Vote fails to lift Palestinian keffiyeh ban in the provincial legislature

A motion to overturn a ban on a pro-Palestinian symbol in Ontario’s legislature has failed.

A unanimous consent motion to reverse Ontario legislature speaker Ted Arnott’s ruling to ban the Palestinian keffiyeh head scarf from being worn by everyone in the provincial legislature was blocked after a small number of MPPs, including Progressive Conservative legislator Robin Martin, opposed it.

The motion was introduced by NDP leader Marit Styles Wednesday, one day after Arnott banned MPPs from wearing the keffiyeh.

Arnott said after undergoing “extensive research,” he concluded the keffiyeh is intended to be a political statement, according to the Toronto Star.

Critics of the move disagree.

“The kaffiyeh is a culturally significant clothing item to many in Ontario’s Palestinian, Muslim and Arab communities and should neither be considered an expression of a political message nor an accessory likely to cause disorder, and should therefore be permitted to be worn in the house,” Stiles said in her motion.

Arnott’s directive was criticized by his own party’s leader, Premier Doug Ford, who said the decision “needlessly divides the people of our province.”

Opposition to the order came from some members of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party. The only audible voice to say no to the motion was Martin, whose office has been targeted by anti-Israel vandals in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Arnott prohibited the Palestinian keffiyeh from being worn by MPPs or guests in the chamber at Queen’s Park.

In the provincial legislature there is a long-standing rule of decorum which prevents the use of political props from being worn or brought into the chamber.

The keffiyeh has been a symbol of Palestinian resistance to Israel since the Arab Revolt in Palestine in 1936. The demands of the armed uprising was an end to Jewish immigration and independence from British rule.

The leadership of the rebellion ordered every man to wear the keffiyeh to show solidarity and give cover to the fighters who wore them so the British wouldn’t know who were combatants and who were civilians.

In the 1960s rebellions against Israel, Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which carried out a number of terrorist attacks, used the keffiyeh again in his fight against Israel.

The keffiyeh was used by Leila Khaled in two plane hijackings in 1969 and 1970 involving the Marxist, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is a designated terrorist group by the Canadian Government.

Independent MPP Sarah Jama, who was removed from the Ontario NDP caucus after calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and likening the Oct. 7 attack on Israel to “retaliation rooted in settler colonialism” last October, condemned the ban as the “forceful suppression of cultural identity and cultural symbols.”

True North reached out to Arnott for comment but his office said he could not respond before the given deadline given his duties in the legislature.

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