The NDP is a safe space for anti-Palestinian racists. This was made clear by the fact that it took growing public pressure for British Columbia Premier David Eby to announce that MLA Selina Robinson would be stepping down from her cabinet role for spewing anti-Palestinian racism. Despite Robinson leaving her role as minister for post-secondary education, Eby said she will remain in the B.C. NDP caucus.
If the NDP cared about anti-Palestinian racism, Robinson would have been kicked out of the government, caucus and party months ago.
Eby’s decision to announce Robinson’s departure from cabinet stemmed from comments she made during a recent virtual meeting with pro-Israel group B’nai Brith. During that meeting, Robinson referred to Palestine as “a crappy piece of land with nothing on it” before it was “offered” to the Zionist settlers who colonized it. She noted, in passing, that there were “several hundred thousand people,” but “other than that, it didn’t produce an economy, it couldn’t grow things, it didn’t have anything on it.” Vancouver-based socialist Sean Orr brought the video clip to light on Twitter last week.
The context of Robinson spewing these racist lies — ones that are embedded in the DNA of narratives that seek to justify or whitewash the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land by Zionist settlers in 1948-49 — was her claiming that 18 to 34 year-olds have “no idea” about history. As many pointed out, her racist lies essentially regurgitated the colonial concept of Terra Nullius, the legal fallacy invoked by European settlers to justify stealing land from Indigenous Peoples.
Following calls for her to resign or be fired from government after her comments, Robinson offered an absurd non-apology, in which she claimed that her comments were “referring to the fact that the land has limited natural resources” (a lie).
Her non-apology satisfied an assortment of career political hacks and lobbyists. But a group of mosques and Arab and Islamic community organizations said in a letter that Robinson’s statement failed to address the harm she caused, and reiterated calls for her to be kicked out of the NDP cabinet. The letter added that until this happened, none of the signatories would welcome NDP representatives or candidates into their sacred spaces, or engage in dialogue with them.
An NDP cabinet retreat in Surrey this past weekend was also picketed by protesters, who presented a petition with 11,000 signatures calling for Robinson to step down. The party was forced to cancel a fundraiser in the same city on Sunday night.
Rather than listening to these warnings, Robinson said Monday that she would take “anti-Islamophobia training,” failing, either intentionally or through sheer ignorance, to recognize the distinction between Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism.
Then, finally, Eby hastily called a press conference later in the day to announce that Robinson would be stepping down from cabinet. The B.C. premier had up until that point dodged questions about whether or not Robinson would retain her government post.
In a separate statement, Robinson said that she would not be running for re-election as MLA in October, a decision that she said had been made prior to the uproar surrounding her “crappy piece of land” comments. Robinson added: “This decision does not excuse my harmful comments, nor does it absolve me of the work I am committed to doing.”
This incident wasn’t the first time Robinson indulged in hateful speech about Palestinians, or the first time in recent months that she has been called on to resign.
In addition to publishing a list of other key demands besides that Robinson be removed from the NDP caucus — including that the NDP scrap policies aimed at suppressing Palestine solidarity (such as the IHRA definition of antisemitism) and adopt the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association report on anti-Palestinian racism — the group Selina Must Go has documented Robinson’s months-long pattern of boosting anti-Palestinian messaging.
For example, Robinson has repeatedly shared Twitter posts casting doubt on facts about Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza, and retweeted a call to suspend a doctor who questioned Israel’s narrative about why it launched its exterminationist campaign.
Back in November, Robinson regurgitated Israel’s propaganda narrative about its war on Gaza, which to date has murdered more than 27,000 Palestinians, claiming that it is one waged to “rid Gaza of Hamas.”
When a Twitter user challenged Robinson over her apparent justification for Israel’s bombing campaign, the former minister wrote: “We need to remember who is in charge in Gaza [...] This is who we are dealing with. I wish we were dealing with the Palestinian people instead.”
When presented with a critique of cynical efforts to falsely conflate Zionism with Judaism, Robinson compared the settler-colonial ideology of Zionism to Indigenous Peoples’ relationships to the land.
This month, the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C. (FPSE) separately called on Robinson to resign as she, per FPSE, “inappropriately intervened in the termination of a Langara College employee for controversial remarks on the war in Gaza.” The incident concerned a college instructor, Natalie Knight, who gave a speech in support of the Palestinian liberation movement on October 28, which was, according to FPSE director Michael Conlon, “cleared by the internal Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression Advisory Committee at Langara College.”
“The minister continued to press for [the instructor’s] termination,” said Conlon in a statement, which noted that Robinson shared a tweet in January from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs calling for Langara to fire Knight.
Robinson had written: “I am disappointed that this instructor continues to have a public post secondary platform to spew hatred and vitriol. I have met with [Langara College] leadership to express my concerns for the Langara and broader communities.”
It’s obvious that the only reason Eby took action against Robinson now and not months ago was because the bad optics surrounding the NDP government had become too much for the premier to ignore.
As well, the difference between how Robinson has been allowed to get away with months of publicly spreading anti-Palestinian screeds compared to how Ontario MPP Sarah Jama was booted from the NDP caucus (and censured by Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives) for refusing to apologize for calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, is impossible to ignore. Engage in lies that justify dispossession and ethnic cleansing, and it’ll take months of public pressure for you to be wrenched out of an NDP cabinet. Call for an end to Israel’s genocidal bombing campaign, and you can’t even sit in the Ontario party’s caucus — or in the provincial parliament.
It’s true that MPs in the federal party have made calls in Parliament for a ceasefire and for the Trudeau government to place an embargo on military exports to Israel, among other things. Sadly, however, those words haven’t been matched by action, or even threats toward action, even though the NDP props up the Liberal government in a confidence and supply agreement.
Back in October, The Maple published an unprecedented editorial in which we explained that NDP officials would no longer be welcome at our publication. As a refresher, we referenced NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s decision to appear “as a speaker at a conference organized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), one of the most fervently pro-Israel groups in Canada.”
We explained: “As editors of The Maple, we are disgusted by Singh’s choice, as well as other decisions in the party, at the federal and provincial levels, both recent and historical, that have shown a callous disregard for the lives of Palestinians in Palestine and abroad.”
Robinson’s continued membership in the B.C. NDP caucus and party at large shows that we were right to make that call.