Marit Stiles and the Ontario NDP recently booted out a controversial MPP from its party caucus. This episode serves as a cautionary tale for all political parties, but none more so than the party and movement that foolishly protected this politician until the very end.
Let’s examine what happened between the NDP and Sarah Jama.
Jama, a disability rights activist living in Hamilton, Ont., co-founded the Disability Justice Network Ontario in 2018. She also co-founded the Hamilton Encampment Support Network in 2021 which focuses on affordable housing.
Her left-wing views and regular involvement in radical causes helped her become a visible presence in a short period of time. When Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath resigned her Hamilton Centre seat to run for mayor, Jama announced she was entering the race. No-one challenged her, and the 28-year-old was acclaimed in July 2022.
Jama’s campaign faced controversy when it was revealed she held less-than-salient views about Jews and Israel. This was after an eye-raising video clip from a 2021 pro-Palestinian protest in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square posted on the X account of Documenting Antisemitism went viral.
She declared that Israel was an “illegitimate” country and cryptically suggested the “same people will continue to fund the killing of people here, locally, and globally.” It wasn’t terribly difficult to figure out who she was referring to. She also accused Hamilton police of “protecting Nazism” by targeting “Black Muslim Palestinians.” While the specific reference to Nazis was never determined, she described Israel as an “apartheid” state and stood in front of signs that say, “Zionists you will see, Palestine will be free.”
Jama was obviously allowed to make these outrageous and ignorant statements as a private citizen in a free society. The difference was that she was now running for public office. Most political parties shy away from candidates like Jama. They don’t want to be painted with a similar brushstroke – and they certainly don’t want to be associated with real or perceived racist and anti-semitic remarks. Not if they can help it, anyway.
Several organizations like B’nai Brith Canada suggested that Stiles would be wise to withdraw Jama’s candidacy. She didn’t budge, however.
Why? Hamilton Centre had been a safe riding for the NDP for decades. As an example, Horwath won comfortably in 2007 and was easily re-elected an additional four times.
Meanwhile, Jama apologized for her “harmful” comments and said “Jewish people deserve to feel safe, and should never be targeted because of their faith or their culture.” This carefully worded statement satisfied the NDP, and the matter was dropped.
Jama won 54.28 percent of the vote in the March 16 Hamilton Centre by-election. Her route to the Ontario Legislature was now complete.
The warnings that Stiles and the NDP ignored in March would rear its ugly head once more in October.
Three days after the terrorist organization Hamas launched a massive and deadly attack against Israel, Jama posted a controversial statement to her X account on Oct. 10. She depicted Israel’s actions in Gaza against Palestinians as “apartheid” and rooted in “settler colonialism.” She called for an “immediate ceasefire and de-escalation” in Gaza, and that “we must look to the solution to this endless cycle of death and destruction: end all occupation of Palestinian land and end apartheid.”
Many individuals and groups spoke out against Jama’s statement. This included Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Ontario Liberal leader John Fraser, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Ford also announced his PC government would begin the process to censure Jama for her comments. The NDP MPP threatened to sue the Premier for libel because he had said publicly that she had “hateful views” and a “long and well-documented history of antisemitism,” among other things.
Stiles was also displeased. She spoke out against Jama’s statement and asked her to remove it and apologize. Jama did comply with a semi-apology, but her original statement remained online. In spite of ignoring this request, it appeared the NDP was going to protect its controversial caucus member once again.
Hours before the Oct. 23 censure vote, however, Stiles removed her from the NDP caucus. Several reasons were provided, including Jama reportedly being uncooperative with NDP colleagues, making unilateral decisions and endangering the work environment of party staffers. Stiles also noted that while she and Jama had agreed to work together “in good faith with no surprises,” the latter’s decision to speak against the censure motion in the Legislature came completely out of the blue.
Jama was censured by a vote of 63-23. The NDP was the only party that voted against it. She currently sits as an Independent with no ability to speak or ask questions in the Legislature. As fate would have it, she recently had a Zoom meeting with former UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, an equally controversial politician accused of many of the same things she’s faced in her short political career.
There are several lessons to be learned from the Jama-NDP episode. Controversial candidates will almost always fall back on controversy. Apologies in politics are important, but the apologetic politician has to be trusted to follow it to the letter. Losing a safe political riding is obviously unfortunate, but gaining and protecting a caucus member with a terrible track record will cost you even more ridings in the end.
There’s another important lesson in all of this.
Federal and provincial New Democrats have been repeatedly accused of harbouring anti-Israel and anti-semitic candidates, ideas and policies for years. As much as they deny these associations, they continually fall into the same trap and make these alleged ties even worse in the public eye. Had Stiles listened to the advice she was given in March and removed Jama’s candidacy, this particular allegation could have been avoided. It’s actually worth listening to your political rivals every so often.