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Green vs. Jew combat ends in a very red face



After Green Party leader Elizabeth May MP accused the Jewish Tribune of “twisting her words,” after a “combative interview” the newspaper responded on last Friday by publishing the full audio of the interview, revealing a surprisingly pleasant exchange in which Ms May indeed appears to say everything she had previously alleged were “misleading statements” devised by the Jewish weekly. 

The background to the interview was Ms May’s upcoming 5 December speech to Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), a Montreal-headquartered group that favours economic and cultural sanctions on Israel. Ms May had told the Jewish newspaper in a 12-minute interview that “the Green Party does not support Israeli sanctions, and that she intended to tell the group as much.”

May went ballistic and her Green Party issued a press release on 26 November referring to the Trib’s interview as “combative” and “very aggressive” as well as saying some “misleading statements” were published.

That got the Trib’s editor’s blood boiling

May’s press release so incensed the Tribune editor that he, in turn, posted the following a statement on his paper’s website on Friday: “Last Wednesday, May posted a statement to her website that impugned the integrity of both the Tribune and our staff writer Joanne Hill,” reads a Friday statement by the Jewish Tribune.

May Elizabeth longThe tribune is operated by the Jewish organisation B’Nai Brith.

The paper then offers the full transcript of the interview, saying that it shows “that May was not taken out of context.”

RIGHT: Elizabeth May, Green
Party MP, told the Trib: “I
will tell them … I’m not
going to pander,” she said,
and later denied saying it

The spat then went country-wide with Canada’s NATIONAL POST taking up the cudgels and posting the whole messy incident on Friday morning, including the full record of the interview which clearly left Ms May with egg on her face. What Ms May had claimed

May’s Green Party issued a press release on 26 November stating: “In the course of a fairly combative interview in the context of a very aggressive response to my upcoming speech at the Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East (CJPME) on December 5th 2013 in Ottawa, some misleading statements were published.

“For the record, I did not suggest the CJPME had failed to tell my staff that the event was a fundraiser and I did not describe the CJPME as ‘anti-Israel,’ said May.

What Ms May really said

The Tribune’s editor promptly published the FOLLOWING statement: “In an ARTICLE published in the 21 November issue of the Jewish Tribune, a number of quotes were attributed to Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada. Last Wednesday, May posted a statement to her website that impugned the integrity of both the Tribune and our staff writer Joanne Hill. While it is difficult to convey tone of voice in a print interview, a link has been provided of the audio of the interview which will attest to the friendly, non-combative way in which the interview was conducted, contrary to May’s statement. Below, is a transcript of the interview in its entirety, which also shows that May was not taken out of context, as she alleges in her statement.  – Ed.”

“Jewish weekly publishes audio of Elizabeth May interview after she accuses them of twisting her words” ran the banner headline on on Friday.

On 19 November the Jewish Tribune published the results of the interview in a story headlined, “Green Party’s Elizabeth May ‘not going to pander’,” noting that the Green Party leader was distancing herself from the group’s “anti-Israeli stance” said the Post – adding they May had waited more than a week after the story’s publication, “before asserting that she had been misrepresented.”

The National Post’s take

Notably, the original Jewish Tribune story did not make either claim. It does not assert that Ms May’s staff failed to disclose that the event was a fundraiser, only that. May did not realize as much. In addition, the phrase “anti-Israel” does not even appear in the story.

“Nevertheless, when reached for comment by the National Post, Ms May continued to assert that she had been misrepresented.

“It may be a semantic difference, but as my clarification pointed out, I did not call CPJME ‘anti-Israel’,” she wrote in an emailed statement, adding that the newspaper should have written that she was referring to the CJPME’s “stance.”

When told that the paper appeared to have done exactly that — and again reminded that the word “anti-Israel” did not appear in the Tribune story — Ms May continued to stand by the statement, wrote the post.

Green tries to save red faces with Post

A Green Party spokesperson in an e-mail to the National Post Friday on night (after the Post had posted the original story on their website), gave the following explanation: “The statement posted on the website was a response to some individuals that interpreted it to mean that Elizabeth (May) called CJPME anti-Israel when she spoke with the (Jewish) Tribune.”

All that this seemed to do was to add a second foot – to her own – in May’s mouth and fuel further national media hysteria in a country which is, after all, one of Israel’s closest allies in the world.

The Interview

The transcript of the interview by the Tribune’s
Joanne Hill with Green Party MP Elizabeth May:


Joanne Hill: Well, Elizabeth, I told your people that I was calling about your participation in the CJPME’s fundraiser and about the Israel/Palestine issue as well, because that’s what it’s really all about. So I’d like to ask if you are endorsing CJPME’s policies which –

Elizabeth May: Of course not.

Joanne: Of course not.

Elizabeth: No.

Joanne: Because I just want to bring to your attention – one of their policies includes making it against the law, like they want the Canadian government to make it against the law for Canadians to donate to charities that operate in the West Bank, for Canadians to own homes in the West Bank, to own or run businesses in the West Bank, and to invest in any Jewish companies or Jewish banks or any banks that do business in the West Bank.

Elizabeth: There are a lot of policies of the organization that I don’t support and that the Green Party doesn’t support. We don’t support any forms of boycotts of Israel: we oppose those.

So, and I didn’t – in accepting this speaking invitation – Joanne, I have to say quite candidly, I didn’t see it as a fundraising event, I was asked to speak.

Former Parliamentarian Warren Allmand is also speaking; he is someone I have worked with for years.

And I don’t plan to give a speech that deviates from the Green Party’s strong support for the State of Israel.

I think that dialogue is important and I think there are many good people who belong to this organization but who have not thought through what the real politic of life in the Middle East;  the positive role that Israel plays as the bulwark of democracy in the Middle East.

Similarly, I’m sure the Bnai Brith society would be disappointed the number of times the Green Party and I have felt that decisions by the State of Israel have not been in the best interests of peace in the Middle East.

So, we are not in any way – in coming to speak at this event – we’re not – far from it would we want to be associated with the policies of any group.

I speak to many, many organizations and do so without endorsing, or imagining for a moment that anyone would think that I was endorsing, or supporting the overall goals of other organizations. It happens to be – I could give you a litany of organizations to whom I’ve spoken at events where, even when they’ve charged admission, where part of what I say is, ‘the reasons I don’t agree with some of your positions on this, that or the other thing, are the following,’ just in the interest of dialogue.

So the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, they certainly have, they have  attracted supporters including in my own riding. Local members of the organization have come to meet with me on many occasions because they’re concerned and believe that their participation in this group is a way to advance peace in the Middle East. I don’t happen to agree with these policy positions or suggested tactics; I think we all agree with the [inaudible]. I think most right-thinking Canadians want to see peace in the Middle East and want to see Canada play a constructive role in that. And, to the extent that Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, I think have made a mistake in thinking that they will advance the goal of peace in the Middle East by basically putting forward an agenda hostile to the State of Israel and I don’t think that’s a constructive way forward. I plan to tell them that.

Joanne: You plan to tell them that?

Elizabeth: Of course, because I’m speaking at their event. I have to identify those areas where I think they are, they are making a mistake in, in, I mean, that’s the point of dialogue, in my view. The point of accepting a speaking invitation –  I did the same thing, I mean, there’s the – the Free Thinking Society, for instance, has sponsored a lot of presentations that deny the science of climate change. Well, if they’re gonna invite me to speak, I’ll point out where we agree and where we disagree, and thank them for the opportunity to promote the dialogue. And that’s the spirit with which I accepted their invitation.

Joanne: I see, I see. So, do you understand how some people would see your participation in the CJPME event as a signal that the Green Party’s policies on Israel/Palestine might have changed or might be about to change to be more –

Elizabeth: Oh, that’s why I was happy you called. I spoke to Richard as well. This is no change in our policy or position. This organization, CJPME, they invited me to speak knowing our policies. I’m sure they don’t think that I’ve changed my position and they are obviously prepared to hear where we agree and where we disagree and how, what the best way is to go forward.

I don’t agree with a policy for Canada that says – which our current Prime Minister – and I know that most of the people in the community are happy with Stephen Harper’s approach: that ‘whatever Netanyahu does is okay with us.’

I mean, there’s a more critical analysis of what Israel does within Israel, than there is within the PMO these days. But a pro-Netanyahu, ‘whatever Netanyahu does, right or wrong, is okay with Canada,’ is not the Green Party position, but neither would we ever want to be associated with the anti-Israeli stance of the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

We think that a two-state solution is essential and at the heart of that is the absolute inviolability of the principle that Israel has a right to exist and that its nearest neighbours are often threatening in stance and certainly Iran is a particularly worrying case in point.

But so, too, I mean, there was recently, John Kerry made the point that the continued settlement construction, when we are trying to restart a peace process, isn’t helpful. I mean, you can say that some of Israel’s actions aren’t helpful without moving to the position of condemnation and calling for boycott as the list of policies you read at the beginning of our interview. Those are not something that the Green Party would ever support.

So it’s, you know, I think dialogue is important. We have a lot of concerns about what is currently happening within Syria. In other words, there’s a lot to talk about within the rubric of peace and justice in the Middle East; I just don’t happen to agree with many of the policy positions of this organization.

And of course I will tell them that in my speech; I’m not going to pander.

Joanne: Even so, and I do understand what you’ve said, because I did read the policy on your website and I know what you’ve just told me is in line with your policy, and I know that you call for balance.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Joanne: Even so, you’re gonna be the star attraction at their fundraiser and the money will go to fund what you’ve just called their anti-Israel stance and their activities –

Elizabeth: Yes, and I said –

Joanne: Which would include –

Elizabeth: Yeah, I accepted the –

Joanne: Yeah, sure, just one sec – which includes their misleading ‘Disappearing Palestine’ ad campaign, so does that concern you?

Elizabeth: Well, again, I – as the event unfolded – certainly never considered that it was a fundraiser as opposed to just yet another speaking invitation that I was accepting. So, mea culpa on that, I did not see, and I didn’t consider that I was the star attraction. For me, I haven’t seen Warren Allmand in a good, long time and he’s somebody that I respect enormously from his parliamentary work when he was in the House.

So I don’t expect that – goodness only knows that they’ll actually – I have a lot of experience with fundraising events – we’ll see if it actually raises any money.

But in any – I hope to, my larger hope is that my speech influences what they do with all of their money. I’m more concerned with that than whatever small amount they might be raising at this event.

When I went to the Negev Dinner in Ottawa the other night and goodness, I could see that we were successful; it was a great event. It was sold out and the tickets were a significant commitment to the great work that’s done in making the desert bloom. No doubt in my mind a lot of money was raised there.

This [CJPME] event is not on that scale, it’s not going to raise a lot of money, and I think my participation is likely to have a bigger impact in raising questions about those policies. In other words, I think overall in the balance, my participation will do more good for creating, I hope, some questions on the part of the organization and those who support it, that their work could be more constructive if they were to be more balanced in recognizing the importance of the good work the State of Israel does in the world, while balancing where we would prefer to see policies change towards an approach that was more committed to working with other partners in the international community in order to find long-term peaceful solutions.

Joanne: Regarding your mea culpa, will you be having your staff maybe do a little bit more research before you accept future speaking engagements? Will this change sort of the way you make your decisions about those things?

Elizabeth: I think that’s the case, yes. It’s fair to say, I should have been much more aware of the fact that it was a fundraiser as opposed to just another speaking engagement.

Joanne: Yeah, yeah, okay.

Elizabeth: But I appreciate your call. I’m sure my conversation with you won’t satisfy everybody who’s concerned but – to the extent that you can underscore that the Green Party of Canada is very strongly supportive of the existence of the State of Israel, recognizes the importance to the Canadian community of having a strong and stable democracy in the Middle East, while at the same time feeling that it’s okay for friends to offer advice and criticism.

We do believe in dialogue and there’s no – I’m the kind of politician who does things that most won’t, which is – I will wade into areas where most people don’t want to go for fear of catching some sort of third rail.

I’m prepared to talk about why we need carbon tax, why we need to have a climate policy. I think we can have discussions on moral issues with respect towards each other without saying certain issues are always off the table. In other words, I respect the intelligence of an audience and I respect the intelligence of Canadians of all views to be able to have civil discourse and I don’t like the idea that some issues are just too hot to handle and we can’t ever discuss them and in that spirit I’m going to be opening this dialogue with this group in early December when I am back from the climate negotiations in Warsaw.

Joanne: Okay, good. Thank you so much, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Thank you so much. I hope to meet you sometime; you’ve been very lovely to talk to.

Joanne: Thank you, you too.

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