Selina Robinson apologizes after ‘disrespectful,’ historically inaccurate comments about Israel

By CityNews Staff

B.C.’s Post Secondary Education Minister Selina Robinson has apologized after she made inaccurate comments about the history of Israel.

In a panel discussion hosted by Jewish organization B’nai Brith on Tuesday, Robinson claimed that before Israel was settled by the modern population it was just a “crappy piece of land with nothing on it.”

“There were, you know, several hundred thousand people but other than that, it didn’t produce an economy,” she said. “It couldn’t grow things. It didn’t have anything on it.”

SFU professor and Middle East expert Adel Iskandar called her comments factually wrong, noting the region’s history of human civilization and agriculture.

He said the idea that nothing was on the land before the British mandate that proposed the Jewish settlement in the mid-20th century is a “fundamentally colonialist narrative.”

The land has a rich history that includes important contributions from Jews, Muslims, and Christians, he added.

“There’s absolutely no history book that would affirm Minister Robinson’s articulation of that period in time,” Iskandar told CityNews. “Obviously it was not a ‘crappy piece of land.’ It is the land that has had over 15,000 years of human inhabitability.”

In response to Robinson’s claim that nothing grew on the land that’s now Israel, Iskandar says that is easily countered, with the land bearing fruit, olive groves, and many other agricultural ventures.

In a statement posted on X, Robinson said she regrets her comment and apologizes “without reservation.”

“I want to apologize for my disrespectful comment referring to the origins of Israel on a ‘crappy piece of land,'” she said. “I was referring to the fact that the land has limited natural resources. I understand that this flippant comment has caused pain and that it diminishes connection Palestinians also have to the land.”

Iskandar says Robinson’s comments have made him wonder how she approaches the idea of Truth and Reconciliation here in the Lower Mainland.

“We’re still reckoning with Truth and Reconciliation, but fundamentally, there’s no such thing as reconciliation without truth,” he said. “We must first confound ourselves and be steeped in these truths and recognize them for what they are.”

In a release Friday, a member of the federal NDP and MP for Hamilton Centre, Matthew Green, called on B.C. Premier David Eby to “reassess” Robinson’s position in government.

“I call for the reassessment of Minister Robinson’s position within the Cabinet to ensure that our leadership reflects a deep commitment to historical accuracy, empathy, and the pursuit of peace and justice for all peoples, including Palestinians and Israelis,” he said.

Green went on to say that as public officials, it is “imperative” to acknowledge the “deep historical grievances and rights of all people, including the Palestinian right to self-determination and the right of all to live in peace and security.”

Green said Robinson’s comments were not only historically inaccurate but “deeply derogatory and insensitive.”

“These remarks ignore the profound significance of the land to both Palestinians and Jews and the tragic history of the Nakba where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homes in 1948.”

Green called for Eby to consider the implications of Robinsons’ comments, “given the gravity … and their deviation from our shared values of empathy, respect, and commitment to justice.”

Robinson is also facing backlash for her alleged involvement in the termination of Langara College instructor Natalie Knight, after Knight spoke at an off-campus rally and praised the “determination and ingenuity” of six Palestinian political prisoners who had escaped from Gilboa prison in Israel.

Langara announced Jan. 26 that Knight was no longer employed with the school. The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC (FPSE) and Canadian Association for University Teachers (CAUT) are now calling for Robinson’s resignation after she “inappropriately intervened” in the termination, saying Knight was cleared by the school’s Academic Freedom Committee and her remarks were Charter-protected.

“The Minister continued to press for her termination,” said Michael Conlon, executive director of FPSE. “The notion that a Minister would intervene directly with a college and call for the termination of a tenured faculty member is highly inappropriate and unprecedented. We will assist the Langara Faculty Association in grieving this unjustified termination.”

CityNews has reached out to Robinson’s office for comment.

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