Severn Court (October-August)
Theatre Trent 2023/24
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Graphic by Evan Robins, with photos from Dave Smith

What Does Dave Smith Believe In?

Written by
Evan Robins
and
and
May 17, 2024

Content Warning: This article extensively quotes statements from Peterborough—Kawartha MPP Dave Smith which include graphic descriptions of violence and sexual assault. Reader discretion is strongly advised.

What Does Dave Smith Believe In?
Graphic by Evan Robins, with photos from Dave Smith

On May 14th, 2024, Peterborough—Kawartha MPP Dave Smith attended a celebration of Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel’s National Day, in Toronto, ON. At 5:29 PM that same day, he took to Twitter dot com (allegedly “X”) to air his apparent frustration with the Official Opposition’s perceived refusal to attend.

“If there was any question where the @OntarioNDP stand it was answered today,” writes Smith, who is a member of the Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) party. “Not a single NDP member attended the Yom HaAtzmaut [sic] event at Queens Park. Why can't they bring themselves to be seen in public with Jews?”

Though never said outright, the issue about which Smith suggests to have inferred the NDP’s stance would seem to be that of the ongoing Israeli siege of Gaza.

Following the outbreak of the military violence after the October 7th Hamas attacks, the State of Israel has killed more than 40,000 Palestinian civilians—most of them women and children. Since then, the war has become a cultural flashpoint, inciting community protests and sparking a swathe of student demonstrations across the country demanding universities divest themselves from Israeli companies and academic institutions.

Discussion of the present conflict in the Gaza Strip has also periodically stirred controversy in the Ontario Legislative Assembly. Most recently, Queen’s Park Speaker Ted Arnott’s ban of the keffiyeh stirred controversy as he continued to enforce the decision despite MPPs Joel Harden, Sarah Jama, and Kristin Wong-Tam’s continual refusal to comply with the demand. 

A vocal portion of the PC caucus seem equally determined to uphold the ban, with multiple PC MPPs shouting “No” to a call for unanimous consent, and one going so far as to tell NDP and Official Opposition leader, Marit Stiles, that she was “on the same side as the Islamic regime.”

The superficial appearance would seem to play into Smith’s implicit framing of the matter: the NDP support the keffiyeh—whatever semiotic meaning one attributes to that—and the Conservatives, its prohibition.

These, in turn, play into a larger meta-narrative about Canadian support of the present Israel invasion of Gaza: the PCs unequivocally support the State of Israel while the NDP support Palestine or even—as the insinuation slides further down a slippery slope—Hamas.

However, the reality of the matter—as is the case with most issues abstracted into a single tweet—is more complex than Smith would have us believe.

It was not, after all, solely the NDP opposing the keffiyeh ban. While a number of PC MPPs do seem to support the measure, the decision has drawn criticsm from members of all parties—including Premier Doug Ford.

Moreover, while the NDP have been staunch in their disapproval of the ban, this isn’t to say they have been unequivocal in their support of Palestine to date

In October of 2023, days after the outbreak of hostilities in Gaza, MPP Sarah Jama was removed from the NDP caucus for statements she made in support of the people of Palestine for her perceived failure to condemn the October 7th Hamas attacks. 

Stiles’ initial Oct 11th, 2023 statement on Jama’s comments, which called for an “end to all occupation of Palestinian land” and an immediate ceasefire, lament that Jama “did not unequivocally decry the violence against Israelis by Hamas and it caused harm to Jewish people who are feeling pain and fear right now.”

While Jama eventually issued an apology under threat of censure by Ford and the PCs, she was eventually kicked from the caucus approximately two weeks later after Stiles said she “undert[ook] a number of unilateral actions that have undermined our collective work and broken the trust of her colleagues.”

While the Federal New Democrats have consistently called for a ceasefire in Gaza, it took until March 5th for the Provincial party to release a statement supporting their federal counterparts’ push for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “take immediate action to end the violence in Gaza.”

The issue, and the way in which Canadian politics interface with it, are ultimately not so black and white as Smith presents them. Nor, indeed, are they entirely partisan (nor should they be). All the same, this degree of friction puts pause to the clarity of the question Smith purports to have answered.

If Smith’s implicit narrative of “where the NDP stand,” is not so solid, then it necessarily asks the converse question: what—if anything—does Dave Smith believe?

If the New Democrats stand against(?) him, what does that imply about his own position?

Push comes to shove, how does Smith feel about a military campaign that has razed cities, displaced millions, and killed tens of thousands of innocents? 

The answer to that question is somewhat difficult to answer. Smith is quick to express sympathy for the Israeli victims of October 7th, and for the 19 women reportedly kidnapped by Hamas, but to date has said precious little about the thousands of women subjected to unthinkable violence by the Israeli military over the past 220+ days.

I would be remiss to do something so imprudent as to outwardly accuse Smith of being a Zionist, though I think it perfectly appropriate here to instead submit Smith’s posting habits and public comportment for the consideration of you, the reader.

To give Smith credit, I do believe he cares deeply about antisemitism and the Holocaust. 

While he does post a remarkable amount about Judaism and Israel for someone who is not (to my knowledge) Jewish, I’ll extend him the benefit of the doubt to say that at least a significant portion of it does seem to come from a place of genuine concern. Smith regularly attends events hosted by Jewish faith groups and featuring Jewish speakers, and often posts about days of importance to the Jewish community.

Moreover, it is my sincere belief that Dave Smith deplores violence against women and children. Why should he not? He is a father and a husband, after all. These things he lists in his Twitter bio before “MPP for Peterborough-Kawartha.”

When the sentencing came down in the case of Cileana Taylor, a 22-year-old Curve Lake First Nation woman who died after being choked and assaulted by her then-boyfriend, Smith was quick to take to Twitter to urge his followers to “Remember her name.”

Smith called Taylor’s former boyfriend, Jordan Morin—who was sentenced to four years in prison for aggravated assault—a “piece of garbage that took her life,” and urged consituents to “Reach out to the Federal Government and ask them to change the criminal code so that garbage like her killer stops getting more chances to harm our daughters.”

However, Smith’s concern for the Jewish community and for women need not be insincere to remain—at least superficially—selective.

Smith posts a lot about the Holocaust—to look at his timeline one could easily think it one of his defining preoccupations as a politician. On May 5th, he attended an event for Yom HaShoa—Israel’s Holocaust Rememberance Day—posting photos from the event on Twitter.

He later posted a clip from Queen’s Park that day, when he introduced a Point of Order seeking unanimous consent for a moment of silence in recognition of Holocaust Rememberance Day.

A day later, Smith posted another photo from a separate Yom HaShoah event he also attended, where he “heard from another Holocaust survivor about the evils that he faced during World War Two.” He appended the tweet with #neveragain.

In spite of how often he posts about such things as International Holocaust Rememberance Day, or the aforementioned Yom Ha’atzmaut event, Smith conspicuously posts little about traditional holidays in the Jewish calendar. In the past year, Smith has failed to recognize Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Purim (among other traditional observances) and his only statement about Hanukkah link to a Statement from the Premier’s office which pays reference to “the rise in antisemitic activity” in the past year.

This selectivity could be seen, to some extent, to undermine any underpinning sincerity of Smith’s message. Otherwise said, does Dave Smith’s sympathy to the Jewish community extend beyond those circumstances when it serves him to make a point?

When Smith talks about the Jewish community in broad strokes (Smith typically employs the collective noun “Jews,” which I elect to forego as I find it insensitive), generally the demographic he is actually talking about are Jewish Israelis, and Zionists. 

I make this distinction because—while Israel purports itself to be a Jewish ethnostate—not all people who reside in Israel are Jewish, not all Jewish people reside in Israel, and not all Jewish diaspora (or even those who live in Israel, for that matter) support the existence of the Israeli state or its continued efforts to displace Arab Palestinian residents in the region and build Jewish settlements in historically Palestinian territory.

Pro-Palestinian protests on both the local and international levels have consistently figured Jewish organizers, and “not in our name” has become a common refrain amongst Jewish academics, students, and advocacy groups.

If Smith recognizes such dissent for the Zionist political project exists amongst the Jewish community, he has yet to publicly recognize as such. As a matter of fact, Smith has gotten into fights online with Jewish consituents of his opposed to the war in Gaza.

Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith engages a Jewish constituent on Twitter dot com.

Smith leverages collectivist rhetoric to flatten the narrative by appealing to an imagined unified Jewish community which—on the matter of Israel—can in no way be said to exist.

To recognize that indeed there are many Jewish people who outwardly disagree with him would destabilize the narrative he seems to curate for himself as a bastion of Jewish solidarity and a crusader against antisemitism.

Smith’s call for Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden’s removal from public office is an inimitable example of this phenomenon at work. “@JoelHardenONDP can't be removed from office soon enough enough [sic],” he writes. Here, Smith again appeals to “Ontario's Jewish community,” ignoring the myriad people speaking in support of Harden on the post he quote retweets.

Jewish scholars, since even before the establishment of Israel in 1948, have spoken about the dangers of conflating Judaism with national identity and statehood. Per anti-Zionist scholars, such an assertion does more, ultimately, to draw the ire of anti-semites, not only because of Zionism’s antisemitic origins as a solution to “the Jewish problem,” but equally because it holds the Jewish people as a whole to the same moral standard as the State of Israel, rendering them culpable by proxy of the violence said State effects.

If every border implies the violence of its own maintenance, to attribute that border to not just a nation, but to all Jewish people, unjustly and inaccurately implicates them in the military violence, displacement, and expropriation of territory in which Israel consistently engages.

It’s in direct response to this tendency from which the mantra “not in our name” emerges. Is it so surprising that many Jewish people do not wish to be associated with a state which the United Nations has deemed responsible for war crimes and breaches of international law

While Smith’s rhetoric may not be overtly antisemitic in character or intention, it nonetheless occurs within a framework which sees the Jewish experience as inextricable from the existence of an Israeli state, and by extension all of the violence such a state implies and indeed commits.

It is a reduction of the infinite complexity of the Jewish experience to one solely defined by national identity—ignoring cultural facets and complexities which emerge from the longstanding diasporic status of Judaism and the Jewish people.

Where these disparate ideological fragments—Smith’s seeming obsession with the Holocaust, his repeated conflation of the Jewish people as a whole with the Israeli nation-state, and his self-avowed hatred of antisemitism—intersect, is in a confused, bordering on insidious, attempt on the part of Smith to reconcile his apparent belief at the sheer horror of October 7th legitimizing all Israeli reprisal, no matter the scale, with the fact that to many Zionists the Holocaust was and remains a crucial legitimator of Israel’s right to exist as a nation-state and to undertake any action in service of its preservation.

It is at this point that I remind readers of the content warning on this piece.

Taking to Twitter at 10:19 AM on March 21, 2024, Smith tweeted about attending a speech by a woman named “Irene from the humanitarian group Zaka,” who spoke to Smith and others about the events of October 7th, leading Smith to describe the images as “more disturbing than anything I have seen in books about the holocaust [sic].”

Smith goes on to describe being shown “People in the fetal position with their faces and genitals burned. Bodies with objects inserted into their genitals. Women with their breasts severed” in the Twitter thread.

When asked by Arthur to elaborate whether his statements should be taken to imply that he believes the events of October 7th are equivalent to or worse than those of the Holocaust—which systematized the murder of more than six million Jewish people between 1941 and 1945—Smith replied that he had “read many books about the Second World War and the atrocities that were committed against Jews during the Holocast [sic].”

“I have seen many historical photos of the horror that was perpetuated against the Jews during this time,” Smith continued. “I’ve seen images from Auschwitz. I’ve seen images of the mass graves. I’ve seen images of people starved.  I had never seen the image of a woman with her head chopped off, her breasts sliced from her body while she was still alive, and we know she was alive at the time that her breasts were removed because of the amount of blood, and objects such as scissors and screw drivers inserted into her vagina.”

Smith told Arthur that “The images that [he] saw [Thursday] have been approved by the UN as representative of what occurred,” despite immediately disclaiming that “The UN did not acknowledge the rape and murders of these Jewish women unit [sic] January, despite Hamas live streaming many of these events on Oct 7.”

For claims of both the UN’s failure to acknowledge the events of October 7th and of alleged Hamas livestreams thereof, Smith offered no citation. Despite being asked by Arthur to elaborate as to what he meant when claiming that “some people are still denying it happened,” Smith did not offer specific names of individuals or organizations allegedly denying the events of October 7th.

The woman in Smith’s Tweets, whom Arthur identified as Irene Nurith Cohn, is a volunteer with the group ZAKA, which describes itself as “Israel’s dominant non-governmental rescue and recovery organization.”

The organization drew criticism in the aftermath of the October 7th attacks following reporting from Israeli newspaper Haaretz which alleged that ZAKA used bodies recovered from the attacks to stage fundraising videos, as the organization was reportedly “entangled in debts of millions of shekels” at the time. The article goes on to allege that the organization made use of shock imagery similar to that which Smith described having seen in attempts to solicit donations.

Further Haaretz reporting indicates that while the October 7th attacks indeed resulted in significant Israeli casualties, the extent of atrocities alleged by ZAKA is not only unverifiable, but in certain instances may have been fabricated—again in a bid for financial gain.

Smith defended his comments about the organization when asked by Arthur whether repeating such claims was a responsible use of his platform as an elected official, saying “With respect to Zaka. I believe them and I believe that it is appropriate, and that it is responsible to speak out against these atrocities.”

Smith’s Tweets came just two days after Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, said that Canada would cease the export of weapons to Israel, following a vote on a non-binding motion introduced by the NDP, which passed on Monday, March 18th.

When Smith wields such visceral imagery and rhetoric, it is hard not to feel as if he is saying the quiet part out loud. 

Does Dave Smith legitimately care about the Jewish community, about the Holocaust, and about women who are victims of sexual and political violence? In all likelihood yes—he has given me no reason to think otherwise.

However, the way he talks about these things in instances such as this lead me to believe that he cares about them for a reason. What narratives about Israel, about Palestine, about the Palestinian people, about Israeli settlers and civilians, about the Jewish people, Muslims, Arabs, and so forth do Smith’s statements serve.

What does the framing of October 7th as an atrocity so profound that it inspires more horror than the Holocaust do to impugn or justify 220 days of continually bombarding a civilian population?

It strikes me that Smith’s willingness to engage in lines of argumentation that have been widely disproven—such as ZAKA’s testimony on the events of October 7th—whilst failing to address converse accusations of sexual violence and crimes against humanity by the IDF muddies the credibility of Smith as a narrator.

We have reached a point in an international conflict in which every day new reports emerge attesting the targeting of journalists by the IDF, their use of white phosphorus against civilians, and sexual torture of prisoners. Where hospitals and universities have been systematically destroyed and proudly documented by those doing it.

The atrocity exhibition has been on full display for more than half a year, with an incomprehensible scale of documentation of the sheer depths of human suffering, and time and again Dave Smith wants to relitigate October 7th on Twitter.

In this instance I’m forced to ask: to what end?

Who benefits from this? Are the interests of his constituents—Jewish or otherwise—truly best served by Smith repeatedly crying antisemitism on the internet? Does the Progressive Conservative party really stand to benefit from a member who spends his time sending student newspapers leering accounts of sexual violence and bodily mutilation? Does Smith himself find some perverse vindication in being yelled at by people in his comment sections imploring him to acknowledge that the very country he refuses to stop tweeting about has killed more than 40,000 people?

That seems to be the crux of the matter—Smith’s refusal to engage, full-stop, with any meaningful criticism of the State of Israel. One can (and dare I say should) acknowledge that while the events of October 7th are condemnable, they are incomparable in scale to the extirpartion of a civilian population to which we are presently bearing witness—or, for that matter, to the Holocaust.

Does Dave Smith believe that? His statements cast doubt in my mind.

Ultimately, perhaps it’s best to simply take him at his own word.

On October 8th, the MPP concluded a tweet about the previous day’s attacks with the words “I stand with Israel.

In the interests of transparency, Arthur has elected to reproduce the entire, unaltered email response from Smith below.

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