On June 27, 2019 the pro Palestinian group Independent Jewish Voices Canada issued the following statement:
The federal New Democratic Party has removed noted Halifax activist Rana Zaman from the party’s candidacy in the Dartmouth – Cole Harbour riding, which she won on May 1 by a vote of party members. The ostensible reason for her removal is several tweets that Zaman made in August 2018 when Israeli forces were shooting thousands of unarmed Gazans during the “Great March of Return.”
Although Ms. Zaman’s tweets did contain comparisons to the Holocaust that Independent Jewish Voices does not condone, her [Rana Zaman] statement of apology, sent within less than 24 hours, acknowledged the inappropriateness of those comparisons and showed her commitment to learning from her Jewish allies.
Jewish theology and religious jurisprudence distinguish between “Yetzer HaTov” (the inclination to do good) and “Yetzer HaRa” (the inclination to evil-doing, something like the western legal notion of “mens rea” or “malice aforethought”.) An act motivated by Yetzer HaRa should be treated much more severely. But an act motivated by Yetzer HaTov should be treated with mercy, understanding and education. The concept of restorative justice is appropriate.
Ultimately, the controversy around these tweets distracts from the murderous and illegal Israeli activities in Gaza. Those atrocities speak for themselves and require no embellishment by crude analogies.
According to Amnesty International, by August 2018 Israeli forces had killed almost 150 Palestinians. At least 10,000 others had been injured, including 1,800 children, 400 women, 100 paramedics, 100 journalists and Canadian emergency room physician Tarek Loubani.
Knowing Ms. Zaman as a social activist who cares deeply about and works against injustice, we are confident that neither her intentions nor her actions were antisemitic. And we will work with her, not against her.
But that is not the way the Israel lobby views these matters. They are embracing the International Holocaust Remembrance Association – Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA-WDA). Independent Jewish Voices Canada has a rigorous critique of that weak, vague and dangerous document. It has also been condemned by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Ontario Civil Liberties Association.
Seven of the eleven “examples” in the IHRA-WDA involve not hatred of Jews but criticism of Israel. Its author, American legal scholar Kenneth Stern, has disavowed the document. It is clearly meant as a cudgel to beat critics of Israeli policy over the head. The IHRA document says that “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is nothing less than full-blown antisemitism. Full stop. The IHRA-WDA, to which representatives of the mainstream Jewish community directed Ms. Zaman in response to her tweets, becomes judge, jury and executioner. The Israel lobby is demanding that the highly-flawed IHRA definition be adopted by all Canadian governments, universities and other such institutions.
As for the NDP, now that Ms. Zaman has posted her statement, why is that apology not good enough for the party to re-instate her to the candidacy? In the 2015 federal election campaign, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair blocked four candidates found to be critics of Israeli policy. We had thought that under Jagmeet Singh the party would be more even-handed on the question of Israel/Palestine. But at its convention in March 2018, its apparatchiks conspired to keep a very mild resolution on the issue from even reaching the floor.
Shame on the NDP for betraying its progressive roots by allowing itself to be manipulated by the Israel lobby and throwing a progressive woman of colour under the bus.
Rana Zaman’s statement of apology
On June 21, 2019 Rana Zaman tweeted:
This is the apology I’m sending to media. Recently, as a result of some tweets I made a year ago regarding Israel’s shooting of unarmed Palestinian protesters, I was removed by the federal NDP as their candidate in Dartmouth Cole Harbour. The following is a statement about this affair. Other than this statement, I will not be engaging with the media for the time being.
Amid the controversy over my twitter comments I have reached out to leaders and friends in the Jewish community from different groups to ask for their input and advice. I am grateful to them for taking the time to share personal stories of the horrors their families suffered in the Holocaust.
Thanks to their kindness, patience and willingness to educate me on the significance of using words like “Nazis” conjures up for so many.
I now appreciate that my tweets comparing Israeli actions to those of Nazi Germany were inappropriate, hurtful and sadly may be perceived as anti-Semitic. I respect, empathize and care for all people regardless of colour, religion and ethnicity and have tried my best to support anyone in need and am therefore dismayed that my tweets may be perceived this way! My intention was to raise awareness, engage others in a conversation and dialogue that would be productive. Instead I have inadvertently caused pain using such language and I humbly apologize for that. My emotions at the sight of so many innocent Palestinians being shot, maimed or killed during the March of Return overwhelmed me. I have learned an important lesson, the need to be mindful and not to use this analogy in the future!
It is an unfortunate fact of current political discourse that the words we use to describe injustice are often perceived as worse than the injustice itself. For me activism is a self learning process and as a result riddled with pitfalls. No one else can be held accountable nor should be expected to be responsible for the words or actions of another. I’m learning each day and it’s clear to me that social activists must also be extremely careful in their choice of words. Words do hurt!