NDP riding associations rebel against leader Marit Stiles’ explusion of Hamilton MPP


Published October 27, 2023 at 11:20 am

Marit Stiles
Ontario NDP MPP Marit Stiles speaks to the media following the Speech from the Throne at Queen's Park in Toronto, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. The former school trustee and current education critic has launched her bid to lead the Ontario's New Democrats. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Lahodynskyj

Several Ontario NDP riding associations have rebelled against leader Marit Stiles’ decision to expel Hamilton Centre MPP Sarah Jama from caucus following her controversial remarks about the Israel-Hamas war.

The controversy began shortly after Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, launched a surprise attack on Israel, which surrounds and blockades Gaza, on Oct. 7. This kicked off the latest salvo in the decades-long Isreal-Palestine conflict. It’s the fifth war between Hamas and Israel since the group, designated as a terrorist entity in Canada, took over Gaza in 2007.

The conflict has had a keen impact at home in Canada as well. So far, seven Canadians have died in the fighting and the federal government is working to extract as many of the remaining roughly 6,000 Canadians in the area as possible. More locally, the fighting has prompted protests and even violence in the GTA.

While politicians of all stripes weighed in with statements about the situation, none provoked a backlash like Jama’s. Following the breakout of violence, Jama called for an “immediate ceasefire” to the conflict. She wrote that the generations-long occupation of Palestine is “apartheid.”

“For 75 years, violence and retaliation rooted in settler colonialism have taken the lives of far too many innocent people,” she wrote, “We must look to the solution to this endless cycle of death and destruction: end all occupation of Palestinian land and end apartheid. Canada must hold true to its history of peacemaking, and refrain from military intervention. My heart genuinely goes out to all those impacted by this on-going violence.”

NDP Leader Marit Styles was among the first to criticize Jama’s comments, saying they did not conform to the party’s positions. She called on Jama to “retract her statement, and state clearly that she decries any violence against both Israeli and Palestinian people and that she agrees with the federal NDP’s stance.”

While Jama did not remove her post she did apologize and say, “Violence against civilians is never justified, and that there is no military solution to this conflict…To be clear, I unequivocally condemn terrorism by Hamas on thousands of Israeli civilians,” she wrote. “I also believe that Israel’s bombardment and siege on civilians in Gaza, as was also noted by the United Nations, is wrong.”

Premier Doug Ford was also quick to condemn Jama’s original statement, accusing her of anti-semitism. He called on Jama to resign her post given what he called “a long and well-documented history of antisemitism.” He accused Jama of “publicly supporting the rape and murder of innocent Jewish people.”

Jama responded by serving Ford with notice she intended to sue him for libel, believing Ford’s accusations “recklessly and maliciously” impugned her reputation. Following this and additional comments on Israel-Palestine from Jama, Stiles reversed course. The NDP ousted Jama from caucus and cut off all party support for her office.

Stiles said that while Jama had agreed to follow the party line, “she has undertaken a number of unilateral actions that have undermined our collective work and broken the trust of her colleague. She said Jama’s comments created an “unsafe workspace” for her staff.

That same day, Ford’s Progressive Conservatives voted to censure Jama in the legislature over her comments. As a result, Jama can no longer speak in Queen’s Park. The move has been widely condemned as silencing her and her constituents. While the NDP forced Jama out, they did vote against the censure.

However, many in the party were unhappy with Stiles’ decision to boot Jama. The Hamilton Centre NDP riding association, which tapped Jama to run in the first place, condemned the decision on Oct. 26. They called Stiles’ decision an “attack on democracy, social justice and all those activists who fight for truth and human rights,” and “nothing less than a capitulation to the grossly anti-democratic censure by the corrupt Doug Ford Conservative government.”

Jama offered a sense of hope to people who would not normally engage in partisan politics. As a riding association, we feel betrayed, angry, and extremely demoralized,” they wrote. “We want to reaffirm our support for MPP Sarah Jama. We demand that the ONDP rescind their removal of MPP Sarah Jama from the ONDP caucus immediately and we demand a review of the leadership of Marit Stiles by any and all appropriate means.”

These demands were echoed by the Kitchener Centre NDP riding association, which additionally called for Stiles to step down as leader. Hamilton Centre MP Matthew Green, Jama’s federal counterpart, also stood by Jama, saying her expulsion “perpetuates a long history of racialized voices being dismissed and ignored in spaces where decisions are made.”

The Ontario NDP media office did not respond to a request for comment.

Israel-Hamas War Background

Israel seized Gaza following the 1967 Six-Day War with Egypt and has occupied the area ever since. Israel withdrew from the strip when Hamas took over but has maintained a blockade around the city for the last 15 years. The Egyptian government is also instrumental in maintaining the blockade. They control all food, water, electricity and medical imports. As a result, the Gaza Strip has been described as an open-air prison. With 2 million residents, half of them children, the Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

The Hamas attack has been widely condemned for its brutality. After militants flooded over the fence, they attacked several border communities, military bases and a concert. They slaughtered hundreds of civilians, including children and babies, and took more than 200 hostages back to Gaza.

Israel quickly and harshly responded. They immediately declared a new unity government and a state of war with Hamas. In the weeks since the Hamas attack, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has launched a steady barrage of airstrikes on Gaza, including civilian targets, stating that Hamas operatives hide in civilian infrastructure. Likewise, Hamas has continued launching rockets into Israel.

At one point, Israel stopped all food, water, electricity and medicine from entering the city, which many decried as a war crime. Some humanitarian supplies have since been allowed in the city following international pressure.

Hamas reports 7,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the last three weeks, with nearly 18,500 injured and nearly 2,000 missing. Israel says they’ve lost 1,400 people, mostly killed in the Oct. 7 attack, with 5,000 injured in that timeframe.

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