Wednesday, June 2, 2021

My Personal Expression of Anger Over an Intolerable Situation in the Green Party of Canada


Something truly unprecedented is happening right now in the Green Party of Canada, and it has made me angrier than I've ever been since I became engaged in politics. 

As truly unbelievable as this sounds, two of the Green Party's three elected Members of Parliament, Jenica Atwin (Fredericton) and Paul Manly (Nanaimo-Ladysmith) have been labelled anti-Semites by Green Party Leader Annamie Paul's office.  Even more than that, Paul's office has vowed to work to defeat these two MP's.

Green Party MP Jenica Atwin (Fredericton)

That a party leader's office has issued a strong statement about their own MP's is very unusual, but not unprecedented. Recall that Conservative Party leader Erin O'Toole and  his office was recently publicly critical of Hastings-Lennox and Addington MP Derek Sloan, before the Conservative caucus gave Sloan the boot (he now sits as an Independent).

What's completely different here, though, is that Paul's office has taken the egregious step of labeling Atwin and Manly as anti-Semites, without providing a single shred of evidence.  Labels like this can tarnish the reputations of good people - even if they are not true.  We all know what the internet is like, and even a whiff of an unfounded accusation can linger around an individual, poisoning their professional working environment.

Green Party MP Paul Manly (Nanaimo-Ladysmith)

If for some reason you don't believe me, just do a quick Google Search of "Jenica Atwin anti-Semite" and see what Google gives you. It's a number of articles written in the past few weeks about why some Greens are now calling Atwin anti-Semitic.  There are a few links to articles posted in her defense as well. My point is that this is not something that there should have ever have been a conversation about in the first place, and the only reason Atwin's reputation has taken a hit is because the Green Party Leader's office targeted her with unfounded smears.

Google Search, June 2 2021


How did all of this come about? I documented the beginning of this disgusting episode in a recent blogpost (see:"Green MPs and NDP Leader Engaged in Anti-Semitism, Says Senior Advisor to Green Party Leader," Sudbury Steve May, May 19 2021).  Since then, Noah Zatzman, Annamie Paul's senior advisor, has spoken further with the media, to clarify his now-deleted Facebook post, assuring the CBC that he did not originally mean to imply that former Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands) was to be one of the MP's targeted for removal (see:"Violence in Gaza and Israel has left behind a changed political landscape in Canada," Evan Dyer, CBC, May 29 2021). 

Since screenshots of Zaztman's Facebook post first started making the rounds on social media, Paul has had considerable opportunity to set the record straight about whether the post was a one-off from an office advisor gone rogue - which I have to say, certainly appeared to me to be the case.  Zaztman's Facebook post, while expressing real emotional pain on his part, is nevertheless expressed through a distorted lens an alternate reality that is completely unrecognizable. Calling for the defeat of sitting Green MP's and their replacement with "progressive climate champions that are antifa and pro LGBT and pro indigenous sovereignty and Zionists!!!!!" is not the sort of statement that one could ever expect to be seen coming from the Green Party Leader's office.

Recent Developments

Yet Paul remained silent. After this weekend's piece by the CBC's Evan Dyer, the rest of the mainstream media started picking up this story.  After Monday, May 31st press conference convened by Paul to state the Green Party's response to the mass grave recently found at a former residential school site, and to discuss Bill C-12, the government bill that will establish a climate target framework that Greens will not be supporting.  But instead of questions from the media about either of these two hot political topics, Paul was grilled on what was characterized by the media as being a "rift" over the Party's response on Israel / Palestine.  Paul had a public opportunity to state her support for MPs Atwin and Manly.  There was no suggestion that Zaztman's point of view was his own, and that she did not share it. Paul decided to say only what amounted to nothing more than she wouldn't get involved in this conversation, while reminding the press that she remains committed in her opposition to anti-Semitism. (see: Youtube video, CPAC, May 31 2021).

That appears to have been the greenlight for her proxy Zaztman to go on a media offensive, laying the groundwork for the eventual expulsion of Atwin and Manly. Yesterday, Zaztman told the Canadian Press that it was terminology used by Atwin and Manly ('apartheid' and 'ethnic cleansing') to describe the situation on the ground in Israel, Gaza and the Occupied Territories that amounted to anti-Semitism (see: "Green party rift over Israeli-Palestinian conflict grows as MPs break from leader," Christopher Reynolds, Canadian Press, June 1 2021). The use of these words by Atwin and Manly, in the context of the larger issue of Israel / Palestine within the Party, appear to be, in Zaztman's opinion at least, holding the Party back from becoming a "mainstream" political party.  

Suffice it to say that I completely disagree with that assessment, and am extremely offended by the suggestion that the Green Party of Canada - with elected MP's since 2011 - isn't already a mainstream political force in Canada. And to hear this coming from the spokesperson for the Party Leader's office is just maddeningly offensive.  Hence my anger.

But Zatzman wasn't done.  In speaking to the French-language La Presse, Zaztman specifically and cavalierly alluded to the need for the Party to get rid of Jenica Atwin, in order to join the mainstream (see: "Les verts se déchirent sur le conflit israélo-palestinien," Mélanie Marquis, June 1 2021). 

From La Presse, June 1 2021

Google Translation of La Presse snip

About Me

I've been involved with the Green Party of Canada since 2007, albeit mainly at the local level as an officer in the Sudbury and Nickel Belt Electoral District Associations.  I've never wanted to seek the nomination as a Party candidate, or stand for an internal Party elected position.  I've been happy to largely engage with local Greens, express my opinion on matters from the sidelines, and to play the role of occasional shit disturber when I've seen things start to go off the rails in my own Party.  I feel that I've been fairly engaged with the Party throughout the years, and I have been proud to tell people that I'm a Green.

I also know very well that my opinion is just that - my opinion, and mine alone. I don't presume to speak for the Party or for anybody else when I'm writing here on my blog, or in my local newspaper, or even on Facebook or Twitter. I used to run disclaimers about this on all of my posts, just in case there was some doubt about on whose behalf I've commenting.  I admit that I have the luxury of being able to draw lines fairly easily around offering my own opinions, versus those few rare times where I was speaking or writing on behalf of the Party (such as announcing a General Meeting of the EDA, or a candidate nomination meeting).

Why I Believe that the Leader Condones These Accusations

So why am I not giving Noah Zaztman the benefit of the doubt here, that he really has just gone rogue and is not, in fact, speaking on behalf of the Leader's Office when he says things like Atwin and Manly have to go if the Green Party is to become a mainstream political party, because they are anti-Semites?  Again, my initial thoughts on all of this were that he just went rogue, for whatever reason. Those thoughts were supported by the fact that he removed his original Facebook post that kicked all of this off. I thought maybe Paul might have had a word with him, telling him he went too far, that as a communications professional, he ought to have known how divisive his statement was, not to mention how much it tarnishes the reputation of elected Green MPs.

Sill, the statement was out there in the public realm. I waited and waited for Annamie Paul to address the egregious and offensive words written by her Senior Advisor, who has acted as a spokesperson for her Office on more than one occasion. But there was only silence.  The longer that silence grew, the greater my concern that her silence was if not condoning Zaztman, indicative as some level of support for his statement.

After Zaztman was given the opportunity this past weekend by the CBC to "clarify" that he never meant to target Elizabeth May in his original comments, I really figured that Paul was going to fire him.  At the very least, she now had to say something to the media - to all Canadians, really, and especially members of the Green Party, many of whom have fought much harder than I have to see Green MPs like Atwin and Manly take a seat in the House and advance the interest of our Party.  With Zaztman now going to the mainstream media directly to share his thoughts, Paul just couldn't avoid clarifying that Zaztman was speaking only for himself, and that she at least continues to support Atwin and Manly.  She needed to create political distance between herself and her office adviser / spokesperson.

Because if she didn't start laying the groundwork to create that political distance, how else could anyone conclude anything other than her support of Zaztman's reality-defying accusations of anti-Semitism directed at Atwin and Manly, along with his call for their defeat? 

But instead of creating political distance, she used Monday's press conference to offer tepid support to Zaztman by focusing only on her fight against anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism in the Green Party is Real.

Let me back up for a moment and say a little something about this. As an engaged Green, I have been completely shocked and appalled by the rise of anti-Semitism within my Party over the past year or so - pretty much since the beginning of the leadership contest. I know that there has always existed an anti-Semitic element within the Party, but it really has reared its ugly head in a way I've never seen before - coincident with a leadership contest that featured Annamie Paul, who is Jewish. 

This rise in anti-Semitism is real, and should not be discounted by any Green Party member as just being a casualty of a Zionist perspective that suggests some or all of criticism directed at the State of Israel or its Jewish leaders should be considered anti-Semitic. Too many Greens that I've encountered are unwilling to take a hard look at what appears to me to be real, live, disgusting anti-Semitism in the Party - much of it directed at Paul because she is Jewish.  

I have zero doubt that when Noah Zaztman and Annamie Paul say they have experienced anti-Semitism from Green Party members and supporters, they are telling the truth. I've seen it, as recently today, posted in online forums by Green Party members.  I've seen it on Twitter. In the case of Annamie Paul and the leadership contest, I even documented it in a blogpost (see: "Anti-Semitism and the Green Party of Canada's Leadership Contest," Sudbury Steve May, October 1 2020).  In a very significant way, it's this anti-Semitism that's led me to take a big step back from my roles in the Green Party. While I remain a member (for now), that too may change unless there is a satisfactory resolution to the current crisis within the Party.

Why I Am A Green

I understand the importance of the Israel / Palestine issue.  I support the Green Party's policies on the matter.  I know that for some, it's those policies that brought them to the Green Party - and many of those have been saddened to see that recent responses to current events coming from the Party haven't exactly lived up to, or been completely in-line with member-approved policies.  I know this is important.

But it's not why I'm a Green.  Yes, it's important. I just wish that what the Green Party had to say about Israel/Palestine would actually have some impact on finding a way to resolve what appears to me to be an intractable situation.  

But I'm here for the climate change.  More specifically, I'm a Green because I believe the Green Party is the only Party in Canada that is offering voters a complete range of policy solutions that will, if implemented, have a meaningful impact on the climate crisis.  As a political person, I also believe that the best way to influence policy decisions is to have a seat at the table - to be on the inside - while co-ordinating in concert with those on the outside, pushing for change.  For me, electing Greens to Parliament is all-important, followed by showing voters that the option of electing Green MP's is both sensible and viable.

As a father of three children under the age of 12, I despair that we are running out of time to taking meaningful action so as to avoid condemning my children - and all children, including those not yet born - to a world far more violent and despairing than the one that I grew up in.  I know that we've got to figure a lot of things out - like how to create a more just and equitable society by tackling the significant and gross aspects of capitalism.  I know we need to do a lot more work to combat the serious systemic racism that exists in all of our institutions - racism that is holding people back, and holding people down.  I know that it's not just here in Canada where Canadians can have some impact on changing the world through our diplomacy and actions - and that includes Israel / Palestine.  

But I also know that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told the world that we are running out of time to act, and the end of this decade may already be too late.  

Why I Am So Damn Angry

And that's why I am just so damn angry with what is happening now in the Green Party.  I know that there is anti-Semitism in the Party, but the characterization of statements made by MPs Atwin and Manly critical of the State of Israel as being 'anti-Semitic' are not examples of that.  And they sure as hell are not reasons to tear the Party apart by calling for their defeat and replacement with 'Zionists'.  And even if you thought that shedding these MPs from the Party's roster would lead to a better outcome for the Party, there are sure as hell better, more politically astute ways to do so than by having proxies smear Atwin and Manly in the media with the anti-Semite epithet, and standing by and saying nothing.

And it's maybe for that last reason that I'm so incredibly appalled by what's been happening. I've sometimes described myself as the Green Party's "most partisan Green" and I've often written about how I wish members of my own Party were more attune to politics than they are.  As a political animal, of course I'm going to see this through a political lens. I wanted to give Annamie Paul the benefit of the doubt now for a long while - not just with regards to Zaztman, but also with regards to the similar whisper campaign alleging racism and anti-Semitism directed at the Green Party's elected Federal Council.  Paul's former Campaign Manager Sean Yo told the Toronto Star that Paul's friction with Council could only be viewed through the lenses of racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny - without providing any evidence in support.

We know that just whispering the words "racism" and "anti-Semitism" about individuals is enough to damage people's reputation in the minds of others, even if there is no evidence. When we see allegations of racism and anti-Semitism printed in newspapers and spoken by TV news anchors, we take those allegations very seriously - more seriously than we would a whisper in our ear, or a one-off post on social media.  It's all damaging - but there are degrees of damage.  When names are attached to these accusations, we take them more seriously, and can't help but wonder what it was that they did to lead to the accusation. When accusations are made by someone whom was a presumed friend or allay, people can't help but take notice. These kinds of accusations can end someone's political career. They are as serious as can possibly be.

And that's why I'm so damn angry. 

Something Has To Give

Look, none of this is about me. Except, it is. I now find myself a member of a political party that I have long supported with my time, energy and resources. I continue to believe that this Party has the best set of policy options available to Canadians, especially with regards to an issue that is most important to me: climate change.  I also continue to believe that members of the Green Party made a great choice in the recent leadership contest, as Annamie Paul was, in my opinion, the best nomination contestant on offer, and I had no reservations whatsoever of voting for her. I continue to believe that she is a dynamic individual of many talents who can lead this Party to significant success - unless her silence and inaction leads to the Party tearing itself apart first.

How can I in good conscience remain connected to a Party wherein the Leader's proxies are encouraged (whether via silence or otherwise) to smear the reputations of good Greens like Atwin, Manly, Kate Storey, John Kidder, and Beverley Eert with unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism and/or racism?  I don't recognize the Green Party anymore. 

Something has to give. 

My Messages to the Leader and to Greens

Annamie Paul: You can't remain silent on this any longer. You must assure Greens like me that MPs Jenica Atwin and Paul Manly continue to have a place in the Party's plans for future success. More specifically, you must let Greens know that you do not believe that Atwin and Manly are anti-Semites.  And you must fire Noah Zaztman.  

Greens: You must get ready for the unthinkable, because of the intolerable situation that the Leader has created with her silence and inaction.  You know that it is inconceivable that the NDP hasn't already reached out to Atwin and Manly about crossing the floor. You must be prepared for the exit of these two MPs from the Party, should it come to that. And you must ask yourself what you will do should those events transpire.

I know what I will do.  I will follow Atwin and Manly and exit the Party. And I will urge MP Elizabeth May to do the same thing, should it come to that.