By STEVE ARNOLD
Annamie Paul wants to make Canadian political history as the first Black Jewish woman to lead a federal political party.
The Toronto lawyer and international affairs expert has joined six other candidates in the race to succeed Elizabeth May as leader of the federal Green Party.
Paul, 47, told the CJR that she joined the Green Party because she feels its core values – ecological awareness, non-violence, social justice, sustainability, participatory democracy and respect for diversity – best reflect her Jewish beliefs.
“I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about what makes good public policy,” she said in an interview. “When I think about my life as a Jewish woman, these are the ideas that have guided me.”
Paul finds particular reflections of Jewish values in the party’s commitment to social and economic justice and environmental sustainability.
“It is a very Jewish idea that when you save a life, you save an entire world,” she said. “These are values that show a profound respect for human life.”
The Green Party’s relationship with Canada’s Jewish community was strained in August 2016, when the party passed a resolution supporting “Palestinian self-determination and the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).” As a result, May said she was seriously considering resigning as party leader.
Later that year, the party revised the policy to support “only non-violent responses to violence and oppression, including economic measures such as government sanctions, consumer boycotts, institutional divestment, economic sanctions and arms embargoes.” It also supported a ban on importing products from “illegal Israeli settlements.”
Paul would not say whether she endorses that position, only that she continues to advocate for dialogue “as the preferred means for the resolution of the conflict.”
She said she supports a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict, opposes Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank, and feels dialogue is the only solution to the strife that has marked that part of the world.
Underlying all of her positions is her feeling, based on years of international relations work, that open dialogue is the only way to settle deep-seated conflicts. These would include the 50-year struggle in Colombia, the genocide in Rwanda, and the decades-long Troubles between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
“All the evidence is clear that lasting peace anywhere is most likely to be achieved through dialogue than through open conflict,” she said. “The conflict in Colombia was the longest conflict in the Americas and no one ever thought it would end, but they have a peace deal today.”
For Paul, the same idea applies to the question of Middle Eastern terrorism. Acts of violence, she said, have been committed by both sides.
“There has been violence in both directions. This is not a one-sided conflict,” she added. “Around the world bitter, bitter enemies have eventually sat down around the table to discuss their differences. Israel must do everything it can to support those opportunities for dialogue.
“It is not easy and can take a lot of time, but it is what works most of the time,” she continued. “We have to just keep working and working and leave as many doors open as possible.”
Israel’s current annexation proposal, she added, is especially troubling because she sees it as a violation of international law that will only inflame passions.
“This is wrong if we believe in a rule-based international order,” she said. “It would be an illegal annexation and counter-productive to efforts to move toward a peaceful solution, in that region.”
Paul said she sees signs of change in Canada’s political landscape that may indicate the country is ready for new ideas – the kind that could come from a Black, Jewish prime minister.
“I think this country has been ready for some time to elect more diverse politicians,” she said. “I think minorities are as electable today as white men when they run for the right parties and the right areas.”
In addition to her law degree from the University of Ottawa, Paul has a Master of Public Affairs from Princeton University. Her professional experience includes working in global conflict prevention, the International Criminal Court, and Canada’s mission to the European Union. She speaks English, French, Catalan and Spanish.
Her mother and grandmother both worked as live-in domestics – “the main job Black women could get at the time” – until they could reclaim their professions of teaching and nursing.
Paul’s husband is Jewish and she underwent an Orthodox conversion 20 years ago after deciding they wanted a Jewish life. The couple have two teenaged sons.
The new Green Party leader will be chosen through on-line and mail-in voting Sept. 26-Oct. 3. The winner will be announced Oct. 4 at a party convention in Charlottetown.
There has not been a Jewish leader of a federal political party since David Lewis led the NDP from 1971 to 1975.