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Vaughn Palmer: B.C.’s Jewish leaders agree to work with the premier

Opinion: However, they aren’t letting David Eby off the hook for his treatment of MLA Selina Robinson

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VICTORIA — Premier David Eby emerged from a meeting with Jewish leaders last week to acknowledge what departed NDP MLA Selina Robinson had tried to tell him — B.C. has a growing problem with antisemitism.

“Any time I hear stories of discrimination, racism, Jewish hate, it shakes me,” Eby told reporters during a news conference Friday afternoon.

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“What was clear to me in the room is about how it specifically hurts the Jewish community and Jewish British Columbia.”

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Friday’s meeting followed an NDP effort to dismiss the allegations of rampant antisemitism inside the Eby government, which were contained in Robinson’s five-page letter of resignation.

Now the premier claimed he’d known about the problem all along.

“I’ve said it before but I want to underline it: B.C. has a serious problem with rising antisemitism. This issue exists in schools, in civil society, in private employers, and I believe that people have had antisemitic experiences within the government of B.C. public service.”

Eby testified that “hatred of people who are Jewish” had “gotten significantly worse” since last October’s murderous attacks on Israel by the terrorist organization Hamas.

He counted some “devastating” examples of antisemitism, some that had come directly across his desk, others relayed to him during the meeting.

Two of the worst examples happened in school classrooms.

“A teacher asked for students to self-identify if they were Jewish, and when two did, asked those students to explain what Israel was doing in Gaza to the entire class,” said the premier.

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There was “another classroom where a teacher shared that teacher’s opinion about what was happening in the Middle East, and when a Jewish student stood up to provide a different perspective, that student was asked to sit out the rest of the lesson in the hall because the student was creating a disturbance in the class.”

In terms of remedies for antisemitism in the schools, Eby pointed to the government decision to provide “mandatory Holocaust education for every kid in school in B.C.”

Yet the kids weren’t the problem in the two examples recounted by the premier. Those were cases of teachers abusing their power at the front of the classroom.

If Eby were genuinely concerned about such goings on in the schools, he or Education Minister Rachna Singh would take it up with the teachers union and school trustees in the affected districts.

Rachna Singh in 2021
Rachna Singh in 2021 Photo by CHAD HIPOLITO /PNG

As for Robinson, the premier said her resignation did come up in the meeting with the Jewish leaders.

“The word I would use to describe the community reaction is they’re quite devastated that she’s no longer in our caucus.”

But hey, the premier feels bad about it, too.

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“I’m also deeply saddened by her departure from our caucus,” he told reporters. “Through her experience as a Jewish woman … she provided unique and a distinct conduit from the community to our government.”

Thursday, one day after Robinson resigned, the premier’s office invited reporters to a news conference with cabinet minister George Heyman.

Heyman said that as a Jewish member of the NDP, he’d never seen any evidence of antisemitism in the cabinet, caucus or party.

But there was no suggestion that Heyman was a credible candidate to substitute for Robinson in outreach to the Jewish community.

Instead the premier named himself as the community’s point of contact.

“My commitment to them was that they would maintain that connection through me, through my office, that I would make myself available to ensure that they had a direct line to respond to what they’re seeing in the community.”

Eby also promised a government plan to root out antisemitism in the public service.

“If you’re a member of the public service and you have had an antisemitic experience within the public service, you have my commitment that you will be protected to come forward and bring that forward to us, and we will address that issue.”

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What about Robinson’s allegations about antisemitism inside his own NDP caucus of MLAs and cabinet ministers?

“We didn’t get into that in the meeting,” said Eby. “But every B.C. MLA will be participating in training that is in response to a report that was put forward by the Speaker’s office about the need for anti-racism and anti-discrimination training.

“And certainly B.C. NDP MLAs are no exception to that,” the premier added.

eby
B.C. Premier David Eby listens to a question from a reporter during a news conference announcing MLA Selina Robinson will be stepping down from her position as Minister of Post Secondary Education and Future Skills in Vancouver. Photo by ETHAN CAIRNS /THE CANADIAN PRESS

The recent working group on the “parliamentary culture” at the legislature recommended providing “mandatory learning for all MLAs on anti-racism” among other topics.

The training has not been implemented and the B.C. Conservatives have expressed reservations about making it mandatory.

After the meeting with Eby, Jewish leaders pledged to work with the premier “as he takes the next steps to repair his and his government’s relationship with the Jewish community.”

Still, there was no disguising their view that “the way MLA Selina Robinson has been treated, has sent a chilling message that antisemitism is tolerated in B.C.”

They’ll work with Eby. But they won’t let him off the hook for his rough treatment of Robinson, who was judged by a double standard, pushed out of cabinet, then left to twist in the wind.

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