Paul Estrin, former president of the Green Party of Canada, was forced to resign two years ago after expressing concern for the welfare of Israelis during the war with Hamas. Ahead of the party’s convention this past weekend in Ottawa, which voted in favor of BDS, Estrin discussed the growing anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activism since his resignation and what it signals for the mainstream Canadian community.
The Green Party of Canada held its 2016 convention in Ottawa this past weekend, and even before it started, the seeming anti-Semitic overtones were deafening. So it was not surprising that the event ended with a resolution in favor of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
Paul Estrin, former president of the party, published a piece in The Hill last week, stating, “I never imagined that [party leader] Elizabeth May would sponsor a resolution against the Jewish National Fund of Canada, an organization that was a pioneer in the green movement – thankfully she has since recanted and said she will fight against the resolution she sponsored. Or that the party would fail to definitively censure anti-Semitic comments. And I certainly never thought the party would consider a bigoted resolution to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) of any and all things involved in or with Israel; it is nothing more than discrimination based on national origin.”
As Estrin explained in the article, he left his position as party president in 2014 “after having written, in a moderate tone, my concern for the welfare of Israelis during the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. While some who criticized this choice were operating in good faith, many others were clearly motivated by hate and even anti-Semitism.”
Ahead of the 2016 convention, Estrin wrote, “the only resolutions pertaining to foreign policy single out one country—the only country with a majority Jewish population: Israel. That no other country is the subject of such an effort reflects poorly on the Greens, and many cannot but help seeing this as an indication of anti-Semitism among some of the party’s supporters.”
Following publication of The Hill piece, World Israel News interviewed Estrin on his vision for the future not only for the Green Party, but for Canada and the West in general. Following are excerpts.
Q: Is this just a local issue, or do you believe it represents a rise in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments in general throughout North America and the West?
A: This issue spreads across all borders and around the world.
Q: Do you think Canada has changed, or is it just the Green Party?
A: Canada is an amazing place to live and visit. No, if Canada has changed, it looks like it has changed in many ways for the better over the past number of years. As for the Green Party, it is unfortunate for the majority of its membership to be so negatively impacted by a racist fringe element. Most Green Party members come from anti-racist backgrounds, yet if there is one trend that is troubling, it is that instead of having “left”-leaning activists fighting against racism, some are appearing on the front lines as racists and anti-Semites themselves.
Opening the door to mainstream racism
Q: How influential is the Green Party?
A: By itself, the Green Party is not very influential, however, it often happens in politics that movements and parties will adopt and transform their platform positions based on what they see in other parties. As former president of the Greens, there were times when I knew how unlikely it was that the Greens would win seats, however, if the other political parties could be inspired by the party’s position – that could be a victory [for the party] in itself. If a fringe party is allowed to accept racist positions, unfortunately, it may open the door for other, more mainstream parties to adopt similar positions, and that is why I decided to…continue to be a voice against hate and anti-Semitism.
Q: Certainly what happened is disconcerting, but does it signal a real change in attitude among the mainstream community towards Israel or, rather, a change in what has become acceptable behavior and speech in Canadian society? For instance, could you have imagined this happening 20 years ago?
A: Israel has fought many battles in the many years building up to the creation of the State of Israel and ever since from those who dream of its destruction. Each few years, a new movement comes forward and threatens Israel, and each time, thank G-d, good wins, and then it starts again. Imagine how much good in the rest of the world could have been achieved if those energies had been put to a good use. To answer the question, I do not have to imagine too hard if someone 20 years ago had tried this here in Canada, but then as now, good people would defeat the marginal fringe who, for whatever misguided reasons, cannot see all that good that Israel does, standing for human rights, the right to assemble, to practice religion, etc., while being a column of light in an area of the world that unfortunately has seen so much darkness.
Q: Are you positive about the future for Jews in Canada and for Canadians in general?
A: Absolutely. Canada is a wonderful place, and so multicultural, but it wasn’t always like that. It took a lot of hard work over the decades for Canada to become the great, accepting country it is and vigilance is sadly a necessity. We must do what we can, educate and work with all those who understand that racism is wrong, that hate is evil, and that working together to build a stronger community is a positive option. We must fight now against racism, hate and discrimination, when it is still only a seedling here and there, in Canada and anywhere around the world, to ensure that it does not take bloom and become a much more difficult evil to fight.
Q: Do you think it’s especially ironic that there is so much anti-Semitism in the Green Party in particular, considering the fact that Israel is a leader in environmental work, including being the only country with more, rather than fewer, trees each year and a major developer of agricultural technology?
A: Yes, voting for BDS is especially ironic in the Green Party exactly for those reasons.
By: Atara Beck, World Israel News