Advocates hope new Opposition leader shifts NDP position on Israel

During the campaign, Thomas Mulcair was dogged by criticism of his “pro-Israel” positions.

Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the Opposition

The election of Thomas Mulcair as leader of the New Democratic Party could signal a coming shift in the party’s policy on Israel, some advocates predict, but a party official says nothing has been decided.

Mr. Mulcair has often described by press pundits as “pro-Israel” relative to other leadership rivals, given his comments in the past that made clear he defended the Middle East country.

In 2010, for example, Mr. Mulcair criticized fellow caucus colleague and deputy leader Libby Davies when she said Israel has been occupying Palestinian territories since 1948, “the longest occupation in the world.” Mr. Mulcair demanded an apology from Ms. Davies and called her remarks “egregious.”

During the NDP leadership campaign, the website knowmulcair.ca was launched by an anonymous group that criticized his “unbalanced, one-sided approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After Mr. Mulcair seized the leadership on March 24, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs congratulated him in a press release. Chair David Koschitzky stated that “Mr. Mulcair has enjoyed a strong relationship with the Jewish community.”

“I am confident that under his leadership the friendship between the NDP and the Jewish community will continue to strengthen over the coming years,” Mr. Koschitzky added.

Mr. Mulcair himself could not be reached by press time on the matter, but his office pointed to NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière as a spokesperson.

“I don’t expect dramatic changes to policy,” Ms. Laverdière told Embassy.

“Our position has always been that Israel has a right to defend itself and that the solution [to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] must be a negotiated one,” she said.

But she added in terms of Mr. Mulcair’s personal stamp, no policies have yet been decided, and only when Mr. Mulcair has decided on his shadow cabinet will he have a discussion on priorities, where the party should go, and what positions it should emphasize.

Meanwhile, advocates like Thomas Woodley, president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, believe Mr. Mulcair will change the party line.

“We think he will move things more to the centre,” he said in an interview, suggesting that there is more of a possibility for Mr. Mulcair to do so than his former leadership rivals.

Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said he’s optimistic about the direction NDP foreign policy will take under Mr. Mulcair and the relationship that will continue with supporters of the centre.

“Jack Layton was supportive and we expect Mulcair to follow suit,” said Mr. Fogel.

“I have no indication that he would contemplate a different direction.”

He said he is also hoping Mr. Mulcair will “comment on the toxicity of Israel being compared to an apartheid state.”

But Emmett Macfarlane, a University of Victoria political science professor and former Harvard University fellow, said there won’t be any such shift in policy.

“The vast majority of the NDP membership disagrees with Mulcair’s relatively pro-Israel stance,” he said.

“What is important to understand is that Tom Mulcair was elected leader, in spite of his views on the Israeli-Palestinian question.”

If Mr. Mulcair does shift the party toward more policies that a majority of Jewish voters connect with, that could spell trouble for Conservatives, according to polling data.

An Ipsos Reid exit poll during the 2011 federal election found that 52 per cent of Jewish voters went Conservative, compared to 24 per cent who voted Liberal and 16 per cent who went NDP.

Mr. Mulcair plans to announce his shadow cabinet in the weeks ahead.

::Embassy