Post-Secondary Education Minister Selina Robinson will remain in cabinet following her comments calling Gaza “a crappy piece of land.”
Premier David Eby confirmed she’d be keeping her role Friday (Feb. 2) during an unrelated announcement in Vernon, but he said she has “some work to do” to “address the harm” her comments caused.
“I believe that the minister crossed the line as a member of cabinet,” Eby said. “She made remarks that were wrong, that were hurtful for a community, that increased divisions among people in our province at a time when every member of my government is expected to bring people together. She understands that. She has committed to go and do her best to repair the harm that she has caused with those comments.”
Robinson called pre-1948 Israel — then known as the British-rule Mandate of Palestine — “a crappy piece of land with nothing on it” in making comments that many consider to be distorting of history.
“You know, there were several hundred thousand people but other than that, it didn’t produce an economy,” Robinson said, while participating in an online discussion with Jewish public officials from around the country on Jan. 30.
“It couldn’t grow things, it didn’t have anything on it, and that it was the folks that were displaced that came and had been living there for generations and together they worked hard and they had their own battles.”
Robinson subsequently apologized for her comments, but Eby’s comments suggest that her apology was just the first step among many. He said she “needs to be and is in the process of” reaching out to members and leaders in the community, “apologizing to them directly and making sure she is doing everything she can to repair the damage.”
“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,” he said. “This is the last thing that they needed for someone in a position of responsibility, power and authority to be dismissive, to be belittling of that community, whether in British Columbia or internationally.”
Eby side-stepped questions whether Robinson ever offered her resignation or whether he ever considered firing her.
Several individuals and organizations have called for Robinson’s removal from cabinet either at the hand of Eby or by her own choice. Recent additions to this chorus include Neil Naiman, chair of the Vancouver chapter of the Independent Jewish Voices Canada, who called on Eby to immediately remove Robinson from cabinet.
Independent Jewish Voices describes itself as a grassroots organization grounded in Jewish tradition that opposes all forms of racism and advocates for justice and peace for all in Palestine-Israel.
“We have witnessed with a growing sense of outrage the litany of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab comments made via social media over the past several months by your (minister) Selina Robinson,” Naiman wrote in a letter to Eby posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“This outrageous behaviour culminated in a recent speech by (Robinson) to the B’nai Brith Canada, in which she described Palestine before European colonization ‘a crappy piece of land with nothing on it.’ She compounded her bigotry with ignorance by declaring that ‘there were, you know, several hundred thousand people, but other than that it didn’t produce an economy.’”
While Naiman acknowledged Robinson’s apology, “it is our view that her apology is not sufficient” given her “track record,” as well as “her repeated violation of the most fundamental notions of public decency.”
Robinson’s comments have also drawn criticism from inside the larger New Democratic ecosystem. Federal NDP Matthew Green, who represents Hamilton-Centre, has called for the “reassessment” of 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.”
Green said Robinson’s comments “are not only historically inaccurate but deeply derogatory and insensitive.” He added that they “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. This event remains a central aspect of Palestinian identity and collective memory, and it is a source of ongoing pain and conflict.”
The BC Civil Liberties Association as well as the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC have also called for Robinson’s resignation for an issue related to the current conflict in the Middle East.
FPSE has accused Robinson of pressuring Langara College to dismiss an instructor over comments she had made over the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Natalie Knight was placed on leave, then reinstated in late 2023 over her comments, following an internal investigation. Langara College late last month confirmed that Knight was no longer an employee.
Eby said he has heard the suggestion that Robinson was involved in the firing. “That is not correct,” he said. “The administration of the school made the decision to terminate that individual.”
But he reiterated his expectation that Robinson do the necessary work to “try to repair the hurt.”