In Canadian Politics, Human Rights

On May 14, 2021, as Israel’s military rained bombs down on the children of Gaza, Noah Zatzman, senior adviser to Green Party leader Annamie Paul, posted an explosive comment on his Facebook page.

Zatzman charged that, during the prior week, “a range of political actors” had disseminated “appalling antisemitism and discrimination … beginning with Jagmeet Singh and Dimitri Lascaris and many Liberal, NDP and sadly, Green MPs.”

Not content to defame members of his own party, Zatzman vowed to work for their removal from office:

We will work to defeat you and bring in progressive climate champions who are antifa and pro LGBT and pro indigenous sovereignty and Zionists!!!!! Am Israel chai.

In his Facebook rant, Zatzman cited no evidence to back up his grave accusation against members of his own party – undoubtedly, because no such evidence exists.

Despite that fact, Zatzman pinned his accusatory post to the top of his Facebook page and ensured that the post was visible to the public for several days.

Gradually, news of Zatzman’s attack spread on social media and in the blogosphere.

On May 19, Geneviève Joëlle, a member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada, condemned Zatzman on Twitter for promoting a settler colonial ideology:

Later that day, author and activist Yves Engler posted an article on his website in which he denounced Zatzman as a “crazed anti-Palestinian Green adviser” and urged Ms. Paul to remove Zatzman from the leader’s office. Among other things, Mr. Engler noted:

Certainly, smearing influential individuals and threatening to work to “defeat” sitting Green MPs doesn’t seem very strategic for a top adviser. Nor is it realistic to think it’s possible to create a climate and social justice coalition supportive of Israeli violence and ethnic cleansing. Whatever Zatzman may believe, there is a strong correlation between those who organize or attend climate or indigenous rights protests and those outraged at Israel’s actions.

The controversy provoked by Zatzman’s smear did not reach the mainstream media until May 29, when the CBC published a lengthy article by Evan Dyer examining how Israel’s assault on Gaza had altered the political landscape in Canada. Mr. Dyer’s article quoted Zatzman’s Facebook post. It also quoted Green Party MP Paul Manly, who stated:

I think using accusations of antisemitism to shut down legitimate criticism of human rights abuses is offensive and dangerous, and it dilutes the weight that word carries when it’s used to identify real antisemitism.

The original version of the CBC’s article included no comment from Zatzman on the controversy provoked by his Facebook post. However, several hours after the CBC article was first published, two paragraphs were added to the article:

Zatzman told CBC News he wanted to be clear that his comments about Green MPs did not refer to Elizabeth May, whom he called “a great friend of the Jewish community.”

He said he has suffered ongoing harassment as a result of the position he took within the party, to the extent that his parents felt compelled to delist their address.

In making that belated clarification to the CBC, Zatzman effectively doubled down on his accusation of anti-Semitism against Paul Manly, Jenica Atwin and me, and did so, again, without offering a shred of evidence to support his accusation.

Is Accusing Israel of Apartheid Anti-Semitic?

Since Zatzman evidently believes he is under no obligation to support his accusations of anti-Semitism with actual evidence, we are left to examine the public record ourselves in order to determine what might have prompted him to defame Paul Manly, Jenica Atwin and me on May 14.

During the second week of May, when Zatzman claims to have witnessed “virulent anti Jewish behaviour” from the “progressive and climate communities”, Mr. Manly, Ms. Atwin and I all publicly accused Israel of committing the crime of apartheid.

There’s good reason to believe that Zatzman’s attack on us was prompted by those accusations, because Israel’s defenders routinely smear as anti-Semites those who accuse Israel of apartheid. As recently as May 26, in a letter to Joe Biden, four Democratic members of Congress denounced as anti-Semites fellow Democratic members of Congress who had accused Israel of apartheid during Israel’s latest round of atrocities.

The claim that it’s anti-Semitic to accuse Israel of apartheid is, however, utter nonsense.

In 2017, international jurist Professor Richard Falk (who is Jewish-American) and Professor Virginia Tilley concluded in a meticulous report that the evidence Israel is committing the crime of apartheid is “overwhelming.” Since publication of their report, Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem and Yesh Din have both reached the same conclusion. More recently, the widely respected, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch accused Israel of apartheid. Other notable figures who have joined in that accusation include Professor Noam Chomsky (who is also Jewish-American), South African human rights lawyer John Dugard, Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s current President Cyril Ramaphosa, Dr. David Harel, Vice-President of Israel’s Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and Paul Manly’s chief of staff, Ilan Goldenblatt, an Israeli-Canadian who served in the Israeli military.

Are we seriously to believe that they are all anti-Semitic?

In April 2018, after returning from the West Bank and having seen with her own eyes what occupied Palestinians are forced to endure on a daily basis, former Green Party leader Elizabeth May courageously declared at a press conference that what Israel is doing to Palestinians in occupied territory is in fact “much worse” than apartheid in South Africa. (Ms. May’s comment can be viewed here.)

Despite the growing international consensus that Israel is committing apartheid, Israel’s more fanatical supporters continue to casually toss accusations of racism at Israel’s critics.

In a sane world, however, those who condemn apartheid would be recognized readily as anti-racists, whereas those who defend the conduct of an apartheid state would be presumed to be racists, and treated as such.

Why Has Annamie Paul Remained Silent?

Throughout all of this, and to this very day, Annamie Paul has remained silent.

Since Zatzman’s attack, Ms. Paul has commented publicly on several issues, including the need to create summer jobs for students, but for unknown reasons, she has failed to comment publicly on the accusation of racism levelled against members of her party’s own caucus by her senior adviser.

It would be difficult to overstate the damage that Ms. Paul’s silence could do to the Green Party.

For one thing, how can members of caucus who have been falsely accused of anti-Semitism by the leader’s senior adviser be expected to work constructively with the leader’s office?

Moreover, how are Mr. Manly and Ms. Atwin supposed to mount strong campaigns in Canada’s upcoming election when their leader’s own adviser has falsely accused them of racism and their party’s leader has not publicly rejected the accusation? Mr. Manly’s and Ms. Atwin’s political opponents may well draw the inference from Ms. Paul’s silence and her continued employment of Zatzman that she agrees with Zatzman’s smear, and they could seek to exploit that inference in an effort to discredit Mr. Manly and Ms. Atwin.

Finally, in the upcoming election, Zatzman’s allegation will surely be weaponized against other Green Party candidates as well. Indeed, all Green Party candidates are now vulnerable to an accusation that they have chosen to run for a party whose MPs are anti-Semites.

It is therefore imperative that Ms. Paul make clear where she stands, as Green Party leader, and that she do so promptly.

If Ms. Paul agrees with her senior adviser, then she should say so publicly, and more importantly, she should do what Zatzman did not have the decency to do: she should back up her allegation of anti-Semitism with credible evidence (of which there is none).

If, however, Ms. Paul understands that Zatzman’s allegation is categorically false, then she should support our Green MPs by removing Zatzman from the leader’s office and by rejecting his false allegation of anti-Semitism, publicly, explicitly and unambiguously.

That is what a true leader would do. Anything less from Ms. Paul would constitute an abdication of leadership.

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Showing 21 comments
  • Philip Suthons
    Reply

    Israeli “settlers” are Nazis. Even Einstein said so. If Zatzman wants to support Nazis, he should run for the “Peoples’ Party”.

  • Alan Blanes
    Reply

    I see a mechanism for dealing with Gaza that should be supportable by human rights activists as well as Zionists. All international groups should be engaging only with *refusing to be enemies* groups in Gaza. So long as Hamas condones murdering and intimidating Palestinians who are suspected of working with Israel, it will be impossible to end the combatant relationship between Palestinians and Israel.

    Green activists should be encouraging both sides to putting teamwork for solving climate problems as the prime motivator. The @SDG2030 potential for restoring water tables and ancient forests as a primary climate protection strategy ought to be bringing ethnic groups together to enable the Middle East to become verdant rather than uninhabitable in coming years due to heat and aridity.

    Israel and PA are members of the Union for the Mediterranean, and if there is serious involvement in regional climate action that can take on the most ambitious long term goals, then the *refusing to be enemies* groups on both sides could build the rudiments of acceptance and trust. There will be no negotiating on real matters until some fundamentals have been accomplished.

    • Philip Suthons
      Reply

      Mr. Blanes I have to disagree. There is no symmetry between a modern, high-tech nuclear power and bandits. Hamas has always been a minority. They seized power in Gaza and only Gaza. So it is disingenuous to compare Hamas withIsrael. Secondly, if Palestinians in Gaza were allowed to build a country, Hamas would become irrelevant, or at least less militant. I believe it is Israeli fascists who are perpetrating this situation. Yes, Hamas are militants, but what do you expect…Let’s be honest about this.

      • Alan Blanes
        Reply

        Thanks for replying Philip, but Hamas has no interest whatsoever in rapprochement with Israel. If it did, it would not condone assassinating any Palestinian accused of working with Israel. The western world must clarify its values by only working with groups that take a REFUSING TO BE ENEMIES attitude. This may sound drastic, but the interests of authentic peace demand it.

      • Eric
        Reply

        Hamas didn’t exactly “seize” power in Gaza. The party won the 2006 election
        (not recognized by Ottawa, which pretends Israel is “the only democracy in the Mideast”).

        Soon after, Hamas defeated a coup attempt backed by Fatah and likely Israel.
        Since then it has faced unrelenting hostility from Israel, Canada, the U.S., etc.

  • Constantine Kritsonis
    Reply

    Well said Dimitri. Let us members fight to take back ownership of our party.

  • Lex Dunn
    Reply

    I have been an ardent supporter of the State of Israel’s right to exist. I am also appalled by the Government of Israel’s horrendous treatment of the Palestinians (I am also dismayed by the neighbouring Arabic states use of the Palestinan people as political pawns).

    But it must ne said, loudly and clearly, that disapproval of Israel Government policies and the utterance of that disapproval does NOT constitute anti-semitism in the slightest, any more than criticism of Putin indicates hatred of the Russian people. Zatzman should resign.

  • Doris Elliott
    Reply

    I stopped my monthly donation to the federal greens and now only support our provincial candidate.

  • Alan Blanes
    Reply

    Thanks for responding, Lex. I agree that the right wing in Israel is not doing anything to build a culture of peace with Palestinians. I was a kibbutz volunteer when the Mapam Party existed, and it was guided by secularism and prevention of discrimination. Arabs were treated completely as equals on Histradrut-affiliated kibbutzim 4 decades ago. It is time for progressive internationalists to band together to ensure that UDHR values become internalized among both Israeli and Palestinian society.

  • Philip Suthons
    Reply

    Hamas is a straw dog. It’s analogous to accusing one Black man of raping one White woman as a justification for three hundred years of oppression. It’s obvious that you either can not understand my point or else you refuse to acknowledge Israeli fascism. In either case you are advocating for fascism, wittingly or unwittingly.

  • Lynn Aly
    Reply

    Dimitri
    We need you as the leader of the Green Party
    Lynn Aly

  • Sjeng Derkx
    Reply

    It’s great to see the Overton window shifting towards the recognition that Palestinians are really actual humans too. Annamie Paul’s silence does not come as a surprise. Her leadership campaign was all about saying nothing.

  • Don Scott
    Reply

    Very well written Dimitri. Call them on every false allegation. I don’t understand how Paul can remain as leader now. She has shown her cards here and is more interested in defending Israel and stacking the Party with Zionists than building the Green Party in Canada.

  • Jay-Ottawa
    Reply

    Before I became aware of the antisemitism charge by a ranking insider against Green critics of the Israeli government, I had already unsubscribed to Annamie Paul’s mailouts. From the day she was elected, Paul has turned Green communications into glorifications of herself. Such preening is inappropriate and boring.

    Now her hesitancy about Gaza. Someone that blind to glaring injustice has no place in the Green Party leadership.

    As now managed, the Green Party has a nice platform about the environment and some worthy economic and social goals at home. Otherwise, it is content to eat the dust of center-right Liberals, especially in foreign affairs.

    Dimitri Lascaris was the strongest candidate in the last election to offer Greens a way out of their quiet, comfortable and everlastingly irrelevant cul-de-sac. It’s become clear that, unlike May and Lascaris, Paul lacks the right stuff. Procrastination keeps me from unsubscribing to the party itself.

  • Eric
    Reply

    “the widely respected, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch”

    Though HRW has taken a praiseworthy stance on apartheid Israel,
    its other work, particularly on Latin America, is NOT widely respected.
    It too often has a benign view of the U.S.’s role in the world.

  • Miles
    Reply

    I love the Jewish people and their traditions . I love the people of all ethnicities .
    If I criticize the Israeli government , then does that mean I don’t like Jewish people ?
    I want to speak out about the Israeli government because I love the Palestinian people , too ,
    and it makes me very upset that the Israeli government is mistreating the Palestinian people .
    Am I allowed to say ” mistreating ” ? Some of my Jewish friends don’t mind nor does my mentor
    Noam Chomsky but our prime minister Justin Trudeau will think I am against the Jewish people if I do .
    I took a chance in almost speaking out against the Israeli government here on Dimitri’s website
    because I know that Dimitri supports the traditional policies of the Green Party
    but , at the same time , it seems like the leader of the Green Party is against people
    who want to be critical of the Israeli government , too . I feel like Annamie Paul and Justin Trudeau
    are trying to stifle me . I think that if I vote for the Greens again , I would have to vote
    for a different leader . Maybe , Dimitri can find a way to run for the leadership
    of the Green Party again ? I learned a lot from reading your article . You are very articulate .
    καλή τύχη … Miles from Belleville , Ontario .

  • Carol Pickup
    Reply

    The world community must support justice for Palestine. The government of Israel is fascist in its treatment of Palestine and continues to allow occupation of land that belongs to Palestine. It has also put embargo’s on food and supplies that are badly needed by the people of Palestine. We are all one people and should treat each other with respect and compassion!!

  • myna lee johnstone
    Reply

    I expect a leader to have excellent Conflict Resolution skills.Especially so as a leader for the GPC.
    The leader can also in difficult situations bring in a trained facilitator to help with discussion and resolve.
    It seems to me this is the problem. The leader failed here.

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