Selina Robinson is stepping down as B.C.’s minister of advanced education and higher learning after calling Gaza a “crappy piece of land with nothing on it.”
Premier David Eby announced the decision at a news conference in Vancouver on Monday (Feb. 5), saying Robinson will remain in caucus but will no longer have a cabinet role. Robinson serves as MLA for the riding of Coquitlam-Maillardville, but had previously decided she would not be running again in the next election, set for October.
“She screwed up,” Eby said. “She made a really significant error.”
Robinson made her comments during an online panel discussion of Jewish leaders, hosted by B’nai Brith Canada on Jan. 30.
Eby said he and Robinson have spent the days since then talking to leaders in the Muslim community as well as First Nations leaders, who Robinson also offended by drawing comparisons between the war between Israel and Palestine and a fight between two Indigenous groups.
“(What) has become apparent is the scope of the work that needs to be done by Selina, the depth of the hurt that she has caused to many British Columbians,” Eby said. He said they jointly decided that the time Robinson now needs to devote to repairing the divisions she has caused means she won’t be able to continue on with the responsibilities of her ministerial position.
Eby said Robinson has committed to further meetings with the Muslim community as well as anti-Islamophobia-training.
When asked why Robinson is staying in caucus when former New Democrat Adam Walker did not over a human resources complaint, Eby said the situations are different.
“As leader, I need to address each situation on the facts that are in front of me,” he said.
He noted that Robinson, who is Jewish, had been an exceptional leader in reaching out to the Jewish community following Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7, working overtime to make sure the community has a voice inside and outside of government.
“Her voice is important,” Eby said. “It’s important to our colleagues in caucus and it’s important to so many British Columbians.”
Eby added the Robinson is taking some personal time to “catch her breath” after the past 72 hours.
BC Green House Leader Adam Olsen said Monday afternoon that Robinson’s departure from cabinet was the “inevitable result” of the way the past week has gone.
“… it is very clear the premier’s handling of this situation allowed this to be become a distraction and frankly, the business of government shouldn’t be distracted by one of the members of the cabinet.”
“It is important to recognize that the harm and the hurt in communities is the focus here,” Eby says.— Jane Skrypnek (@janeskrypnek) February 5, 2024
Says Robinson will be focused on addressing division she has created going forward.
Subsequent reactions to Robinson’s departure have varied.
Nico Slobinsky, vice president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ pacific region, called the removal of Robinson “distressing” in the face of an “alarming increase” in anti-Semitism.
“The community is both offended and hurt by what has happened to a great ally and British Columbian, and it has seriously undermined the confidence of the Jewish community in the Government of British Columbia,” Slobinsky said in a statement.
Ezra Shanken, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, echoed Slobinsky’s comments about Robinson being a leader in and for the Jewish community and lamented the “online vitriol” she has received .
“It is shameful that Premier David Eby has bowed to pressure from a loud minority whose campaign to discredit MLA Robinson was centred in anti-Jewish bias and lacked the offer of grace they demand when others falter,” Shanken said.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims, meanwhile, said on X that it appreciated the engagement with Eby’s office and his decision to take action.
“Ms. Robinson has made a string of deeply offensive and ignorant remarks about Palestinian history, culture, and civilization,” it said. “This kind of dehumanization of (Palestinians) must not be tolerated. Dehumanization of any kind must be held accountable.”
B.C. Premier David Eby @Dave_Eby has removed Ms. Selina Robinson from her post as Minister.— NCCM (@nccm) February 5, 2024
We appreciate the engagement with his office and the decision to take action.
Ms. Robinson has made a string of deeply offensive and ignorant remarks about Palestinian history,… pic.twitter.com/XUcb3oQGAv
Harsha Walia, a Vancouver-based activist and community organizer, said on X that Robinson’s removal as minister is an important step, but that she should have been cut from caucus altogether.
“This isn’t about ‘hurt,’ this is about upholding a racist and colonial worldview through her consistent words and actions.”
Eby’s announcement came just hours after a group of demonstrators pushed their way into a Surrey hotel Monday morning, where BC NDP MLAs were attending a retreat.
The group intended to hand-deliver to Eby a curriculum book on “settler colonial history” and an 11,000-signature petition calling for Robinson’s resignation, but were unable to get into the conference room where members of the party were gathered. Instead, they delivered speeches directed at Robinson, outside of the hotel,
Ramona Chu, a Palestinian woman and a member of a Coquitlam parent advisory committee, said she worked closely alongside Robinson when schools introduced social justice courses.
“My memories of you are of an empathetic, passionate and loving person,” Chu said, tearing up “That’s why it was such a shock and I was so taken aback with the rhetoric that you’ve been putting out in public the last couple of months. I didn’t understand why you didn’t see my people as human, why you didn’t see that they deserved human rights. I understood that your people were fleeing horrific crimes in Europe and they needed a safe haven, but you could not see that one injustice does not excuse or forgive another.”
Chu said while Robinson’s Jan. 30 remark about Gaza being a crappy piece of land upset her, the most disturbing part was when Robinson added “there were a couple hundred thousand people, but other than that it didn’t produce an economy.”
“In the blink of an eye, you erased over 750,000 people,” Chu said. “No acknowledgement that they were forced from their homes, from their lives. No acknowledgement of people such as my grandparents who lost their home, their business, their dreams and almost their lives.”
Jada-Gabrielle Pape of the wu’Was’Ulwat’, Snuneymuxw and Saanich Nations said the treatment of land as something that only holds economic value is ignorant of the connection First Nations and others often hold to it.
“This violent colonial mindset is dated at best and genocidal at worst.”
Robinson has issued two apologies over social media since last week.
“I want 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 said Feb. 1.
Monday morning she added: “I know that my comments have additionally caused pain, including among Indigenous communities, for perpetuating harmful narratives of colonialism. The experiences of First Nations people are not mine to manipulate. That was wrong and I am deeply sorry.”
Demonstrators on Monday said those apologies don’t cut it for them. They said they expect to see Robinson engaging with the community and educating herself.