NDP leadership candidates graded on Middle East Policy — Ashton and Topp top rankings

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) performed extensive research to assess the position of each NDP leadership candidate

No 424 Posted by fw, February 29, 2012

Following are selected highlights from the Executive Summary of CJPME’s 100-page report, Assessment of the NDP Leadership Candidates on Middle East Policy, February 20, 2012. To access and download the complete report, click on the linked title.

Executive Summary — Selected Verbatim Highlights

The mission of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is to empower Canadians of all backgrounds to promote justice, development and peace in the Middle East, and in Canada. As such, CJPME closely follows political developments in Canada, especially the selection of party leaders.  For more information about CJPME, please visit its website at www.cjpme.org.

Over the past several months, CJPME has performed extensive research to assess the position of each NDP leadership candidate on the Middle East.  As part of this research, in January, CJPME even issued a questionnaire to all of the candidates, of whom all but one submitted a written response. The current document consolidates CJPME’s research, and assesses the possible direction of the NDP on the Middle East under the direction of each of the different possible leaders. CJPME’s analysis of the leadership candidates considers all of the following:

  • Response to a CJPME questionnaire in January on Middle East policy
  • Response to a CJPME letter in November on adherence to long-standing NDP policy on the Middle East
  • Actions or statements on public record regarding any of the following:
    • The 2006 war on Lebanon
    • The 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza
    • The blockade of Gaza
    • Parliamentary motions on Israeli Apartheid Week
    • The Palestinian bid for membership in the UN and UNESCO
  • Other comments on Middle East policy as reported by Canadian media
  • Actions within caucus relating to positions on the Middle East
  • Comments in recent candidates’ meetings around Canada

CJPME provides this document so that you – an NDP member or follower – can best assess the NDP leadership candidates.

CJPME believes that its three policy pillars hold the key to a constructive Canadian role in the Middle East.  They are: 1) the conviction that international law should be the lens through which Canada analyzes developments and determines its responses to them; 2) the conviction that Canada must hold all players to the same standard; and 3) the conviction that violence does not lead to solutions. Based on all the information collected, CJPME has determined that – in terms of their commitment to a constructive approach to the Middle East by Canada – the candidates rank as follows:

A+       Niki Ashton

A         Brian Topp

B+       Peggy Nash

B         Nathan Cullen

B         Paul Dewar

C         Martin Singh

C–       Thomas Mulcair

Naturally, the “grades” suggested above are not based simply on the “numbers” provided by the candidates’ answers to the questionnaire. Instead, they reflect a synthesis and interpretation of both the answers to the questionnaire and all the other information gathered through the CJPME analysis of the candidates’ track records.

Historically, the NDP has taken principled positions on the Middle East, so NDP leadership candidates cannot expect to distinguish themselves by repeating the same platitudes as those proffered by candidates from other parties.  Similarly, NDP leadership candidates cannot hope to be credible offering a magnanimous-sounding vision for Middle East policy, when, in fact, their personal record does not reflect such a vision. It is in this light that CJPME analyzed the positions of each of the candidates.

Brian Topp and Niki Ashton were most forthright in outlining a principled approach to the Middle East. Each of them gave primacy to upholding international law and human rights among the other interests that Canada may have in the region. Both of them have been outspoken for a just and purposeful resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict—one that addresses the underlying roots of the conflict. Both of them prefer the NDP’s traditional commitment to opposing Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, contained in the NDP’s 2006 convention resolutions and the 2008 election platform. With Topp or Ashton at the helm, the NDP would undoubtedly provide more vocal and effective leadership on Middle East issues.

Both Peggy Nash and Nathan Cullen are well informed on the dynamics of the Middle East, and have frequently taken courageous and principled stances on topics related to the region. Nevertheless, they have not always been as firm as Ashton and Topp in terms of some of their convictions: e.g. the NDP platform on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.  With Nash or Cullen as leader, NDP policy on the Middle East might become more pro-active, but not quite as energetically or assertively as it would under Topp and Ashton.

There was much on the public record concerning Paul Dewar and his positions on the Middle East: he served as NDP Foreign Affairs critic for several years. Dewar, however, both on the public record, and in his responses to CJPME’s questionnaire, seemed hesitant to distinguish himself. Despite being critic for the NDP for the past several years – 2011 being one of the most remarkable years in Middle East history – Dewar failed to ignite constructive debate on the Middle East. Under Dewar, the NDP’s Middle East policies would likely not regress, but the party would likely not create pressure for Canada to play a more constructive role in the region.

There was little information available on Martin Singh’s Middle East positions, and he did not respond to the CJPME questionnaire. CJPME’s analysis of Martin Singh’s Middle East positions was based largely from what was gleaned from candidates meetings, when the odd question on the Middle East arose. Nevertheless, he clearly did not seek to distinguish himself by his Middle East policy.

Thomas Mulcair and his Middle East positions stand as a paradox.  On the one hand, his statement in response to CJPME’s questionnaire appears reasonable: seemingly concerned for the rights and aspirations of all peoples in the Middle East.  However, his statement does not line up with his public record on the issue of Israel-Palestine.  Over several years, in his statements to the media, in his dealings in caucus, and in his participation in different bodies (e.g. the CPCCA), he has clearly echoed the stances of Israel’s right-wing parties. He has given little weight to Palestinian rights and grievances, or to the Israeli left’s concerns about Israeli conduct. Moreover, his statement reads like one from a Conservative leader: unwilling to acknowledge the asymmetry in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Most of the sections of CJPME’s analysis document can be understood independent of the other information provided. Aside from statements heard during candidates meetings, and directly from NDP caucus members, all of the information used in CJPME’s analysis can be found in the different sections of the document.  Readers are encouraged to review the document in its entirety, and to share the information as widely as possible: Assessment of the NDP Leadership Candidates on Middle East Policy.

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