Oct. 4, 2020 –
Annamie Paul has made history by becoming the first Black and female Jewish leader of a political party in Canada.
Over the weekend, Paul captured the leadership of the Green Party of Canada after a nearly year-long race to replace Elizabeth May.
Paul, 47, defeated seven other candidates for the leadership. She polled 12,090 votes against her closest competitor, Dimitri Lascaris, who received 10,081 votes after eight rounds of voting.
“You have matched a leader to the challenges of this time,” Paul said in her victory speech. “We need to match the party to the needs of this moment. That party is the Green Party of Canada. We are the party for this moment.”
Other political parties “are simply out of ideas. They are intellectually exhausted. This is a moment that demands daring, courageous leadership and this is something that we simply didn’t see in the last speech from the throne,” Paul said. “I only heard empty words.”
Born in Toronto to Caribbean immigrant parents, Paul underwent an Orthodox Jewish conversion 20 years ago. Her husband is Jewish and they have twoteenage sons.
There has not been a Jewish leader of a federal political party since David Lewis led the NDP from 1971 to 1975.
“I think this country has been ready for some time to elect more diverse politicians,” Paul told the CJR in June. “I think minorities are as electable today as white men when they run for the right parties and the right areas.”
Paul will run in the Oct. 26 byelection in the riding of Toronto Centre, which was vacated after the abrupt resignation of former finance minister Bill Morneau. She lost to Morneau in the same riding in the last election.
In addition to a law degree from the University of Ottawa, Paul earned a masters degree in public affairs from Princeton University.
She told the CJR last summer 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. “When I think about my life as a Jewish woman, these are the ideas that have guided me.”
Paul said she found 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.”
She was the subject of racist and antisemitic attacks during the leadership campaign. At a virtual town hall, commenters used the ‘N’ word several times and referred to her and another candidate as a ‘f-ing Jew’ in a live chat.
“Most of the attacks, most of the online hate that I’ve received has really been targeted at my Jewish identity,” Paul told Global News prior to the leadership vote. The attacks were “an unrelenting onslaught of comments and commentary and trolling online.
“And so as a Jewish person and as a Black woman, that kind of prejudice isn’t surprising….It still takes you aback — you never really quite get used to it.”
The Green Party’s relationship with Canada’s Jewish community was strained in August 2016, when the party passed a resolution supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. As a result, May said she was seriously considering resigning asleader.
Four months later, the party said it “explicitly rejects the notion of boycotting the state of Israel. The Green Party does not endorse the formal BDS movement, as it does not include supporting the right of the State of Israel to exist.”
At the same time, however, the party said it supports “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 condemned “illegal Israeli settlements.”
Paul would not tell the CJR 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 and feels dialogue is the only solution to the strife that has marked that part of the world.
“There has been violence in both directions,” she said “This is not a one-sided conflict. 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.”
Paul favours a national ban on fracking and protecting 50 percent of Canada’s natural landscapes by 2050. She has said she wants to tackle systemic racism in the RCMP, and implement a guaranteed livable income and a universal pharmacare program, among other progressive initiatives.
Before jumping into federal politics, Paul worked as an advisor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and as a political officer in Canada’s mission to the European Union in Brussels.
She has served as the Green Party’s international affairs critic.
Second-place finisher Lascaris has achieved a certain notoriety in Jewish circles. An activist and lawyer, he has represented several pro-Palestinian causes, including the annual al-Quds Day rally in Toronto and efforts to abolish labeling of products from Jewish settlements as “Made in Israel.”
In 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lambasted Lascaris for “vile antisemitic smears” after Lascaris accused two Jewish members of Parliament, Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather, of being “more devoted” to Israel than to Trudeau and the Liberal caucus.
In 2016 Lascaris was turfed as the party’s justice critic for publicly criticizing the leader of the British Columbia Greens, who had been critical of his party for considering the BDS resolution earlier that year (which Lascaris had enthusiastically endorsed).
Reportedly, Lascaris was endorsed for the Green Party’s leadership by Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters and Rabbi David Mivasair of Hamilton, Ont.
– By CJR Staff, with files from Steve Arnold