Minister’s ‘crappy piece of land’ comment is ‘gross inaccuracy,’ according to UVic prof

Minister's 'crappy piece of land' comment is ‘gross inaccuracy,’ according to UVic prof
Selina Robinson is photographed during a press conference at the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, February 21, 2022.

A B.C. minister’s comments calling historic Palestine “a crappy piece of land” are not just insensitive, but also inaccurate, according to a University of Victoria history professor.

In a recent panel discussion hosted by B’nai Brith Canada, Selina Robinson, who is B.C.’s minister of post-secondary education and future skills, was lamenting on young people’s lack of knowledge of the Holocaust when she made remarks about Palestine that have since drawn criticism.

“We have a whole generation, and we know from the data, that it’s 18 to 34-year-olds that have no idea about the Holocaust, they don’t even think it happened,” Robinson said.

“They don’t even understand that Israel was offered to the Jews who were misplaced, displaced. So they have no connection to how it started.”

“They don’t understand that it was 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, 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 and they had their own battles, right? We know the history.”

Martin Bunton, a Middle East historian and author of Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Very Short Introduction, says there are many inaccuracies in Robinson’s statement.

“At the same time as expressing alarm at the lack of knowledge of our younger generation and in the Holocaust, which is very alarming, she then goes to expose her own ignorance about the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it’s a gross inaccuracy,” Bunton told CHEK News in an interview.

“She talks about a crappy piece of land with a few thousand people, when in fact, the population in 1947 was 2 million. Now that 2 million includes 1.3 million Palestinian Arabs and about 600,000 Jewish Palestinians.”

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Robinson issued an apology on Twitter for her comments, saying her comments were to reflect the lack of natural resources in the area.

“I want to apologize for my disrespectful comment referring to the origins of Israel on a ‘crappy piece of land,’” Robinson said in her apology.

“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.”

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However, Bunton says it’s not right to dismiss the people who lived there and cared for the land, and adds that the area did have a growing economy.

“And that’s what you want to focus on, right? The very lived reality of those families, their attachment to their homes, to their villages, to their nation,” Bunton said.

“To the extent that she wants to reduce things or this importance of places to economy, it did have a very diverse, growing and developed economy as well. The best indicator of that would be the citric culture – the oranges, where a tremendous amount of money was invested in citric culture, the planting of orange and lemon trees, etc., most of which were exported to Europe and Britain in particular. And then the infrastructure that comes with that around railways and deepwater ports and Haifa and roads.”

Additionally, Bunton says there is an issue with Robinson saying the land was “offered to the Jews.”

“The minister says this was offered to Jews, so we can ask, ‘Who offered it, the United Nations? Was it theirs to offer?’ Palestinian Arabs certainly didn’t see it that way,” Bunton said.

“Palestinian Arabs, the vast majority of Palestine, in the decolonizing process, they felt that they had rights to self-determination that others had in the process of decolonization after World War Two.”

The National Council of Canadian Muslims issued a statement on Twitter that it was “aghast” at the “racist and Islamophobic messages” said by Robinson.

“Her suggestion [that] Palestine was a ‘crappy piece of land with nothing on it’ is horrendous, especially in the midst of ongoing war crimes where thousands of children have been killed in Gaza,” the statement said. “It is hard for us to understand, given this comment amongst many others, how she can be expected to remain a Minister in Premier Eby’s cabinet.”

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David Eby, B.C.’s premier, issued a statement on Robinson’s remarks.

“Minister Robinson’s recent comments were wrong and unacceptable,” the statement by Eby says. “It caused deep hurt and distress to Palestinians, Muslims, and many others. I thank her for withdrawing the comments and apologizing unreservedly.”

Federal NDP members of Parliament have issued statements denouncing what Robinson said.

“These remarks 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,” Matthew Green, MP for Hamilton Centre, said in a statement.

“The oversimplification of such a deeply rooted and painful history does not contribute to the understanding or resolution of the conflict but rather exacerbates tensions and misunderstandings.”

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“Minister @selinarobinson shows an appalling disregard for the horrific violence being inflicted on Palestinians,” said Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay. “Their homeland wasn’t ‘a crappy piece of land with nothing on it.’ People lived on it. Families lived on it. Villages flourished. They loved this land.”

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Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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