An interesting battle within the ranks of the federal NDP has started to boil into public view, thanks to Libby Davies and her YouTube performance where she implicitly questioned Israel’s legitimacy and explicitly supported a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Canada’s democratic ally in the middle east.
The controversy surrounding Libby Davies throws the NDP into disarray in a battle between the realists, represented by MPs like Thomas Mulcair and Paul Dewar and the strident anti-capitalism, anti-globalization Looney Left, who see Davies as their champion.
And Jack Layton, who leans towards the realists, is trying to hold it all together while his party is spiralling out of control.
The first casualty of the Davies controversy was the talks of the merger between the Liberals and the NDP. The idea of merging with a party with the NDP’s credibility problems was already facing a backlash within Liberal ranks. But with Davies’ intemperate comments and Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae calling for her resignation, it’s safe to say the idea of a merger has been shelved for the foreseeable future.
The NDP as a whole and Layton in particular hope this issue will go away, but it won’t until its political capital for the other parties has been expended and that hasn’t happened just yet.
The problem is that Davies, as pointed out in yesterday’s post, has still failed to clarify her position on the boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
She really doesn’t want to.
If she repudiates the sanctions/boycott, she disappoints and disillusions her followers and can accurately be called a hypocrite. If she doesn’t, she contradicts her party policy, the position stated by her party’s leader, and causes an even greater problem for the NDP.
What is very interesting is that the competing factions in the NDP have publicly pulled knives and drawn blood against each other.
The National Post reported the following regarding Thomas Mulcair’s criticism of Davies:
Mr. Mulcair said that Ms. Davies, who could not immediately be reached for comment, should also apologize and retract her comments supporting a boycott. He said it is particularly “egregious” since she is a deputy leader of the party.“As much as it’s difficult, if any individual member of Parliament goes off-script on any issue of policy that is well-defined by the party, it would be a problem,” said Mr. Mulcair. “But that problem is of course compounded in the case of someone who putatively, with the title that she holds, would give more weight to these views that are not the views of the party.”
The Montreal Gazette reported that Dewar said,
“"The issue is about policy and who speaks for our party, I think it's clear (to) Ms. Davies, now that she lets the critic and the leader speak on those."
But on the other side, Murray Dobkin wrote the following in a column at rabble.ca regarding the video that got Davies into trouble. Rabble is the union-financed Marxist-leaning website published by Libby Davies' spouse, Kim Elliott.
“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.”
Dobkin may be one of the more obtuse political commentators in Canada, and there may be no evidence to support Dobkin’s allegation as being anything but his own invention, but he does reflect a point of view consistent with the radical fringe that supports Davies.
(To toot my own horn a bit, the chronology of this controversy is that after the video was posted to YouTube by David Katz, it was soon seen by Voltaire’s Ghost, the author of this blog, who notified a number of writers at Canwest newspapers about the video and its implication that Israel does not have a right to exist and her support for sanctions against Israel, in contravention of NDP policy. Canwest reporters were the ones to break this story in the mainstream media.)
In the same column, Dobkin goes on:
“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.”
Dobkin’s column can be seen in its entirety here:
So the NDP fangs are out and biting into each other.
Who prevails within the NDP remains to be seen, but the one thing that’s certain is that the big winners from all this are the Liberals. Even though Stephen Harper is doing the heavy lifting of attacking Davies about her remarks, it’s the Liberals who will benefit from a political crisis that hurts the NDP.
And with recent numbers that showed Michael Ignatieff was polling almost at par with Jack Layton, the Liberals have a strong interest in pursuing this matter and making Davies sink her party further by forcing her to explicitly clarify her position on sanctions against Israel.
As footnote, I read an interesting theory by blogger Steve Janke, who believes Bob Rae is using this to advance the merger between the Liberals and the NDP by using this as a wedge issue to drive the virulent, extremist elements out of the NDP
I disagree with that assessment. As nice as that would be, they make up such a core component of that party, I don’t think Layton feels he can afford to lose them. Nor am I convinced he isn’t sympathetic to them.
UPDATE: 4 pm - As an aside, there were a number of posts to Bob Rae's facebook page over the last couple of days congratulating him for his stand against Davies, some of which he (or whomever maintains the page for him) responded to. As of now, all the Davies references on his facebook page have been removed.
UPDATE: 10 pm Liberal Marc Garneau denounces Davies