By: Kelly Chia, Editor-in-Chief
Content warning: mentions of bombings, genocide, racism.
On October 24, member of provincial parliament (MPP) Sarah Jama was censured. This means Jama will not be recognized by the Speaker of the House. She made a statement on October 7 calling for de-escalation from the Israeli government and ceasefire in occupied Palestine. Her statement was criticized for not condemning Hamas’ attacks on Israel, though she condemned “Hamas’ terrorism on thousands of Israeli citizens” in a later apology. Jama’s defense of civilian Palestinian lives isn’t equivalent to condoning violence toward Israeli and Jewish civilians, and it should have never been portrayed as such.
Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) leader, Marit Stiles, had the gall to censure Jama for advocating for peace in Palestine before reiterating her statement for a ceasefire days later. She is calling for the same thing Jama did — she just waited until it was politically acceptable. If there were any heart to Stiles’ call, she would reinstate Jama and apologize. Jama did what our government continues to shy away from: speaking up on behalf of over 9,000 people, at least 3,195 of whom are children and have been killed in the bombardments.
Jama’s censure for speaking up for Palestinians came at a time when they were met with little sympathy from western media and governments. This is an unjust punishment toward an MPP who is advocating for the humanity of Palestinians. However, punishment for speaking on behalf of Palestine seems to be in line with western sentiment.
Many critics seem to interpret calls for freeing Palestine — which at its heart is a call to end the decades of Israeli occupation on Palestinian land — as dismissive of Hamas’ attacks on October 7. In reality, the Israeli military have not just attacked in retaliation, but have escalated their decades-long occupation. International law condemns the Israeli occupation on the Gaza strip and West Bank as apartheid — referring to systemic segregation toward Palestinians — among many other violent atrocities. This has been ongoing for the past 75 years. It’s far from the only time Israeli military forces have attacked Palestine, but now they have the western world’s approval and unconditional sympathy.
Though left-leaning parties like the NDP have recently made lukewarm calls for a ceasefire, showing solidarity with Palestine has put many at risk of their careers. Numerous people, expressing only solidarity with Palestine, have been let go from publications, government bodies, and more. In the last month, the NDP, like many political parties in Canada, insinuated that Palestinian rallies and Palestinian solidarity is antisemitic. However, the idea that supporting Palestine is antisemitic equates criticisms of the Israeli nation state with criticisms of Judaism and Jewish people. Former NDP MP and Toronto mayor Olivia Chow, for example, characterized a pro-Palestine rally as a glorification of Hamas attacks. As Israeli journalist Abraham Gutman writes, this “conflates a diverse religion with the politics and policies of a single country.” As antisemitic incidents rise, it’s important to remember calls for ceasefire and condemnation of Israel’s actions are not calls to endanger Jewish people, or dismiss those who lost their lives as a result of the conflict. Many Jewish organizations have gathered at Palestine rallies to show their support for ending Israel’s occupation.
Jama is an ONDP MPP who has always advocated for marginalized people. She has openly spoken on accessibility in medical care and ending boil water advisories in Indigenous communities. At the time she was removed, Jama said her team was cut off from documents and data that would have assisted community members in navigating the Ontario Disability Support Program. ONDP leader Marit Stiles claimed in a statement on Jama’s censure that she had “contributed to unsafe work environments for staff.” Stiles perpetuates the racist belief of Black women being aggressive just for speaking up. Jama’s expulsion from caucus shows how afraid a supposed left-leaning party is of actual progressive ideals. Jama is a Black and disabled MPP, identities that intersect in her work. If progressiveness is what the ONDP claims as one of its principles, why haven’t they accounted for the people who need a MPP like Jama? The ONDP may flaunt its progressiveness, but their abandonment of Jama is insidious.
As the Toronto-St. Paul’s NDP wrote in a statement, Jama “echoed positions held by the United Nations, International Court of Justice, and numerous human rights organizations whose only goals are toward peace.” Her censure reflects the hypocrisy toward calls to support peace in Palestine, which are treated not only punitively, but with much more scrutiny than calls for peace in Israel. Attacks on civilians should be unequivocally condemned. But there are double standards in our governments’ and media corporations’ attitudes towards Israel’s “self-defense.” This self-defense has extended to genocidal violence toward Palestinians. Despite the increasing death toll and horrific footage coming from Gaza, calling for peace and ceasefire suddenly becomes “complicated” when discussing the rights of Palestinians. Where is that same immediate condemnation of violence now?
What I’d like to ask all these critics is how much they truly believe removing clean water, fuel, and electricity from millions of people could constitute self-defense. So many media networks categorize Israel’s attacks, which largely impact Palestinian citizens, as a war against Hamas. How could this be a war against Hamas when the attacks target millions of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza strip? Israel drones have striked the West Bank, which aren’t governed by Hamas. They have also striked Lebanon and Syria, committing serious international crimes. Where have the calls for justice been for them?
The safe zones Palestinians are told to flee to have also been bombed, and they have nowhere else to go. Hospitals in Gaza continue to receive bomb threats while half of the 2.2 million Palestinian citizens have been displaced by strikes destroying their homes. Do critics truly believe every life matters, or do they just not care that nearly 50 families — entire generations — have been wiped from registries as a result of these attacks?
It is not difficult to name what we are witnessing as a genocide, which develops in multiple steps. We have already gone through classification, discrimination, and so much more. As there have been reports of mass killings using internationally outlawed white phosphorus on civilians in Gaza, we are rapidly approaching the end stages of genocide. Yet, we continue to punish politicians like Jama for calling on Canada to intervene.
On October 27, 120 countries passed a motion for a ceasefire in Palestine. It is notably a motion that Canada abstained from. The silence in the face of this much violence is palpable, and severely disappointing.
Calls for ceasefire and peace should not be punished. It should not be controversial to call for the immediate restoration of water, electricity, fuel — basic human needs — for Palestine. It is only recently that western sentiment has shifted, as more and more MPs call on Trudeau to advocate for a ceasefire.
In the face of so much grief, horror, and despair, Palestinians continue to protest against their oppressors in the West Bank. Jewish communities are gathering all over the world, chanting, “not in our name,” in solidarity. Even as they risk legal punishment, activists in Israel are standing on behalf of Palestine. Hundreds and thousands of people protest around the world, like Sarah Jama, despite institutional suppression from their universities and their jobs, standing up for Palestine’s liberation and freedom.
Palestinians have experienced decades of military attacks and an oppressive regime. Media was so quick to condemn Hamas’ violent attack, but where was that condemnation when Palestinians have been killed for decades? We need to be more wary of the narrative that this is “complicated,” because making the choice to not learn more at this critical time means being complicit in watching a genocide unfold. This is why it’s also important for us to continue to call out our institutions when they are punishing their workers for speaking up. They are not wrong for calling on our governments to intervene. By speaking up, we empower our MPs to demand an end to Israel’s persecution of Palestine.
E-4949 is a petition to the Prime Minister calling to demand a ceasefire. To learn more about Palestinian history and the Israeli occupation, visit Decolonize Palestine. They are an independent website run by two Palestinians, curating resources, reading lists, and historical timelines. B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, is an Israeli organization dedicated to documenting and collecting statistics on the Israeli occupation and human rights violations on their website.