Murray Dobbin: Libby Davies remarks on Israel a leadership test for Jack Layton

Today, Tuesday June 15, is a day the NDP”˜s Jack Layton will face a leadership test. He is poised to make a decision to punish one of his MPs and it could stain his leadership for a long time to come.

The party is in a state of near hysteria over what should have been a minor flap. But when the question of Israel and the Palestinians is involved, nothing is simple. The pro-Israel lobby and its friends are masters of taking advantage of any situation to promote their cause and vilify Israel’s critics. And it doesn’t matter if the victim is an icon of progressive politics.

In this case Vancouver East MP Libby Davies got bushwacked by a pro-Israel activist posing as a neutral – if not pro-Palestinian – blogger. After a rally for the Palestinians criticizing Israel’s deadly assault on the aid flotilla, a man approached Libby asking for an interview. As she always does, because she never hides her views, she complied. He immediately set her up with what he called a “background question.” He asked when the occupation began, 1948 or 1967.

Libby hesitated then said 1948. She made the point that the date was not important – that whatever the date the occupation was the longest in the world – and far too long.

The next day the interview appeared on YouTube. But in 24 hours it had gone nowhere – just 28 views. Then the most vociferous supporter of Israel in the NDP caucus, Thomas Mulcair, got wind of it and it escalated out of control. He went on a relentless campaign to punish Libby. The spin he helped create was that if Libby believed the occupation began in 1948 then she, ipso facto, believes that Israel has no right to exist. Libby has always gone to great lengths to make it clear that she supports Israel’s right to exist and the two-state solution endorsed by the NDP. But suddenly Jack Layton was in full-panic mode. He apologized to the Israeli ambassador. He hung Libby out to dry. He forced her to issue a public apology.

Apology? For what?

Some have criticized Libby’s statement as evidence that she does not know the history of the occupation which most mainstream commentators date from 1967 – when Israel militarily occupied the West bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights. But Libby’s problem was not that she didn’t know enough. She knew too much.

It is part of the unquestioned history of Israel that during the time leading up to its formal establishment by UN resolution 181 there was a massive, forced expulsion of 750,000 Palestinian Arabs from the land designated for the Jewish state. The resolution explicitly banned any such expulsion. The Arab population of that land had equal rights to it.

So when did the occupation begin? Certainly the Arab families who were forced from their homes, farms and villages by Israeli terrorist groups like the Irgun believe their land was occupied. They still do. That is the basis for their demand of the Right of Return.

In any case Libby’s point in the interview was the correct one: whenever you date the occupation one thing is clear. It is a grotesque violation of international law, human rights and numerous UN resolutions which Israel, with the carte blanche support of the US and Canada, contemptuously ignores.

Here’s where the question of leadership comes in. Jack Layton has said virtually nothing about the hideous blockade of Gaza – what commentators call an outdoor prison. Why? Because he is does not, apparently, have the political courage to take an independent stand on Canadian foreign policy. He said virtually nothing when eleven aid activists were murdered (some of them executed at close range or shot in the back) by Israeli commandos.

But suddenly he is fully engaged in the issue because one of his most trusted and ethical MPs got suckered into making a controversial statement.

Mr. Layton needs to rethink which is more important – the vicious blockade of Gaza, and the collective punishment of 1.5 million people. Or a careless remark by an MP admired across the country for her courage and openness.

The irony is that Libby is being punished for doing exactly what Jack Layton should be doing: defending the human rights of a people suffering under the oppression of an Apartheid regime.

No one said leadership is easy. Jack Layton should back off, tell Thomas Mulcair to quit exposing the party to public ridicule, and maybe consider taking a stand, with Libby, on behalf of the Palestinians of Gaza. He might be pleasantly surprised at the response of Canadians.

Murray Dobbin writer and activist living in Powell River. He is a supporter of Independent Jewish Voices of Canada and maintains a blog at



Go Libby

Jun 15, 2010 at 5:50pm

Well said.
Watch the tape before judging. Libby's comments were courageous, especially when she commented on how afraid politicians are to look at the Palestinians' suffering. Her slip about the date should not detract from the larger point, which she made well. Get a backbone, Layton. Hang your head in shame, Iggy.


Jun 15, 2010 at 6:05pm

This is exactly why I no longer support the NDP.
Jack has no business being an apologetic toad.

laith marouf

Jun 15, 2010 at 6:36pm

Even tho as an Arab I am opposed to current Israeli policies against the Palestinians, I do support the UN decision to create the state of Israel in 1948. We Arabs are fighting the occupation of 1967 during the Six Day War. We are not fighting the events of 1948. That was long ago. If there is ever to be peace in the Middle East, it has to be built on the Arab League plan of 2002 which is 2 states for 2 peoples based on the pre-1967 borders which were determined after 1948. Libby Davies and Murray Dobbin should get the hell out of Middle East affairs because they are allowing extremists to sabotage the peace process.

Stephen Karr

Jun 15, 2010 at 7:50pm

I'm very pissed at Harper for playing political games with this by calling for the resignation of my MP, one of the best consituency MPs in parliament.


Jun 15, 2010 at 8:12pm

I am surprised that Murray Dobbin is a writer for the georgia straight, let alone any news provider in general. To call Israel an apartheid state is by far one of the most unintelligent things I have ever heard. About three weeks ago I was sitting in the doctor's office in Israel waiting to see the doctor. The doctor's name was Mohammad. Please explain to me how this situation fits under the conditions of an apartheid state? Libby Davies is a politician who vacationed in the West Bank and Gaza a few times and suddenly she's an expert on the situation? Davies has ridiculed herself as a politican because she couldn't even recall when Israel occupied territories outside of it's UN 1948 declared borders. Just as the Palestinians are suffering, Israeli's are being terrorized. Open your eyes, this isn't a black or white issue.

Richard Reinisch

Jun 15, 2010 at 10:50pm

It amazes me when critical remarks about Israel's government policies are painted with an 'anti-semite' brush. To be critical of a government and to be critical of a people are Two Very Different Things.


Jun 16, 2010 at 1:21am

Oh boy, great, more poor writing from an undoubtedly biased author. "Bushwacked"? Murray, Really? If an MP can't answer questions asked by anyone, agenda or not, and not answer them appropriately, that person is open for ridicule and criticism. The NDP hung her out to dry because she did not follow her party's platform on the issue and let her personal feelings get in the way.

Lets refocus here. The point is, is that the "masters of taking advantage" here are the anti-Israel activists and their supporters. The flotilla was an obvious ploy to create the kind of outrage that now surges today across the world. And, for all its worth, its good that it creates more discussion and controversy because we can get to the bottom of an issue that is quite clear when all the facts are presented (I'll leave that for you to determine).

BUT helloooo, Libby. You, too, are being fooled into this blown out of proportion debate. You know while the flotilla was floating across the Mediterranean 90 people died in Pakistan because of a terrorist explosion. Did you know that quality of life in many Sub-Saharan African countries is much worse than in the Gaza. She should be bringing up these issues in parliament and focusing on these larger human crises instead of putting her foot in her mouth over an issue that is constantly at the forefront of media attention for no other reason than the popularity created by this obnoxious, leftist movement that clearly has no better way to focus its time and energy.


Jun 16, 2010 at 1:39am

israel is an apartheid state. i support libby davies. so many of them who are attacking libby are doing so because libby is challenging their privilege and the status quo. i say, "keep up the good work libby!"


Jun 16, 2010 at 2:05am

Is this for real? Is he really backing Arab regimes with the claim that he's standing up for human rights?! Are you kidding??

Israel is the only country in the Middle East with established gay rights, women's rights, free speech, a free press, an open democracy (with Arab and Jewish parties). If Ms. Davies lived in one of the Arab regimes she so vehemently defends, she would not be in politics and certainly would not have the freedom to speak publicly about her beliefs.

Egons Lasis

Jun 16, 2010 at 6:47am

Libby Davies not once questioned the right of Israel to exist. She merely expressed a fact - the State of Israel has occupied land of one sort or another from its very inception in 1948. Get over it. It seems like anything said negative about Israel is treated like hate speech. That's a dangerous and slippery slope. There is a global groundswell surrounding boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and it is spreading through common folk as well as through the trade union movement. Governments will soon be embarrassed when citizens with conscience will do what politicians without backbone will not. Bravo Libby Davies for speaking your mind – we need more of your ilk.