Boat to Gaza, the NDP leader said simply that he had been unaware that two members of his parliamentary delegation supported the Canadian Boat to Gaza, and worries that such a course of action carries “severe risks.” Confrontation with Israel, he said, is not official NDP policy. Mr. Layton apparently met with the Israeli ambassador once more, but no further details were provided. He also spoke with the other member of his party to endorse the plan, a newly elected NDP member of parliament from the city of Montreal, and the member quickly abandoned his public support of the Canadian Boat to Gaza. Mr. Atamenenko, however, has not retracted his support, and refuses to speak to the media.
Clearly, the NDP leadership wishes to avoid being linked to an overtly anti-Israel cause, especially given its newfound influence in Canadian politics: if they wish to remain a serious political force, they must moderate their policies and control their fringe elements. But it is worrisome that the NDP leadership clearly wishes to handle this quietly, rather than with the vocal condemnation of anti-Israel activities it (correctly) considered appropriate only a year ago. Some things transcend party politics. Rejecting a provocative attempt to antagonize the military forces of a country long allied with Canada should not be something that Canadian politicians feel must be done quietly.
Canada’s Conservative party has been unwavering in its support of Israel. After President Obama’s recent insistence that Israel return to the 1967 borders (yes, yes, with swaps) in any peace agreement with the Palestinians, there was an attempt by the United States and European members of the G8 to issue a joint statement reiterating the president’s position. It was only Canada, under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, that was opposed to the call for Israel to willingly agree to militarily untenable borders. The motion failed solely due to Canadian resistance.
With the Obama administration pursuing an increasingly anti-Israel, globalist foreign policy agenda and Europe having turned against the Jewish State long ago, Israel needs all the friends it can get. In a Conservative-led Canada, it has a firm ally in any international forum. Should the NDP, with its clearly conflicted policy on Israel, come to power in a future Canadian election, and if President Obama remains in power, Israel will lose an important ally in its fight for survival.
Matt Gurney is a columnist and editor at Canada’s National Post. He can be reached on Twitter @mattgurney.