MLA Selina Robinson has lost her cabinet post after comments she made about the founding of Israel on Palestinian land caused hurt and outrage.
“Following discussions with Minister Robinson we have reached a challenging and necessary decision that Selina will be stepping down in her role as advanced education minister,” Premier David Eby said Monday afternoon.
During an online panel hosted by B'nai Brith Canada last week, Robinson, then minister of post-secondary education and future skills, said that when Israel was offered to Jews after the Second World War “it was a crappy piece of land with nothing on it,” comments that had several groups and thousands of petition signers calling for her resignation.
Robinson apologized on the social media platform X for her comments, saying they were “flippant” and caused pain, and again in a statement made through the government caucus Monday morning.
“When you hurt somebody, you need to reach out to them and try to figure out what the best way is to reduce the harm and address the hurt that has been caused,” said Eby, who added he’d had extensive conversations with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, as well as with Jewish and Indigenous organizations.
“Over the past few days both Minister Robinson and I have been reaching out to the many communities that have been harmed by her remarks... to understand how to make things better,” he said.
Robinson increased divisions in the province with her comments, he said, and now her focus will be to learn from people and bring them together, work with a volume and depth that make it incompatible with her continuing as minister.
That work will include going to mosques and talking with people about the impact of her statements, Eby said. “She screwed up. She made a really significant error.”
Aysha Jameel, a Palestinian organizer in B.C. whose grandparents were forced to leave their home in Palestine after the formation of Israel in 1948, said that Robinson’s apologies had fallen short and that losing her cabinet post is a step in the right direction.
“I think it’s the right decision and the right leadership from the premier and the party,” Jameel said. “Unfortunately I don’t think it goes far enough. I think they should have removed her from caucus as well.”
Robinson’s comments were factually inaccurate and it is telling that she felt emboldened to say them, Jameel said. “She really promoted terra nullius, the idea that Indigenous land is free for taking. That’s essentially what she was saying and that’s really concerning.”
It’s a view with significant consequences for Palestine but also for “so-called Canada,” which was founded on land declared “empty” and stolen from Indigenous Peoples, she said. “Robinson needs to go back to college herself to better understand how settler colonialism is justified and perpetuated.”
The criticism of Israel is about land, not religion, Jameel said. “It is heartbreaking for me as a Palestinian that some folks can’t see this as ethnic cleansing and genocide, but it’s also rich and rewarding when we’re taking action together with our anti-Zionist Jewish comrades who see this for what it is.”
Jameel’s grandparents were among some 750,000 Palestinians forced from their land when the state of Israel formed.
“My grandfather and his brother ran a photography business and had a full and vibrant community and life in Palestine up until May 1948,” Jameel said. They were never allowed to return.
Robinson, who represents Coquitlam-Maillardville, will remain part of the NDP caucus. She did not appear with Eby but, through the NDP caucus, released a statement saying, “This decision does not excuse my harmful comments, nor does it absolve me of the work I am committed to doing.”
She said she intends to serve to the end of her term but had previously decided not to run in the next provincial election, which is scheduled for Oct. 19.
In her apology Monday, Robinson recognized that her comments had caused pain and distress within the Palestinian community, the Muslim community and beyond.
“I am very sorry,” she said. “My words were inappropriate, wrong, and I now understand how they have contributed to Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism.”
Eby said he hasn’t decided on a replacement for Robinson in advanced education, but in the short term Brenda Bailey, the minister of jobs, economic development and innovation, will be responsible for the file.