Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Green Party President Paul Estrin's 'Why Gaza Makes Me Sad' Crossed a Line

This blogpost is not about the conflict currently underway in Israel and Gaza. Rather, it’s about the reaction to that conflict which is currently playing itself out in my Party, the Green Party of Canada. And it’s also about my personal experiences with the reaction to the conflict. The specific motivation for this post was a recent blog entry made by the Green Party of Canada’s President, Paul Estrin (see: “Why Gaza makes me sad,” Paul Estrin, Green Party of Canada Blogs, July 25, 2014) which made its way into the public sphere over the weekend thanks to social media connections.

I understand, based on a remark now posted at the bottom of Mr. Estrin’s post, that since publishing the post on Friday, Mr. Estrin has removed reference in the post to his position as President of the Green Party of Canada. Mr. Estrin indicates that he is instead sharing his personal perspective on the Green Party’s blogsite.

The Green Party's Blogsite

First off, let me try to qualify myself here. I am a member of the Green Party of Canada in good standing, and I am currently an Officer with the Nickel Belt Green Party of Canada Electoral District Association. I have no authorization from the Central Party, as per the Party’s Constitution, to speak on behalf of the Party. Nor do I have any authorization from my EDA’s Executive to make statements on its behalf. Given my lack of authorization, I want to make it very clear that I am writing today only as a member of the Green Party of Canada – and no more should be read into this post by anybody.

And the same is true for Mr. Estrin’s post. As a past and one-time frequent contributor to the Green Party’s blogsite, I feel that it is incumbent to let the public know that the Party does not vet or in any way impede the posting of Member’s blogs. If you are a member of the Green Party in good standing, you can apply for a Login to the Member’s section of the site. Once logged in, you can make a post to the Party’s blogsite. Nothing more is required. Blogposts are not hidden by “members only “ firewalls – they are available for the public to view.

The Green Party’s blogsite is a unique feature of my Party, in that it encourages members to actively engage with one another, in a public venue, on matters of importance to the membership – or at least to an individual member. As per the Party’s Constitution, individual members must be authorized to speak on behalf of the Party, or as per the Constitutions of many Electoral District Associations, authorization is also required to speak on behalf of an EDA. Since making my first few blogposts back in 2007-08, I’ve always appended a disclaimer to my blogposts that my views are my own, and that I’m not writing on the Party’s behalf. While not everyone who posts on the Green Party’s site includes similar disclaimers, the fact of the matter is that there is a general understanding in the Party that a post to the blog site is to be in no way construed as representative of the Party’s policy, position or platform.

But values are a different story – one I’ll come back to.

The Party’s blog site is a space created by the membership for engagement. It’s not unusual to find a post made by an individual which challenges member-approved policy or questions decisions made by the Party Leadership. This would be completely unheard of in other parties, and would likely lead to sanctions against individual members. It seems to me that other parties put far too high an emphasis on message management. We Greens instead choose to engage in the messy process we call democracy – and try to do so in a transparent and respectful way. Having a blog site on the Party’s website with content generated by the membership speaks volumes about the inherent values of my Party. Shutting down and stifling respectful differences of opinion has no place in my Party.

That being said, I have to also acknowledge that sometimes, this blog site gets the Party into trouble. In the past, some posts have been made by the membership which have led to questions to the Party regarding the Party’s position on certain matters. People see a post on the Party’s website and some immediately take that post to be representative of the Party’s position or policy – sometimes simply because the Party’s logo might appear on the webpage, other times because it seems to some unfathomable that a political party in Canada in this day and age would tolerate anything but “the party line” posted to its website. Even I, one of the biggest supporters of our blog site, have to acknowledge that the very existence of this blog site causes confusion about the Party amongst the public – and even confusion amongst our own membership.

Years ago, a link to our blog site appeared on the front page of our website. When the Party’s website was redesigned, the link disappeared, and while the blog site still exists, anyone chancing on our site would have a heck of a time trying to find the blogs. But, linking one’s post to social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, can and does make blog posts accessible. And certainly, if you know where to look, you can find all of the blogs.

Since the removal of the link, many Green bloggers, myself included, decided to make the shift to maintaining personal blogs elsewhere other than the Green Party’s website. For a while, I continued to cross-post my blogs to my own personal Sudbury Steve blog and the Party website, but ultimately I moved away from the Party website all together. Now, I only post to the Party’s blog site when I feel that a specific post might be of specific interest to my Party. That being said, I continue to believe that the blog site can be a useful space for members to engage with one another and discuss important issues in a transparent way, although clearly it is being underutilized for those conversations.

Mr. Estrin's Post

All of this brings me back to Paul Estrin’s blog post of Friday, July 25, 2014. Given the above, it is clear to me that Mr. Estrin made this post only as a member of the Green Party in good standing, and not as an official spokesperson of the Party. Although Mr. Estrin is President of the Party, his opinions and posts to our blog site cannot and do not bind the Party to any position at all. That being said, I also totally understand why a blogpost identifying Mr. Estrin as President of the Party can be (and clearly has been) misconstrued as being representative of the Party’s position. I sincerely believe that it was not the intent of Mr. Estrin to mislead anybody into thinking that his opinion was in alignment with the Party. I believe this because I know that Mr. Estrin and I were present at the recent Green Party of Canada General Meeting, held in Fredericton, in which two motions relating to the conflict in Israel and Gaza were discussed by the membership. Further, Mr. Estrin’s own edits to his post clearly demonstrate that he understands his post is representative only of his own opinion, and not the Party’s.

It may be that Mr. Estrin made a mistake by identifying his position in the Party on his blogpost. I’ve not personally made my mind up about that, as I think there was some merit to the membership for him to identify himself as President of the Party. What might have helped initially would have been the sort of disclaimer that he eventually placed on his post, indicating that the view he was discussing was his own alone, and not the Party’s. Again, ultimately, Mr. Estrin made an edit to the post to clarify.

Mr. Estrin’s post has been receiving a lot of feedback in social media, including feedback from Green Party members. Some of my Party’s membership have shared their thoughts and views on the Green Party’s blog site as comments appended to Mr. Estrin’s post. Generally speaking, comments from Greens, including those made by me, have been critical of Mr. Estrin’s post. Other comments in the public realm have praised Mr. Estrin for taking a “bold” stand on the conflict, while yet others have condemned both Mr. Estrin and the Green Party of Canada for holding Mr. Estrin’s views on the conflict.

My Issue with Mr. Estrin's Post

Again, my post today is not going to explore Mr. Estrin’s opinion, or anyone else’s opinion for that matter, on the conflict in Gaza and Israel. I’m here to write about why I believe Mr. Estrin crossed a very serious line with his post, and why I believe he should now resign his position as President of the Green Party of Canada.

The fact that Mr. Estrin expressed his personal opinion on a matter, whether he identified himself as the Party’s President while doing so or not, is not, in my opinion, particularly problematic from the perspective of a legitimate use of the Green Party’s blog site to further discussion amongst members (although I do acknowledge the confusion it has created). That Mr. Estrin’s opinion might not be entirely in keeping with the Party’s policies or positions on this matter is also, frankly, of no concern to me – in fact, I believe that by posting to the blog site, Mr. Estrin’s intention was to foment discussion – the very sort of healthy political discussion that I think we need more of today in Canadian politics, not less.

Where I am expressing significant concern is with some of the characterizations which Mr. Estrin uses in his lengthy post – and in particular, a characterization of Muslims which I find offensive. I know that “cherry picking” certain words and phrases from a much longer piece can lead to mischief – let me be clear, that’s not my intention. The phrase in question stands alone in his lengthier essay, and there appears to be no good reason why Mr. Estrin included it, except to inflame the discussion by painting an identifiable group of people in a negative, and completely inappropriate, light.

The phrase in question is directed towards “peace activists” (which Mr. Estrin refers to in a follow-up comment pejoratively as “peaceniks”):

“We need to re-examine our priorities if we are marching in the streets. Unless we want to see another Mullah amongst us, where other religions aside from a certain variety of Islam are not allowed, where synagogues are used as latrines and garbage dumps and Christians are living in constant fear.”

The implication here is clear, and it’s nasty. Canadians and others “marching in the streets” in favour of ending the conflict in Gaza and Israel must be willing to accept what Mr. Estrin believes to be the inevitable the outcome of such protests. Mr. Estrin’s conclusion is completely off-base, and extremely offensive. And it grossly mischaracterizes Muslims as being anti-Jewish and anti-Christian.

And that’s why I believe that Mr. Estrin’s post has no place on the Green Party’s website. Anti-Islamic language such as Mr. Estrin’s has no place in any respectful and legitimate discourse on any subject, much less on a site hosted by the Green Party for respectful discourse.

The Values of the Party

Further, Mr. Estrin’s gross mischaracterization of Muslims is not in keeping with the Green Party’s values, specifically that of “respecting diversity”. By attempting to associate anti-Jewish and anti-Christian behaviour with an identifiable group, in this case a “certain variety” of Muslims, Mr. Estrin has clearly crossed the line of respectful discourse and veered instead into what can only be construed as offensive.

If Mr. Estrin sincerely believes that we are at risk of Muslims turning synagogues into latrines because of our peaceful protests, not only is Mr. Estrin completely misinformed, but he needs to resign his position as President of the Green Party – and frankly, he should also resign his membership in the Party. And let me be clear – Mr. Estrin does, in fact, make it very clear that he is quite serious about his belief in this risk, as later in the piece Mr. Estrin attempts to justify his fears by indicating that these events happened in Jordan in the past. Mr. Estrin should keep in mind that the past is not prologue, and what may have happened in another place and another time is not demonstrative of what may happen here and now.

Unfortunately, this gross mischaracterization of Muslims taints Mr. Estrin’s piece in its entirety – at least for me. While others have seen valid points in Mr. Estrin’s post, the anti-Islamic tone precipitated by Mr. Estrin’s characterization of Muslims is hard to overlook and should not be overlooked.

Legitimacy and Confidence

Yesterday, I posted a comment to Mr. Estrin’s post in which I asked Mr. Estrin to resign. I reposted my comment to my Facebook Page, to which Mr. Estrin responded – so I know he’s seen my request for him to step down as President. I continue to believe that for the good of the Party, Mr. Estrin should resign. Mr. Estrin can make this decision on his own – and should do so in the next day or two.

Otherwise, the Party may be left with no choice but to have our Federal Council review the situation and make a decision on his removal from Federal Council, as per Section of the Party’s Constitutional by-laws. In arriving at a decision, should one be warranted, I believe that it is incumbent upon our Federal Council to strongly consider the anti-Islamic viewpoints expressed by Mr. Estrin, and question whether these views can be reconciled with the Party’s value of respecting diversity.

If Mr. Estrin does not act on his own initiative, and if our Federal Council fails to act, I believe that my Party is headed towards a crisis of legitimacy. This is not about free speech or controlling the views of party members – I sincerely hope that my blogpost has made it clear that I, and the majority of Greens, value the ability to publicly disagree with one another and our Party, if done with respect. This isn’t about anybody’s opinion on the conflict underway in Israel and Gaza. And this certainly isn’t about trying to sweep a sensitive political matter under the carpet, as some have suggested.

This is about respectful discourse in keeping with the values of the Party.

And I believe that’s the line Mr. Estrin has crossed.

Of course, it may be that by writing this post, as a member of the Party, I am also in contravention of the Party’s by-laws and should be made subject to discipline. I believe that what I’ve written here today (and elsewhere yesterday) has been in keeping with the values of the Party. If I am to be made answerable for what I’ve written, I’ll accept whatever consequences arise as a result. The good of the Party remains my primary concern, and it is what has motivated me to write about this episode with Mr. Estrin. I continue to believe that the good of the Party would be best served by not having Mr. Estrin occupy the position of President any longer – no matter how that may come about. If expressing my opinion on this matter should lead to a complaint process with the Party’s Ombuds Committee, or our Federal Council’s consideration of my expulsion, I am prepared to reiterate my reasons and motivation for writing this post to whatever body of the Party that may charged with considering the matter.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)


John Hutchinson said...

"Unless we want to see another Mullah amongst us, where other religions aside from a certain variety of Islam are not allowed, where synagogues are used as latrines and garbage dumps and Christians are living in constant fear."

Even of the phrase that you cherry pick from your party president's post misconstrues his viewpoint.

The "certain variety of Islam" is the type of Islam like ISIS, which kills other Sunnis because they are not Sunni enough. It is no different than Jacobins who killed other Jacobins because of their insufficient purity or Stalinists who killed other Communists for ostensibly similar reasons.

The mindset of such varieties of any religious or secular groups are reducible to that of death dispensers.

adam zarwan said...

I simply don't believe the Green Party should endorse blatant Islamophobia.

billblog said...

The books of Israeli historian Ilan Pappé provide excellent counterpoint to the narrative promoted by the Israeli government.