Niki Ashton Niki Ashton, Photo: davehuehn Flickr / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, linked at bottom of article

Weaponised charges of antisemitism are being rolled out against the left wing Canadian MP Niki Ashton and must be resisted, argues John Clarke.

Left wing Canadian MP, Niki Ashton, who ran for the leadership of the New Democratic Party (NDP), in 2017, has been accused of guilt by association over her decision to hold an online discussion with Jeremy Corbyn. The event has been set for March 20 and is being organised through ‘Progressive International,’ a group they have both worked with previously.

Now that the false charge of antisemitism against Corbyn has been activated in Canada, things are playing out in horribly familiar ways. Preposterous allegations from right wing supporters of Israel have prompted wretched attempts to appease them by the leadership of Ashton’s own party.

As soon as news of the event spread, a barrage of accusations was unleashed. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), a major champion of the anti-Palestinian IHRA definition of antisemitism, joined forces with the British Board of Deputies (BOD) and issued a joint statement. In this, BOD President, Marie van der Zy, states, ‘We were astonished to learn that members of the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada have invited disgraced former leader of the UK Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, to talk to progressives about ‘building solidarity.’

The CIJA’s CEO, Shimon Koffler Fogel, declares that ‘Jeremy Corbyn is toxic’ and that ‘Corbyn’s brand of politics creates space for antisemitism and hate to take root.’ He claims that Ashton ‘and a few others want to take the NDP in a direction that is antithetical to basic Canadian values.’ He also, rather tellingly, suggests that ‘This small group is actively undermining NDP leadership which is working hard to keep the NDP focused on the very important issues that Canadians care about.’

He sounds a warning that ‘the NDP must ask, does it want to be a serious mainstream political party contributing to Canadian society? Or is it going to be a radical, irrelevant noise maker?’

This joint declaration is strikingly focused on telling the NDP leadership what is expected of it. As one article written in defence of Ashton says, ‘CIJA’s release could also be read as a call on the NDP leadership to purge the left of the party.’

Israel’s supporters are very aware that voices of Palestinian solidarity are being raised inside the NDP and that the party’s conference in April ‘will deal with widely backed resolutions in favour of Palestinian rights and against the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism.’

The CIJA has already responded to these developments on Twitter with the assertion that ‘NDP radicals should stop politicizing antisemitism.’

Defending Ashton

NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, has avoided a direct attack on Niki Ashton so far but, according to the right wing National Post, his spokesperson, ‘said Ashton never asked the party for permission before accepting to participate in the virtual conversation and that they only found out ‘shortly before it was posted on social media.’

The main inside attack on Ashton and Corbyn has come from the head of the Broadbent Institute, a body named after a former NDP leader that styles itself as ‘Canada’s leading progressive organization.’ Rick Smith tweeted allegations of ‘serial ‘unlawful acts’ of antisemitism in UK Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.’ and, when challenged on this, responded that ‘This is not the sort of person that should headline a progressive fundraiser or occupy the time of Canadian progressive leaders.’

There have, however, been strong voices raised that have challenged these tired and discredited slanders. Former NDP MP, Svend Robinson, let it be known that ‘I look forward to joining this great event with Niki and Jeremy Corbyn and supporting Progressive International.’

Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) issued a statement countering the attacks from the pro-Israel right. ‘For an organization like CIJA, which offers near-blanket support for Israeli atrocities, to turn around and lecture Canadians on ‘progressive values’ is truly the height of hypocrisy,’ IJV stated, while defending Corbyn against the accusations thrown at him.

As with the weaponisation of antisemitism against the Corbyn project, so with the present attack on Ashton, there are two overlapping political initiatives at play. Firstly, there is an effort to silence expressions of support for the struggle of the Palestinian people and, secondly, an opportunity has been presented to attack the left.

Niki Ashton has spoken out against the oppression of the Palestinians in the past and has previously been attacked by the Zionist group B’nai B’rith. As such, she is a prime target for those who want Palestine solidarity to be viewed and treated as a form of antisemitism. This is particularly true as the drive to promote the IHRA definition intensifies. Indeed, Independent Jewish Voices is presently spearheading the fight against a second attempt to have the definition adopted by Montreal City Council.

The NDP leadership, for its part, has a long history of supporting the Zionist project and has often tried to suppress expressions of support for the Palestinian struggle in its own ranks. At the party’s 2018 policy convention, the leadership prevented a widely supported motion on Palestinian rights from reaching the floor. Jagmeet Singh has met with leading members of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). A podcast of this meeting ‘reveals a disconcerting lack of understanding of the plight of the Palestinian people and an indifference to the need for substantive support for their cause.

However, it would be wrong to see the NDP leadership’s readiness to appease supporters of Israel only in terms of capitulation to their pressure. Just as the Labour right understood that the weaponisation of antisemitism was of great help in their fight to defeat the left and ensure the party would loyally serve the needs of British capitalism, so the NDP establishment is very happy to see Ashton attacked in this way.

At the end of last year, there were a series of scandals over prominent Canadian politicians who had taken plush holidays overseas in violation of COVID travel restrictions. At just this time, Ashton travelled to Greece because her grandmother there was ill. The leadership of the party used this as a dubious pretext to strip her of her roles as critic of the government on specific issues.

Accusing the Accusers

The attacks on Ashton and Corbyn are only the latest example of an increasingly bold slander campaign against those who dare to hold Israel to account. The IHRA definition is creating the monstrously absurd situation where any challenge to the political ideology of Zionism is treated as a form of hate speech.

I wouldn’t have to tell those in the UK who looked with hope and inspiration to Corbyn led Labour that this attack has already been incredibly destructive. It is going to continue and will only get worse as long as those who face it retreat and offer up needless apologies.

Niki Ashton has continued to publicly defend Jeremy Corbyn and her decision to hold an online discussion with him. The event is going to proceed and it will have a very large international audience, as well it should. The time has come to draw firm and clear lines on this issue. The left can only be in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and it can only be hostile to the colonial dispossession that they resist.

Supporters of Israel and its crimes can’t be allowed to hurl their slanders with impunity. They are apologists for ethnic cleansing, apartheid and occupation and it is not enough to deny their accusations. We need to accuse the accusers and proudly proclaim our solidarity with the Palestinians. In defending Ashton, Corbyn and Progressive International, we have a chance to do just that.

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John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.