Anti-Semitism charges upend Ontario’s election race in NDP stronghold

HAMILTON (AP) — It was expected to be a smooth ride to victory for a stalwart New Democrat for nearly two decades under former party leader Andrea Horwath, who resigned last year to become Steeltown mayor.

But accusations of anti-Semitism against NDP candidate Sarah Jama, which she denies, are hitting the campaign in the Hamilton Center by-election on Thursday, putting the disability activist and new party leader Marit on the defensive. Stiles.

B’nai Brith issued a statement on Monday calling Jama “a radical activist who has been associated with groups that have frequently attacked Israel,” including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and urged Stiles to drop her as a candidate.

Jama acknowledged his own “messy history around anti-racism” during a candidate debate broadcast on local cable television the following night, but said “nothing has been called out in terms of the things I’ve said.”

That story includes links to Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights during his days as a student activist at McMaster University. The group has called for a Palestinian state “from the (Jordan) river to the sea,” often interpreted as the removal of the state of Israel.

“Me standing up for Palestinian human rights…not to be confused with anti-Semitism,” the Ontario Disability Justice Network founder added in an exchange that followed a question from a viewer.

“I’m really against anti-Semitism in our communities, but I’m also for human rights, and that includes the rights of everyone, whether it’s black people… indigenous people in our communities and Palestinians,” he said. ever28-year-old, who campaigns in an electric chair because she can’t walk after being born prematurely with cerebral palsy.

“Being disabled gives me another lens of compassion. It is one thing to talk about supporting vulnerable members of the community, but another thing to share those experiences.”

As part of his advocacy efforts, Jama was fined $100,000 — and i broke it – at a 2020 town hall protest in support of homeless people who violated COVID-19 stay-at-home laws, apparently at odds with frequent calls by New Democrats for Prime Minister Doug Ford’s government to maintain restrictions strict to limit the spread of the virus. The charges were later dropped.

Jama was hailed as the NDP’s candidate in November after running unopposed for the nomination.

Stiles, whose New Democrats chastised MPP Joel Harden (Central Ottawa) last fall for anti-Semitic comments before he became leader, fielded questions about Jama for three straight days in the legislature, with a nod to his “messy history” comment. .

“When you’re at a rally and we’ve all found ourselves in these situations where you can’t really control what someone is doing here and there, you learn from that, right?” Stiles told reporters.

“Sarah Jama is a renowned human rights activist who has always stood up to hate, antisemitism and racism and I look forward to welcoming her to Queen’s Park.”

Liberal candidate Deirdre Pike, an LGBTQ community training facilitator and former social justice planner in her second run after losing to Horwath in the 2018 provincial election, said Jama needs to do a better job of “clearing the air.”

“There’s a problem when reputable organizations like B’nai Brith call you out,” added the 60-year-old who was given a push to go door-to-door when 1,500 Liberals gathered in Hamilton last weekend to chart a course. to choose. a new leader.

“Solutions for Israel must come through diplomatic and negotiated solutions, not through extremist groups using phrases that can be quite triggering.”

At a time when Prime Minister Doug Ford faces criticism over the opening of the green belt, a lack of affordable housing and a crisis in health care, the challenge is that the by-election campaign is attracting little attention, said Peter Graefe, a political scientist. from McMaster University.

“I don’t think people are really talking about it,” he told the Star. “Locally, it’s not a big story, but the parties are trying to use this as a provincial message.”

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser, whose party has eight MPPs in Queen’s Park compared to the New Democrats’ 30, said concerns about Jama’s candidacy are key to the tone Stiles is taking for the NDP in the wake of the controversy. Harden in November.

“It’s a test of leadership.” he told reporters in Queen’s Park, urging Stiles to leave Jama. “Sometimes doing the right thing is very, very difficult.”

Harden was forced to apologize by former NDP interim leader Peter Tabuns for comments at the August 2021 Ottawa Forum on Israel Palestine.

The Ottawa MPP said it “asked many questions of the Jewish neighbors here about how much longer we should put up with this… the biggest threat, the biggest source of violence in the Middle East, is unquestionably the State of Israel.”

Tabuns told reporters he was “very angry” at Harden’s “hurtful” comments about confronting Jewish neighbors over the actions of the state of Israel, a tactic Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center president Michael Levitt called “textbook antisemitism.”

Progressive Conservative candidate Pete Wiesner, 47, who skipped the cable debate to campaign in person with voters, said the Jama situation is “certainly in people’s decision-making process now.”

On leave from his job as a Hamilton police sergeant in the crisis response branch, which deals with marginalized communities like the homeless, Wiesner hopes to build on Ford’s outreach to workers that helped PCs win additional seats. in June provincial elections, including two in the former NDP stronghold of Windsor.

The PC candidates finished a distant second in the last two provincial elections, with the Liberals third and the Greens fourth.

Ten candidates are up for Thursday’s vote, according to Ontario Elections.

Leave a Comment