New Democrat MP Libby Davies is a lesbian with a long track record of supporting sexual freedom. She has endorsed the decriminalization of sex work and opposed raising the age of consent. As the MP who represents Vancouver’s Lower Eastside, she supports harm-reduction programs, including supervised injection sites.
Davies was interviewed at a rally in Vancouver on June 5 and asked if she believes the Israeli occupation began in 1948 or 1967.
“Forty-eight. I mean, it’s the longest occupation in the world. But I mean, I’m not going to argue numbers. It’s too long, right?” she said. “I mean, this is the longest occupation in the world. People are suffering. I’ve been to the West Bank in Gaza twice, so I’ve seen for myself what’s going on.”
Her comments sparked outrage from many including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Bob Rae, who called for Davies to step down as deputy leader of her party. What Harper, Rae and many others find so problematic about Davies’ statement is that when the state of Israel was established in 1948, Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula were not within its territorial borders. Those areas were taken by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. So, Davies’ suggestion that the Israeli occupation began in 1948 implies a belief on her part that the entire state of modern Israel lies on occupied land. And that issue, in many ways, lies at the very heart of the conflict in that part of the Middle East.
Xtra contacted Davies for comment, but she declined to speak on the matter. But the other figure at the centre of the controversy is David Katz, a master’s student in physics, debater and freshly minted blogger for Comments from Left Field, a site dedicated to covering primarily American politics. It was Katz who asked Davies the question.
In an interview with Xtra, Katz referred to himself as “just a kid with a camera” — he is 26. He talked about his conversation with Davies and his personal views on the Israel-Palestine issue. He does not seem bent on tearing down an MP on camera; rather he seems well versed on the subject at issue.
Katz stresses that he has worked hard to see the struggle from a middle point of view, but that he became an Israeli activist after a debate at the University of British Columbia, where he is a student. It spurred him on to read deeply about the Israeli conflict and it is clear that he knows his stuff. Knowing her stuff is, in his opinion, where Davies failed.
The following are excerpts of Xtra’s hour-long interview with Katz.
Xtra: When you asked her about the year [1948 or 1967], she seemed pretty flustered.
DK: My issues with what her response was — and this is somewhat horrifying to me — unlike the gay rights movement, which is simply a matter of right and wrong, the Israeli-Palestine debate is about an extremely complex history…. it is not the simple black and white issue that people try and paint it as — Israel can do whatever it wants, the Palestinians are under the oppressive thumb of an imperialist power. It is a very complex issue and everything comes down to facts. The two most important dates in the entire conflict are 1948, which is the creation of the state of Israel and 1967, which is the Six-Day War.
In 1967, a conflict that had been brewing for a while came to a boil when Jordan or Syria began working to cut off the flow of tributary waters to the Sea of Galilee, which is Israel’s main supply of fresh water. In the Middle East, cutting off a country’s water supply is an act of war (as well a military back-up), so Israel responded with basically a missile attack, even though the historical view is that if they hadn’t attacked they would have been attacked the next day, and as a result of that Israel secured the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza strip. So when I asked her — these issues are the equivalent, this of 67 and 48 are the “one plus one equals a two” type thing — the most basic history of what was happening in the Middle East. For her to say 1948 and then talk about Gaza and the West Bank implies that she was thinking that was when Israel took over Gaza and the West Bank … without knowledge of these dates, a politician should not be allowed to lead — without an instinctive knowledge of these dates.
Xtra: Do you really think she is completely ignorant about the situation?
If I were to ask any Palestinian activist at UBC what year Israel invaded Gaza and the West Bank, they could be on their seventh beer and answer that one correctly…. I am not going to describe it as a legitimate view — but there are a substantial amount of people who do believe that Israel has been occupying since 1948. However, I don’t think that someone like Libby Davies thinking that is a big news-breaker, but I don’t think what she realizes is that belief itself is not actively anti-Semitic but passively.
Xtra: When she mentioned Gaza, she also mentioned human rights. Do you think that was where she was coming from — more from a compassionate view than political?
The situation on the West Bank and Gaza is complex. To criticize one side only is to inflame tensions in Canada and to not provide any help around the world. Since Israel has been created, I have some really close friends who are in the peace movement there, and even they feel that Israel is constantly under attack by the world, so when countries threaten to sanction and boycott Israel, it strengthens their view that it is them against the rest of the world.
Xtra: Your interaction with Davies was pretty short. Do you think you were expecting too much of her in such a short time, especially since she had just spoken at a boycott rally?
I know my stuff, but I expect a member of parliament, who is vocal on the issue, to know her stuff as well… this is one of the highest officials in the land, in fact a leader in her party who has taken a very strong stand on something. It just makes me wonder if there are any other issues she has taken a strong stand on without having studied the issue in full.
Xtra: Obviously she has done some good…
She has done a tremendous amount of good. I don’t want to understate that she has done good in Canada, and I also don’t want people to think that I came in there hoping to destroy Libby Davies. That is not what I am about. But the problem is, that for a politician that has done good, should say something incredibly homophobic. [Xtra’s note: Throughout the interview Katz used homophobia as an analogy to anti-Semitic comments.]
Xtra: But she didn’t say anything in the interview.
To be a person involved in it [the Israeli-Palestine conflict] — it even required me to learn a lot — to be ignorant in this issue is tantamount to hate…. ignorance of the basic facts is equivalent of the original sin. So speaking on the issue of Israel-Palestine without knowledge would be tantamount to racism or homophobia in other areas — that is the best comparison I could make for it.
Xtra: In the interview there were something like nine questions, and on, I think, four of them you concentrated on asking her about a boycott.
Yes, because the event she was at was a boycott Israel [event].
Xtra: Based on that, do you really think that Harper calling for her resignation is really worthy of it?
I don’t think her resignation from Parliament is called for, but I am not sure that going outside so far from what the NDP platform — I do want to give her credit, her response was currently not to endorse the sanctions as a politician, but she does on a personal level — but even so, don’t we want our politicians to be not voting on what they believe in. A politician not voting on what they believe in seems disingenuous, it seems to be trying be on both sides of the line as a politician and not an intellectual and ethical level…
I should also say that I am just a kid who had a video camera who filmed something, but when I see a politician doing something that I don’t like — I hold my leaders to a high, if not unrealistic, standard…
Xtra: So do you think there should be repercussions?
I do. When I looked over the video, she talked about the new McCarthyism in Canada over this issue — since then it seems almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy — but I want to say it is not. In Canada, there have been people who have been defending, unapologetically, her original statement and we don’t see them being hauled off in front of a board in Canada. The McCarthy era was one of the darkest days in the history of America… even thinking something could get you in trouble. In comparing Canadian civil society, which is one of the freest in the world, that is a disservice to the freedom of speech.
Do I think she should resign from Parliament? No. Do I think there should be repercussions? Yes. Do I know what those repercussions should be? I am just a kid with a camera.
Xtra: You keep saying “kid with a camera” – how old are you?
Well, I still think I am a kid. I am 26. I guess I am not a kid anymore.
I think the reason why a lot of people have reacted like this is because this is what a lot of people suspected her beliefs were… I think that within the Jewish community, this is a sort of confirmation of our fear.
I am just explaining why I think there has been such a reaction.
Xtra: But if I am looking at the YouTube video, I don’t get it. What are you trying to say? Is she anti-Israel or anti-Semitic?
I think people are reacting to the 1948 comment and also the new McCarthyism comment as well. Partially the new McCarthyism comment implies some sort of Jewish conspiracy and you have to understand the Jewish community is extremely sensitive about certain things. First, with regards to the 1948 statement, Israel is the only country in the world where people feel they have to justify its existence. I am sure that many of you in the gay community can relate to — having to justify your existence, it’s not a fun thing.