“We must look to the solution to this endless cycle of death and destruction: end all occupation of Palestinian land and end apartheid,” wrote Jama, one of the only MPPs who identifies as a Black woman.
Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles released a statement saying that Sarah’s stance made an “unsafe” environment for members of the NDP.
Stiles explained that although the party values “different viewpoints”, there’s no room in caucus for Jama’s actions. “She has undertaken a number of unilateral actions that have undermined our collective work and broken the trust of her colleagues. Some of Ms. Jama’s actions have contributed to unsafe work environments for staff,” wrote Stiles.
According to Stiles, Jama’s initial post “went against'' the official NDP party’s statement which condemned the October 7th attack by Hamas on Israel. Instead, her statement focused on the decades-long struggle of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, which Jama referred to as apartheid.
Yet, Jama actually clarified just one day after posting her initial statement. She wrote, “To be clear, I unequivocally condemn terrorism by Hamas on thousands of Israeli civilians. I also believe that Israel’s bombardment and siege on civilians in Gaza, as was also noted by the United Nations, is wrong.”
The death toll of Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israeli air strikes now exceeds 5,000, around 70% of whom are children, women and the elderly.
Jama is not in the minority on this issue. In fact, some of the best-known Holocaust and anti-Semitism researchers from Israel and around the world have used the same language Jama did in her statement.
A recent petition co-initiated by Omer Bartov, one of the most respected Holocaust and genocide researchers, states that “there can be no democracy for Jews in Israel as long as Palestinians live under an apartheid regime."
The petition has been signed by more than 2,000 academics, clergy, and other public figures, most of them being Jewish.
Interestingly, Jama's sentiments are consistent with Israel's own leading newspaper Haaretz, which is openly critical of the Israeli government's relentless siege on Palestine.
Yet here in Canada, Ontario Premier Doug Ford called for the resignation of Jama and even tabled a motion at Queen’s Park that would ban her from speaking in the chamber.
According to the motion, Jama made an “antisemitic and discriminatory statement” and defended “Hamas terrorists.”
She responded to Ford with a cease-and-desist letter, threatening to sue for "defamatory" remarks, which ultimately led to her removal from the caucus.
Despite the party’s reaction, some people online say Jama is “the only politician to have expressed a principled stance on this issue.”
“I think we are at a very particularly unique moment in which all levels of government in Canada have to grapple with the voices of those who have either experienced genocide or are the descendants of Western acts of oppression and disenfranchisement. These folks are now colleagues and I think we are seeing how their point of view is likely one someone like Doug Ford has never really listened to or understood so it immediately gets dismissed and silenced,” wrote Dr. Cheryl Thompson, Associate Professor at The Creative School at Toronto Metropolitan University (Formerly Ryerson University).
The Ontario NDP Leader’s statement also said Jama “broke the trust” of her colleagues. But it’s important to note that Jama’s stance on Israel-Palestine has been consistent for years, well before she was elected. In fact, she has withstood relentless accusations of antisemitism as recently as earlier this year when a video circulated online of Jama speaking at a rally in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square in May 2021. In the video, she accused Hamilton police of protecting “Nazism” and targeting “Black Muslim Palestinians” saying, “we don’t have the right to push to exist.” That comment was deemed "harmful" and Jama was forced to publicly apologize.
Jama’s statements have also been consistent with the stance that many Black politicians, community leaders and advocacy groups have taken on this issue over the past 75 years.
A Brief History
In 1964, Malcolm X wrote an article in the Egyptian Gazette called ‘Zionist Logic’, drawing parallels between the struggles of Black people and Palestinians – highlighting his stance that Israel was a European colonial project. He was also one of the first African-American leaders to meet with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
In 1971, George Jackson, a Black Panther, writer, and revolutionist was killed in his jail cell by guards. In his cell, two Palestinian poems about resistance were found.
In 1972, James Baldwin wrote an essay titled, ‘Take Me to the Water’ which discussed wanting to leave the U.S. but refusing to go to Israel.
In 1977, Reggae legend Peter Tosh released the song ‘Equal Rights,’ demanding freedom for African nations and Palestine.
In 1990, when asked about his relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization during a town hall meeting in the U.S., Nelson Mandela reiterated his support for the PLO. “Just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination,” Mandela said.
In 2014, uprisings began around the U.S., but especially escalated in Ferguson, Missouri after the killing of Michael Brown, a Black teenager, by a white cop. Months later, Freddie Gray was killed by U.S. police which led to more protests in Baltimore.
During the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, Palestinians joined protests and took to social media to express solidarity with Black communities. They shared tips on surviving the U.S. police’s tactics of tear gassing and baton-wielding, which was modelled after the Israel Defense Forces.
U.S. Representative Cory Bush said, “I remember learning that the same equipment that they used to brutalize us is the same equipment that we send to the Israeli military to brutalize Palestinians.”
Jama is certainly not the first Black person to lose their job or title due to their stance on this issue.
Online, Dr. T. Anansi Wilson, a law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in the U.S. wrote, “As we have long known, Black folk are often the first to stand up against state violence and the first to pay the price. The Black non-binary head of the Student Bar Association has lost her job offer, is likely being investigated by the school for hate speech and has been doxxed. CEOs are actively blacklisting students who condemn the crimes against Palestinian citizens. Black people have no freedom of speech.”
She was referring to Ryna Workman, a Black NYU Law student, who sent a newsletter to classmates expressing “unwavering and absolute solidarity with Palestinians in their resistance against oppression toward liberation and self-determination.”
As a result, Workman lost their position as student body president and lost a job offer at a firm that they previously interned at, Winston & Strawn. They also received a slew of threats online.
Whether in politics or the fashion world, Black people everywhere are feeling the pressure after speaking out and publicly sharing their opinion.
Vogue contributing editor-at-large Gabriella Karefa-Johnson, a Black woman, had to quietly remove her job title from her Instagram account after her post linked Israel to an “apartheid state” committing “genocide” and compared the Israeli Defense Forces to a “terrorist organization.”
The speech, which ended in applause when Hill said "Free Palestine from the river to the sea,” also advocated for non-violence – yet, still received backlash for what critics said was a “call for an end to the Israeli state.”
Yet, Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV), a grassroots organization “grounded in Jewish tradition”, expressed concern about conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism.
The organization also called on the Canadian government to “condemn Israeli apartheid and work towards a peaceful resolution that upholds the rights to life and freedom of both Palestinians and Israelis,” which actually aligns with Jama’s statement.
Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) have posted several statements, calling on the Canadian government to change its stance on Israel and Palestine – citing the United Nations’ statement which says, “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian Territory is apartheid – which is a crime under international law.” This also aligns with Jama’s statement.
A group of Canadian Black feminists published an article in the Toronto Star supporting Jama, saying:
On our campus and in our movements, we work from Indigenous lands and across geographic and socially erected borders, with scholars of all backgrounds — including Palestinian, Indigenous and Jewish — to stand for justice and against dehumanization. Black feminists have not only the right, but the duty, to take a stand against genocide, militarism, and occupation, and to challenge the Canadian government’s complicity in it, whether in the current attack on Gaza, its initial failure to condemn South African apartheid or its leading role in the destabilization of Haiti.
Nobody should be censored or disciplined for condemning what the UN and Amnesty International have documented for decades: that Palestinians have been subjected to Israeli military occupation and apartheid and that Gaza has been under siege since 2007.
When asked about the implications of anti-Blackness, Dr. Cheryl Thompson responded to ByBlacks saying, “It is disappointing as (Jama’s) voice seems to have been completely overpowered by White voices predominantly and that has been really telling. Governments around the west are struggling to realize it is the 21st century, not the 20th century. Which means we really need to start strategizing new responses to conflict and acts of extreme violence that do not simply reproduce the same responses of 100 years ago. We need a revolution. I believe Black folks have been saying this for decades.”