Ontario NDP MPP apologizes after controversial Israel-Hamas statement
Posted October 11, 2023 7:56 am.
Last Updated October 11, 2023 4:51 pm.
An Ontario NDP MPP has apologized amid growing calls for her resignation in the wake of a controversial social media post made about the Israel-Hamas war.
Hamilton Centre MPP Sarah Jama posted a two-paragraph statement on Tuesday afternoon under Ontario NDP letterhead that made no mention of the past weekend’s surprise attack by Hamas. The post instead chose to focus on the decades-long struggle of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, which she referred to as “apartheid.”
“I call for immediate ceasefire and de-escalation,” Jama wrote. “We must look to the solution to this endless cycle of death and destruction: end all occupation of Palestinian land and end apartheid.”
The social media post included the hashtag “FreePalestine.”
NDP Leader Marit Stiles released her own statement in response to Jama’s comments, saying the MPP’s message was not approved by her caucus and asked her to retract the statement. Stiles called on Jama to instead state clearly that “she decries any violence against both Israeli and Palestinian people.”
“This statement does not reflect our party’s position, which is articulated in our federal party’s statement,” reads Stiles’ response. “The terrorist attacks by Hamas on thousands of innocent Israeli citizens are unjustifiable and must be condemned unequivocally.”
Premier Doug Ford released his own statement on the matter on Wednesday, calling for Jama to step down.
“As premier, I’m doing what Ms. Stiles won’t and calling on Sarah Jama to resign immediately,” Ford wrote. “(Her views) have no place in the legislature.”
Jama’s original post was still up on social media as of Wednesday afternoon, but at 3:40 p.m. she replied to the post with another statement.
“I heard many voices yesterday raising concerns about my post. I hear them – and above all, I understand the pain that many Jewish and Israeli Canadians, including my own constituents, must be feeling. I apologize. To be clear, I unequivocally condemn terrorism by Hamas on thousands of Israeli civilians,” said Jama in new replies to her original post.
“I also believe that Israel’s bombardment and siege on civilians in Gaza, as was also noted by the United Nations, is wrong. As a member of the Ontario NDP caucus, I stand by the position of our federal party, and believe that violence against civilians is never justified, and that there is no military solution to this conflict.”
Her original statement drew heavy condemnation from several Jewish advocacy groups, including the Centre of Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), who are calling for Jama to be removed from caucus.
“This statement is filled with lies that will do nothing to create peace and will only serve to foment hatred against Canada’s Jewish community,” reads a CIJA statement.
Stiles released another statement Wednesday afternoon, saying, “In working with MPP Jama over the last 24 hours, I understand the personal impact that this is having on her as someone with Palestinian family members. She is not alone in this experience.”
The statement also said that the New Democrats have “always advocated passionately for the human rights of Palestinians and Israelis.”
“At the same time, I have made it clear that all members of our caucus condemn Hamas’ terror attacks, and we stand in support of the federal NDP’s position in calling for an end to further bloodshed,” Stiles continued in the statement. “MPP Jama has reaffirmed her commitment to this.”
Interim Ontario Liberal Leader John Fraser similarly called for Stiles to remove the Hamilton MPP when her statement remained up hours after the NDP leader called for a retraction.
“It shouldn’t take this long when your leader asks you publicly to retract,” wrote Fraser on X. “It’s time for Marit Stiles to do the right thing and remove Ms. Jama from her caucus.”
Jama won a provincial byelection earlier this year, claiming the seat that was previously held by longtime NDP party leader Andrea Horwath. Her campaign garnered controversy and criticism from Jewish organizations at that time due to some of her previous associations and remarks.
B’nai Brith, a Jewish human rights group who also condemned the MPP’s most recent statement, said at the time she was a “radical anti-Israel advocate.”
During her campaign, Jama said the criticism stemmed from her standing up for Palestinian human rights and her association with student groups. She publicly denounced anti-Semitism during a debate.
Israel continued to hammer Gaza on Wednesday in retaliation for the surprise attack by Hamas militants on Israeli soil over the weekend, with fighting causing the deaths of at least 2,000 people so far.
Israel has vowed an unprecedented offensive after the Islamic militant group’s fighters broke through the border fence and stormed into the country’s south on Saturday, gunning down hundreds of Israelis in their homes, on the streets and at an outdoor music festival.
The Israeli military said more than 1,200 people, including 155 soldiers, have died in Israel since the incursion. In Gaza, 950 people have been killed, including 260 children and 230 women, according to authorities there.
With files from The Canadian Press