NDP candidate Sarah Jama wins Hamilton Center provincial election

New Democrat Sarah Jama easily won the party’s stronghold of the Hamilton Center in Thursday’s by-election hours after she apologized for “harmful” comments that unnerved the Jewish community.

The 28-year-old founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, and a frequent speaker on policing and Palestinian rights in the conflict with Israel, replaces former NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who resigned as MPP in August and was later Elected mayor of Hamilton.

In a statement before voters headed to the polls, Jama apologized for his comments in a 2021 video at a Palestinian rally that Israel is funding “the killing of people here locally and globally.”

With all the polling reports down and voter turnout low at just 22 percent, the political newcomer drew 54 percent support to 20 percent for liberal Deidre Pike in her second run for the center. riding and progressive conservative Pete Wiesner with 15.5 percent.

“This is an exciting night for Hamilton,” said Jama, who was hailed as a candidate in November when no challenger filed for the party’s nomination.

She did not address the controversy in her victory statement.

“I’m ready to go to work.”

What had been a low-key campaign erupted in the past two weeks after B’nai Brith issued a statement accusing Jama of being a “radical advocate against Israel” for supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and “anti-Semitic causes.” “.

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East responded, describing B’nai Brith as a “pro-Israel” advocacy group promoting “disinformation against Palestinian activists” to fuel a “smear campaign.”

Then, on the eve of the by-election, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said Jama and the NDP under new leader Marit Stiles had failed to “publicly acknowledge the damage done” in the video circulating online.

Jama’s apology citing his “poor choice of words” came after Stiles met on Wednesday with Wiesenthal Center CEO Michael Levitt, who called the video’s comments “disturbing” and “wild accusations of conspiracy.” .

The comments on the video “have caused real concern among members of the Jewish community,” Stiles said in a statement after the meeting. “I want to acknowledge that damage, especially in a climate of growing anti-Semitism.”

The Hamilton Jewish Federation acknowledged Jama’s apology “regarding the damaging impact of his past words and his promise… to speak out against anti-Semitism and defend the Jewish community.”

The Israel-Palestinian conflict was previously raised in a candidates debate on a local cable channel, where Jama said he had a “messy history around anti-racism” and maintained that “I am against anti-Semitism wholeheartedly.”

“Nothing has been called out in terms of the things that I have said,” he added in an exchange with Pike following a question from a viewer. “Things that have been called out online (are) me standing up for Palestinian human rights, and that is not to be confused with anti-Semitism.”

Stiles repeatedly endorsed Jama despite calls from B’nai Brith and interim Liberal leader John Fraser for him to drop her as a candidate, and again after video surfaced from the 2021 rally where he also accused Hamilton police of protect “Nazism”.

That’s an apparent reference to the Hamilton Pride festival two years earlier, when members of the Yellow Vest movement and other extremists wearing masks and combat-style clothing began taunting participants, resulting in a violent altercation that included punching and punching. headbutts.

Pride officials said it took up to 40 minutes for police to arrive and filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal that police failed to protect LGBTQ participants. The Hamilton police chief apologized to that community and acknowledged a “significantly damaged” relationship.

The by-election does not change the balance of power in the legislature, where there are now 82 Progressive Conservative MPPs, 31 New Democrats, eight Liberals, one Green and two Independents.

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