Selina Robinson ‘crossed the line’ with controversial Palestinian comments: B.C. premier

Calls are mounting for B.C. NDP MLA Selina Robinson to resign, after comments she made around Palestinian history pre-Israel’s establishment, and her alleged intervention in the termination of a Langara College instructor. Cecilia Hua reports.

By CityNews Staff

B.C. Premier David Eby is weighing in on the controversy around one of his MLAs, saying Selina Robinson “crossed the line” in her comments about the Palestinian territories before Israel was established.

Eby says Robinson’s comments were “wrong,” “hurtful,” and “increased divisions among people in our province.”

Robinson has come under fire after she claimed during a panel discussion hosted by B’nai Brith that, before Israel was settled by the modern population, the area inhabited by Palestinians 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,” the minister of post-secondary education continued. “It couldn’t grow things. It didn’t have anything on it.”

This is factually incorrect, as the history of Palestine is well-noted over hundreds of years as having its own economy, agriculture, and long-standing multi-faith populations.

The argument is also similar to those that have been used to justify the colonization of multiple regions globally, including in North America.

The panel discussion Robinson took part in happened Tuesday, and since that time, calls for the Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA’s resignation have been growing.

Eby speaks with Robinson

On Friday, Eby wouldn’t commit to ousting Robinson from the NDP cabinet. However, he said she has to regain the trust of the community.

“I’ve spoken with Minister Robinson about her comments, and the thrust of my discussion with her … one was that the comments are totally unacceptable,” he told reporters.

He says “she’s got some work to do to go out to the community to address the harm that her comments have caused, and in particular, to a very vulnerable community. Right now, it’s incredibly raw, given the war in Gaza right now.”

Eby says the “second component” of his discussion with Robinson was around “the overall message that I try to deliver to my colleagues and that I try to live up to myself.”

“We are in positions of authority, responsibility, and power. And that brings with it an expectation on the part of all British Columbians that when we take on these roles, that we do not use them to belittle or dismiss anybody or any community, whether in our province or elsewhere. And I expressed my disappointment to her about not meeting that standard,” the premier said.

He explains Robinson has committed to “doing that work,” adding she has “already started” with an “unequivocal” apology.

Robinson took to social media on Thursday to “apologize for my disrespectful comment referring to the origins of Israel on a ‘crappy piece of land.’”

“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 the connection Palestinians also have to the land. I regret what I said and I apologize without reservation,” she added.

In a statement Friday, B’nai Brith Canada confirmed to CityNews that Robinson appeared as a panelist during a Tuesday-night event, “which was billed as an Evening With Jewish Officials.”

“B’nai Brith Canada was in no way responsible for the comments made by Minister Robinson and they do not reflect the opinion of our organization,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, Eby would not directly answer questions from reporters whether he wanted Robinson to step down.

“Minister Robinson’s comments are really hurtful … in particular to a community that’s watching what’s happening in Gaza and is heartbroken and feels unheard. This is the last thing that they needed for someone in a position of responsibility, power, and authority to be dismissive to the belittling of that community, whether here in British Columbia or internationally,” he said.

The premier also did not say whether the MLA ever offered her resignation to him in the time since the remarks.

When asked whether Eby had confidence in Robinson’s work, given her comments — recent and older — the premier continued to speak about his expectations for Robinson and his other cabinet ministers.

“The comments were completely unacceptable on a number of different levels and to a number of different communities and people in our province — and I suspect internationally — and so her apology, her unreserved apology is absolutely right. Her comments increase division in our province, they increase the feelings of alienation of groups of people, especially people of Palestinian descent, and people who are concerned about the death and destruction in Palestine that is happening right now,” Eby said in response.

Eby was also asked whether investigations would be launched to look into whether the views expressed in Robinson’s comments have affected her decision-making as a minister.

However, he refuted claims that Robinson was involved in the firing of Langara College instructor Natalie Knight, saying, “the administration of the school made the decision to terminate that individual.”

“I have some expectations though of Selina in light of the comments that she made and the harm that was caused, which is that she do the work necessary to try to repair the hurt that was caused by reaching out to community leaders … to do all she can to try to gain back the trust that British Columbians put in us when we take on these roles of significant responsibility,” he said.

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