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B.C. premier backs minister's apology for calling Palestine 'crappy piece of land'

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau questions premier's response after her own run-in with offensive comments expressed by a colleague that resulted in termination.
Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills Selina Robinson, seen here Jan. 30, supports Israel and publicly lamented the reinstatement of a pro-Hamas English instructor at Langara College.

B.C. Premier David Eby says he accepts the apology of Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills Selina Robinson for calling Palestine a “crappy piece of land with nothing on it,” at an online panel with B’nai Brith Canada this week.

“Minister Robinson’s recent comments were wrong and unacceptable. It has caused deep hurt and distress to Palestinians, Muslims, and many others. I thank her for withdrawing the comments and apologizing unreservedly,” stated Eby in a prepared statement issued Thursday to media.

Eby was asked by Glacier Media if Robinson should resign from her cabinet position but he declined to comment immediately. On Friday afternoon, he took even more questions from reporters, again backing Robinson's apology and his decision not to remove her from cabinet.

“I believe the minister crossed the line as a member of cabinet," said Eby from a health-care announcement in Vernon.

Eby said he spoke with Robinson, the minister did not offer to resign, adding "she has some work to do, to go out in the community to address the harm she's done in an incredibly vulnerable community.”

Robinson had been speaking to the Jewish group about her role as an education minister and as a Jewish leader about how she may interact with post-secondary institution leaders concerning anti-Semitism.

Robinson reiterated her condemnation for Langara College instructor Natalie Knight, who publicly celebrated the Oct. 7, 2023 Hamas attack on Israeli civilians, calling it “amazing” and “brilliant.”

Robinson went on to suggest younger people (age 18 to 34 years old) don’t understand the historic context of Israel’s formation after the Holocaust.

“They don’t understand it was a crappy piece of land with nothing on it; there were several hundred thousand people but other than that it didn’t produce an economy.

“It was the folks that were displaced that came, and the people who had been living there for generations and together they worked hard; and they had their own battles and we know their history,” said Robinson.

As a separate but related matter on Thursday, the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC, called on Robinson to resign for alleged interference in Knight’s disciplinary process, which is expected to remain at arm's-length of government.

When Robinson’s comments on Palestine were further publicized she took to X to apologize.

"I want to apologize for my disrespectful comment referring to the origins of Israel on a ‘crappy piece of land.’ I was referring to the fact that the land has limited natural resources. I understand that this flippant comment has caused pain and that it diminishes the connection Palestinians also have to the land. I regret what I said and I apologize without reservation," stated Robinson.

Robinson was also criticized last fall for ‘liking’ a comment on X that called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “embarrassing” for not taking a more firm pro-Israel position amid rising military operations against Hamas in Gaza.

Robinson and the BC NDP have also not shied away from criticizing opposition politicians for their social media faux pas.

On Nov. 9, 2023, B.C. Green Party deputy leader Sanjiv Gandhi resigned for ‘liking’ a post on X that compared provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to Nazi leader Josef Mengele, who committed brutal eugenics and medical experiments on Jews during the Holocaust.

Robinson called Gandhi, a pediatric heart surgeon concerned about inadequate COVID-19 mitigation efforts, “outrageous,” adding “the B.C. Greens are demonstrating some true colours here, and I am disappointed and disturbed that they would even go here.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix also supported Gandhi’s ousting.

It was Green leader Sonia Furstenau who ejected Gandhi.

Furstenau told Glacier Media that Eby has an even greater burden than her, an opposition leader.

But Furstenau would not commit to answering whether she thinks Robinson should step aside in some form, and at least as a cabinet member.

“There is an extra burden on leaders, I think, in the polarized and divisive times that we live in,” said Furstenau.

“We have to demonstrate as leaders that hatred is not an acceptable part of our society. The burden on the premier is significant. I think he needs to demonstrate what it means.

“This is a question for David Eby …it’s a question for Selina,” said Furstenau.

Asked if she regrets terminating Gandhi in light of Eby now maintaining Robinson in her post, Furstenau said: “I’ve reflected a lot on what happened. I look at something like that as a learning experience. I think I regret not providing enough support to him as a candidate, for him to understand the serious realities of using social media.”

Robinson grew up in Richmond and was a family therapist before first being elected in 2013 as Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA. She was Minister of Finance between November 2020 and December 2022, when she was moved to the post-secondary education ministry.

Robinson's comments sow division in NDP

Robinson also stated at the panel her NDP party across Canada has not rooted out anti-Semitism enough.

On Friday, Hamilton Centre MP Matthew Green, of the NDP, said in a statement via X that Robinson’s framing of history ignores the Nakba massacres in 1948 that paved the way for Israeli settlements.

Green said Robinson’s comments are “not compatible with our collective efforts to foster a respectful and informed discourse on international issues.”

As such, Green called on Eby to “reassess” Robinson’s position within the provincial government cabinet.

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Editor's note: This article was edited Feb. 2 to include comments from Premier Eby.