thumb-2024-02-01-selina-robinson This article is more than 5 months old

‘Words Matter:’ Palestinian and Muslim Communities Say Trust is Broken As BC NDP Minister Resigns

‘We need to be responsible with what we say, and we need to bring people together’

British Columbia’s Palestinian and Muslim communities are reacting to the aftermath of comments made by BC’s former Minister of Post-Secondary Education Selina Robinson about historic Palestine. 

On Monday, BC Premier David Eby announced that Robinson would be stepping down as Minister of Post Secondary Education, but will remain a part of the BC NDP Caucus. 

Before the weekend, Robinson had come under fire for inflammatory comments made during a panel hosted by B’nai Brith Canada, in which she referred to historic Palestine as a “crappy piece of land.” 

Bilal Cheema, spokesperson for a coalition of Mosques and Muslim Organizations that penned an open letter calling for the removal of Minister Robinson from her role, says he hopes for a more positive path forward.

“No one takes joy in advocating for the removal of someone elected, someone who served in cabinet,” Cheema told PressProgress. “But for someone in a position of power, words matter.” 

“People are watching.”

Cheema says the local Muslim community was deeply impacted by Robinson’s comments, which he says advance a particular narrative about Palestinians and Muslims.

“When you look from afar and you see someone in that position say some of these things to Palestinians and to Muslims—if that’s what you can think about people far far away and they share an identity, a culture, a faith with us, does that mean we are crappy? Does that mean that we are unsafe?” Cheema said.

“We all have our unseen biases, we all have our perspectives and views. But sometimes we just need to try on someone else’s shoes to see the world from their perspective.”

Cheema added that there have been real fears in the Muslim community following rising tensions in Gaza and across the globe, which have even impacted his young daughter.

“She took off her hijab, she said, ‘I don’t want to wear it. I don’t want someone to hurt me,’ and  that fear hit me so hard,” Cheema said. 

“I can’t help but think of that little Palestinian boy in Chicago, Illinois who was killed because of charged words by leaders around the world. It’s a strong message for all aspiring candidates and elected candidates to do the best we can to bridge divides and bring people together to protect this beautiful mosaic that we have built here and not further divide.”

Following Robinson’s removal, Cheema says he hopes there is room for healing and unity across interfaith groups and communities.

“We need to be responsible with what we say and we need to bring people together,” Cheema said.

“We are trying to heal as we move forward, recognizing this was a difficult decision by the premier and Robinson that was in the best interest of British Columbians and we want to be able to bring people together moving forward, not create or accentuate any of the divides that already exist.”

Some members of the Palestinian community in BC feel Robinson’s removal from cabinet didn’t go far enough.

“Her comments showed a profound and concerning lack of information about the facts on the ground of Palestine, and also a real disconnect from the truth of colonization both here in so-called Canada and in historic Palestine,” Aysha Jameel, a Palestinian Canadian in BC whose family was forcibly displaced from Jerusalem Palestine in 1948 told PressProgress.

“It shows just a blatant lack of understanding of the justifications and perpetuations of settler-colonialism.”

Jameel adds that she believes Robinson’s comments warranted her removal from caucus, as well as more direct actions from the BC NDP and Premier Eby.

“There’s context to this. Let’s not forget that every day. Palestinians are dying in Gaza and the West Bank. And that there is literally ethnic cleansing and genocide that has been happening,” Jameel said.

The Palestinian community has been grappling with their dehumanization, Jameel says, and the impact of that has been difficult to navigate.

“As a Palestinian, it’s hard to really face how dehumanized we have been. It feels so hurtful that we are being perceived as disposable and inhuman,” Jameel said. 

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC also issued a statement after Robinson’s removal from cabinet, saying they were “pleased” with the decision, but calling for an investigation into Robinson’s interference into the relationship between a post secondary educator and BC and their employer. 

“We believe the former Minister allowed her personal politics to cloud her judgment and undermine the autonomy of colleges and universities in BC – all in the service of ensuring a faculty member was terminated,” the statement said.

“We maintain our position that Ms. Robinson’s interference in the employment relationship between a faculty member and her institution damaged that relationship beyond repair and betrayed the trust of our members.”


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Rumneek Johal
Rumneek Johal is PressProgress' BC Reporter. Her reporting focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism.

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