If there's one thing the ostensibly progressive federal NDP just won't put up with from its candidates, it's the slightest criticism of Israel.
At least, that's what the past few days of electioneering has indicated. On Sunday, Morgan Wheeldon—candidate for Kings-Hants in Nova Scotia—was forced to resign after the Conservatives published old comments he made on Facebook: "One could argue that Israel's intention was always to ethnically cleanse the region—there are direct quotations proving this to be the case," he wrote. "Guess we just sweep that under the rug." A day later, Jerry Natanine—who was vying for the riding of Nunavut—told CBC he was cut from the contest due to his historic support for Palestine.
Such moves are a "major step back" and force many in the Palestinian-Canadian community to re-evaluate their support of the NDP, says Hammam Farah, member of Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University: "I do want Harper out of office, but it puts me in a very difficult and disappointing and disconcerting position. I feel awful that if I want Harper out of office I may have to vote for a party that isn't really interested in my history and human rights of Palestinians."
The NDP have a lengthy history of supporting Israel: while J.S. Woodsworth (founder of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the NDP's precursor) opposed its formation, subsequent leaders including M.J. Coldwell and Tommy Douglas backed it. Thomas Mulcair has historically taken a much firmer stance on the issue: in 2010, he led the crusade to punish deputy leader Libby Davies for expressing support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. She's not running for re-election this year.
"To say that you're personally in favour of boycott, divestment and sanctions for the only democracy in the Middle East is, as far as I'm concerned, grossly unacceptable," Mulcair said at the time. That followed on the heels of a 2008 statement saying, "I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances."
In 2014, Paul Manly—son of former NDP MP James Manly—was disqualified as candidate in Nanaimo-Ladysmith; he asserted it because his views on the issue and for petitioning the Conservatives and NDP in 2012 to work harder for the release of his father, who was confined by Israeli officials for participating in efforts to breach a blockade in the Gaza. Manly is now running for the Green Party in the same riding.
Since becoming NDP leader, Mulcair has "all but silenced the pro-Palestinian hysterics within his party," according to the Globe & Mail's Konrad Yakabuski, who tied the efforts to a push for more mainstream appeal.
Farah—whose group is now working on pressuring the York board of governors to divest from companies that are selling weapons to countries like Israel—concluded: "The NDP needs to get in line with this. It's contradictory and very disappointing the NDP would come out supporting some form of social justice, but then when it comes to Palestine it gets scared. Canadians can see the NDP gets scared. Completely removing candidates from running in the election is a cowardly move.
The Conservatives have also publicly identified NDP candidates Scott Andrews (Vancouver Quadra), Hans Marotte (Saint-Jean) and Matthew Rowlinson (London West) as critics of Israel. Many of the entries on "Meet the NDP"—a Conservative-funded website featuring quotes from candidates—relate to Palestine, suggesting the party may be attempting to demonize candidates with the wedge issue. The sole response from NDP party brass on the issue was from Brad Lavigne, senior campaign advisor, who told the Toronto Star that "Mr. Wheeldon's comments are not in line with that policy and he is no longer our candidate."
Two Facebook pages have since been created to petition for Wheeldon's reinstatement as candidate for Kings-Hants, with the larger garnering more than 300 "likes" so far.