Robinson, Pelosi and the sham of Western progressive politics

When Western politicians talk Palestine, they expose who they truly are.

U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) walks to a democratic caucus meeting to nominate their own candidate for the next Speaker of the House, after Kevin McCarthy was ousted as Speaker, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., October 10, 2023. REUTERS/Leah Millis
US Representative Nancy Pelosi has said the FBI should investigate whether Russia is funding pro-Palestinian protests in the United States [File: Reuters/Leah Millis]

Politicians love to talk.

It’s a big part of the job. You talk in legislatures. You talk at committees. You talk to voters. You talk to reporters. If you’re lucky, you’re asked to talk on TV, the radio, or other popular platforms.

Politicians crave the attention. It’s validating. It means that you’re important. You’re a somebody with important things to say. You’re noticed. People listen.

Politicians know that the bigger their job, the more careful they have to be when they’re talking to an audience – however small or large. That’s especially true if you’re a cabinet minister or a “leader”. Too much unscripted talking can be dangerous.

So, more often than not, what politicians say while they’re talking is forgettable or worse, meaningless. They have to stick to their talking points. They adore cliché.

Still, there are moments when politicians get too comfortable. They get complacent. They slip up and say something candid and revealing about who they are and what they actually think and believe.

Fortunately, two politicians opted for refreshing bursts of honesty over the standard rhetorical gruel this past week. One is Canadian. The other is American. You probably don’t know the first politician. The second is quite well-known.

Both were talking, in a roundabout way, about what is happening in Gaza.

The first politician’s name is Selina Robinson. She is, as of this writing, the minister of post-secondary education in the “socialist” provincial government of British Columbia, Canada.

On January 30, Robinson was talking on Zoom as part of a panel of Jewish politicians organised by a pro-Israeli advocacy group. She was among “friends”, talking to and with “friends”.

In one remarkable swoop, Robinson not only rewrote history, but trafficked in a familiar racist trope. Before the engineered birth of Israel, she said, Palestine was “a crappy piece of land with nothing on it”.

“There were several hundred thousand people but other than that, it didn’t produce an economy … it couldn’t grow things. It didn’t have anything on it, and that it was the folks who were displaced that came and the people who had been living there for generations and together they worked hard,” the minister said.

Translation: 700,000 idle Muslim and Christian Palestinians had, for generations, squandered the chance to make the desert bloom. Happily, it flowered after the arrival of “displaced”, hard-working Israelis who “were offered” the “crappy piece of land”.

Since she said what she said, Robinson has stopped talking – in public, at least. Instead, the minister has had to watch and listen to a lot of other people talking about how and why she must resign.

Even the pro-Israeli outfit that invited Robinson to talk has more or less abandoned her, reportedly telling a CBC reporter that: “The comments made by Minister Robinson … do not reflect the opinion of our organization.”

You know you have talked too much when your once-close “friends” cut you adrift.

So, Robinson did what politicians have to do when they give fulsome voice to what they think and believe: she made a grovelling apology on X.

Robinson wrote that her “flippant” and “disrespectful” comments had “caused pain”.

“I regret what I said and I apologize without reservation.”

Few are convinced by Robinson’s belated, performative act of contrition, including two of her “socialist” colleagues in Ottawa. One member of parliament (MP) is demanding a “reassessment” of her place in cabinet. Another MP pilloried Robinson for “an appalling disregard for the horrific violence being inflicted on Palestinians”.

Robinson’s boss, the premier of British Columbia, is also talking. He said that the minister’s remarks were “wrong”. Rather than fire her, the premier is giving Robinson a good talking to. He told her, in effect, to keep talking.

“She’s got some work to do to go out to the community to address the harm that her comments have caused,” he said.

In other curious words, the premier wants Robinson to talk her and the government’s way out of a prickly jam.

Right. That should do it.

The second chatty politician is the former speaker of the US House of Representatives and the grande dame of Congressional Democrats, Nancy Pelosi. She did her troublesome talking in the ever-agreeable studios of CNN’s Washington bureau on January 29.

The influential “Speaker Emerita” was asked to comment on those pesky, mostly young demonstrators who have been interrupting President Joe Biden with chants of “Genocide Joe” at campaign stops and address whether she was “concerned that they might just stay home” in the fast approaching presidential election.

A condescending Pelosi promptly played the victim card, saying: “I have been the recipient of, shall we say, their exuberance in this regard … they’re in front of my house all the time.”

Poor, pampered Pelosi.

The “Speaker Emerita” compounded her, shall we say, disdain with a lecture, claiming that unlike the “exuberant” rabble, she and other serious types on Capitol Hill were required to “think” about “how to try to stop the suffering in Gaza”.

Poor, misunderstood Pelosi.

Apparently, she “thinks” that a “ceasefire” would not “stop the suffering in Gaza” since that’s what Russian President Vladimir Putin “would like to see”.

Pelosi’s McCarthyite-smear-laden logic is loathsome and bizarre. What, apart from a ceasefire, is going to “stop the suffering in Gaza” – with or without Putin’s blessing?

Silly, exuberant me, but I can’t “think” of anything other than a “ceasefire” that will “stop the suffering in Gaza”.

Pelosi ought to have stopped talking. Thankfully, she didn’t.

She then proved that behind every America-flag-pin-wearing speaker emerita, there lies an Alex Jones-like conspiracy theorist who is convinced that the homeland is awash with fifth columnists disguised as citizens exercising their constitutional rights to challenge a sitting president.

“I think some of these protestors are spontaneous and organic and sincere,” Pelosi said. “Some, I think, are connected to Russia.”

Again, Pelosi ought to have stopped talking.

Thankfully, she didn’t.

Not done tarring millions of her fellow, albeit “exuberant”, Americans of Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian descent as Putin’s useful tools, she confirmed that she is every bit as willing and eager as her nemesis, Donald Trump, to sic the FBI on perceived enemies.

“Some financing should be investigated and I want to ask the FBI to investigate that,” Pelosi said.

Paging J Edgar Hoover. Paging J Edgar Hoover.

I’m glad Pelosi kept talking.

I’m glad because she has exposed the Democratic Party for the “progressive” and “inclusive” sham that it is.

The Democratic Party never has and never will be the “home” to Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian Americans. They will always be treated with suspicion and contempt by a party establishment that confuses dissent with disloyalty and considers Palestinians disposable fodder.

You see, sometimes, when politicians talk, it’s clarifying.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.