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Her resignation highlights the growing divide among Canadian Jews regarding Israel and its policies towards Palestine

Gerry ChidiacSelina Robinson, the former British Columbia Minister of Higher Education in the NDP government, resigned from her post due to public pressure after making demeaning comments about pre-colonial Palestine by calling it “a crappy piece of land with nothing on it.”

University of British Columbia professor and member of the Jewish Faculty Association, Avi Lewis, stated, “This is, I believe, the first time in North American political history when a senior member of government has paid the ultimate political price for anti-Palestinian racism. …There are already too many people who have been losing their jobs (in post-secondary education) because of opinions that they hold publicly, though so far, that’s almost exclusively been for expressing solidarity with Palestinians, who, once again, are being killed indiscriminately.”

Those who support Robinson point out that she apologized for this most recent comment and even agreed to sensitivity training concerning anti-Islamic racism. The problem is that this was only the latest in a series of objectionable statements and abuses of her influence as a government minister.

Selina Robinson

Selina Robinson

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Independent Jewish Voices has been tracking Robinson’s racist comments on social media for months and has been calling on Premier David Eby to take action. Robinson was given ample time to receive sensitivity training and to bring her views more in line with the growing number of Canadians who recognize Canada’s complicity in the crimes being committed in Gaza.

Most mainstream media reports on Robinson’s resignation also ignore a very important aspect of this story: Robinson had been abusing her political power to threaten academic freedom and freedom of expression in Canada.

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC and the Canadian Association of University Teachers both called for the immediate resignation of Robinson, not because of her “crappy piece of land” comment, but because “Minister Robinson inappropriately intervened in the termination of a Langara College employee for controversial remarks on the war in Gaza. “

The employee, Natalie Knight, had described the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel as “amazing, brilliant” at a public rally in October.

Knight had been placed on leave for her statement but was cleared of wrongdoing by the College’s Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression Advisory Committee and allowed to return to work. The following day, Robinson spoke with Langara College officials, and she was terminated. We know this because Robinson made posts about her intervention on social media.

Ultimately, this is why Selena Robinson had to resign. Her statements about Palestine and Palestinians that became viral over the next several days were simply the final nail that Robinson placed in her own political coffin.

What is the larger significance of the Selina Robinson saga? First, it completely disproves the vile antisemitic trope that all Jews function as a monolith. There are many Jews like Robinson who will support the State of Israel without question and continue to perpetuate the myth that before colonization, this was “a land without a people for a people without a land.” There are also many Jews with views like Avi Lewis. If membership numbers in groups like Independent Jewish Voices are any indication, we can conclude that the number of people in this group is growing at an unprecedented rate.

A few months ago, no one would have even noticed if a member of a government made a demeaning remark toward Palestinians. The world has drastically changed since Israel began its latest assault on Gaza. The vast majority of Canadians will not support a government that they see as anti-democratic, racist, and even pro-genocide.

Do the members of our government have the capacity to hear the righteous rage of their constituents and change course? Or have they already condemned themselves to the same fate as Selina Robinson?

Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages and genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.

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