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Rob Shaw: Ousted minister blasts NDP for 'double standard' on antisemitism

Selina Robinson cites 'hurt' and 'broken heart' in leaving NDP caucus over antisemitism concerns
Ousted cabinet minister Selina Robinson resigned from the B.C. NDP caucus Wednesday. | Glacier file photo

Ousted cabinet minister Selina Robinson spent the weekend writing her bombshell resignation letter from the B.C. NDP caucus, but sat on it after getting word Premier David Eby wanted to meet face-to-face in his office at the legislature Wednesday.

She had thought, hopefully, perhaps even naively, that Eby had reined in his chief of staff Matt Smith, who the week prior had rejected her proposal to facilitate talks between B.C.’s Jewish and Muslim communities as, in her words, “too political.”

Her pitch to hold antisemitism and anti-Islamophobia training for the NDP caucus, over the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, was rejected as well.

“I was ever hopeful that maybe he'd had a change of heart,” Robinson said in an interview.

“Maybe he wants to meet with me to say, ‘Listen, you know what, I thought it over and I think we're going to find a way to support you to do this work because it's important.’”

But the final meeting between the premier and what had once been one of his top cabinet ministers did not play out as Robinson had hoped.

“He just wanted to know, how are things with the Jewish community?” Robinson said.

“And I said, ‘Terrible, they're angry, they're furious.’ And he just wanted to pick my brain about who he needed to meet with. And I thought: really?

“I left feeling even more hurt, because the only value I had was to somehow hook him into the Jewish community, not to work with communities that are hurting. And I just felt like: I can’t do this anymore. I can’t pretend anymore.”

Robinson left without telling the premier about her intention to resign. Three hours later, she deliberately surprised him by releasing her letter to caucus in which she left the party to sit as an independent.

“This is not the party I signed on with – it has become a party that is afraid to stand with people, people who were hurting,” she wrote, telling her colleagues they had “broken my heart” with their tepid support for her and the Jewish community in the face of attacks by the terrorist group Hamas.

“It is now a party that puts politics and re-election before people.”

Eby said he was “saddened” by the decision.

“Clearly, she is hurting and carrying a lot of pain,” he said in a statement.

“I wish she had brought her concerns to me directly so we could have worked through them together.”

Robinson called the statement disingenuous, saying she’s kept the premier in the loop for weeks.

She said she spoke to Eby in December about a shift inside the NDP caucus room on Israel that was making her feel unsettled.

She talked to him on the phone about her proposal shortly after her removal from cabinet in February. She described her idea for facilitated talks between the Jewish and Muslim communities in detail to his chief of staff, Smith, on two occasions. Smith told her no, last week. Robinson was furious.

“That’s what really pushed me over the edge,” she said. “Matt Smith said, ‘No, it’s too political.’

“All I thought was: I signed up to make things better, I signed up for this job to make things better, and I want government’s help to do that work. And you are saying no you are not interested? And I can’t do this, I can’t.”

Robinson viewed the unelected partisan strategists in the premier’s office as being more worried about the political ramifications of the NDP’s re-election bid in eight months than doing what is right in the real world.

The premier’s office suggests Robinson wanted to involve a Muslim civil servant (albeit one who also had in the past been a partisan NDP staffer in the premier’s office) to help facilitate the dialogue with the Arab Muslim community, and Smith did not think it was an appropriate use of resources.

Robison was removed from cabinet last month, after saying Israel was founded on “a crappy piece of land” — a statement that many in B.C.’s Palestinian and Muslim communities called racist and Islamophobic.

Robinson apologized and pledged to educate herself within the Muslim community. But she said some of her colleagues have treated her mistake as irredeemable, even though several themselves had said antisemitic things in the past and been forgiven by the Jewish community, with her help.

She cited MLAs like Mabel Elmore, Janet Routledge, Jennifer Whiteside, Ronna Rae Leonard, Jagrup Brar and others who had made either antisemitic or inappropriate comments about the Jewish community, or even comments referencing Nazis, in recent years.

“I raise these examples not to humiliate or shame any of you, but to point out the double standard,” she wrote.

“When an elected person says something that harms the Jewish community whether the comments or position is intended or unintended, the expectation is that a simple apology is sufficient. But when a Jewish elected person says something she ‘has deep work to do’ according to the premier and is no longer trusted.

“This double standard is antisemitism.”

NDP house leader Ravi Kahlon denied Wednesday that the NDP caucus is in any way antisemitic. The damage, though, is done. And it will likely continue to get worse in the weeks ahead as Robinson continues to highlight the failings of those in her now former party.

“I wish Selina nothing but the best,” Eby said in his statement in response to Robinson’s departure.

The feeling, however, is clearly not mutual.

“Silence is not leadership, it is cowardice,” Robinson wrote.

“And I cannot be silent.”

Rob Shaw has spent more than 16 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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