NDP MP Niki Ashton stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Two prominent Jewish advocacy groups are voicing anti-Semitism concerns ahead of a public conversation between NDP MP Niki Ashton and former U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

NDP MP Niki Ashton stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Two prominent Jewish advocacy groups are voicing anti-Semitism concerns ahead of a public conversation between NDP MP Niki Ashton and former U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Jewish groups raise anti-Semitism concerns ahead of NDP MP’s chat with Corbyn

Corbyn was suspended after he said anti-Semitism in his party had been ‘dramatically overstated’

Two prominent Jewish advocacy groups are voicing concerns about anti-Semitism ahead of a public conversation between NDP MP Niki Ashton and former U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The planned livestream talk risks pulling New Democrats in a direction “antithetical” to Canadian values, said Shimon Fogel, head of the Toronto-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, in a joint statement with the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

“Jeremy Corbyn is toxic,” Fogel said, accusing a “small group” of New Democrats of undermining party leadership.

“It is staggering that given the litany of catastrophic, consequential issues before us, including the pandemic, that this is where some in the NDP want to spend the party’s capital.”

The British Labour party has been grappling with allegations that anti-Semitism was allowed to fester under Corbyn, a longtime supporter of Palestinians and a critic of Israel who led the party for almost five years from 2015.

The Labour party suspended Corbyn in October after he said the problem of anti-Semitism in the party had been “dramatically overstated” for political reasons. He was readmitted as a party member in November after walking back those comments, but remains an Independent MP after his successor Sir Keir Starmer refused to let him back into the fold.

Ashton has been promoting on social media their March 20 chat, an online fundraiser for Progressive International. The organization, which is hosting the event, was launched in 2018 by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Canadian author Naomi Klein and other progressive politicians and activists.

“This moment is all about building international solidarity,” Ashton said in a Twitter thread Tuesday.

“Here in Canada and around the world, we must find a way to work with movements and activists who share our values and put forward an unapologetically bold vision for our collective future.”

Ashton did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The event will focus on issues that range from growing inequality to the rise of the far right and the threat of climate change.

The NDP said in an email the party and its leader, Jagmeet Singh, are committed to fighting anti-Semitism amid a troubling rise in hateful ideologies.

“New Democrats have been working with organizations to dismantle hate and alt-right groups and proposing solutions to fight against online hate to keep communities safe,” the party said Wednesday.

“Jagmeet and New Democrats are committed to fighting anti-Semitism and will continue to push the Liberals to take more concrete actions, like attacking online hate, to combat it.”

In October, a report from the U.K. Equality and Human Rights Commission found “serious failings in leadership” and an inadequate process for handling anti-Semitism complaints under Corbyn’s tenure, concluding that the Labour party was responsible for “unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination.”

“Our analysis points to a culture within the party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent anti-Semitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it.”

The report was cited Tuesday by Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute, which shares links with the New Democrats, when he criticized the event.

“This is not the sort of person that should headline a progressive fundraiser or occupy the time of Canadian progressive leaders,” Smith said of Corbyn in a Twitter post Tuesday.

Smith linked to a post from former NDP MP Svend Robinson, who said he would be joining Ashton and Corbyn for the event.

Richard Marceau, general counsel for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, called the decision to feature Corbyn at a Progressive International fundraiser “mind-boggling.”

“To me it betrays true progressive values. Those people would never, ever invite people who have been condemned for anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, homophobia, etc. And yet Niki Ashton is lending her name to a person who is peddling anti-Semitic tropes,” said Marceau, a former Bloc Québécois MP, in an interview.

“This is not, I believe, the progressive movement that Canada needs or wants.”

Progressive International did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

—With a file from The Associated Press

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press


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