Cotler’s call to action

The renowned Canadian jurist counsels on how to combat anti-Semitism.

June 2, 2015 17:00
Anti-Israel protest in Bangkok

Demonstrators step on the national flag during an anti-Israel protest in front of the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok last year.. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Irwin Cotler sits in my Jerusalem Post office after attending the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem in May, and recalls what he considers a particularly important moment in his – and Canada’s – history.

“The Canadian Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution against anti-Semitism, which I’m sharing with you because I think it’s an important template for other parliaments or all those concerned about anti-Semitism,” he says. “It’s a wonderful call to action against the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, if you will.”

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Cotler, a Liberal MP who is a former justice minister and internationally acclaimed human rights advocate, presented the motion to Canada’s House of Commons on February 24, together with Jason Kenney, the minister of multiculturalism.

“The resolution had three components,” he says. “No. 1, it condemned the alarming rise in global anti-Semitism.

The second thing it did is it called upon the Canadian government to make the combating of anti-Semitism a priority both in its domestic policy and in its foreign policy. The third thing is it reaffirmed the 2010 Ottawa Protocol, which is one of the most important parliamentary documents we have in terms of an action plan.”

The measure called on Ottawa to fight anti-Semitism “as a domestic and international priority; expand engagement with civil society, community groups, educators, and other levels of government to combat anti-Semitism; and to promote respect, tolerance, and mutual understanding.”

Asked how he thinks the phenomenon of rising anti-Semitism should be countered, Cotler believes the answer is to be found precisely in this resolution.

“There is one key phrase in our parliamentary motion which is taken from the Ottawa Protocol. It says criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is wrong. But singling out Israel for selective opprobrium and indictment, and denying Israel’s right to exist, if not also calling for the destruction of Israel, is discriminatory, hateful and anti- Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.

I think that is a wonderful framing of the issue, [not only] in terms of a moral call to action, but how to understand it analytically as well as policy-wise.”

Cotler, who recently celebrated his 75th birthday, is a featured speaker on a World Jewish Congress-sponsored panel on anti-Semitism at The Jerusalem Post Annual Conference.

His motion to the Canadian Parliament cited “an alarming increase in anti-Semitism worldwide,” including “the firebombing of synagogues and community centers, the vandalizing of Jewish memorials and cemeteries, incendiary calls for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people, and anti- Jewish terror.”

“This global anti-Semitism constitutes not only a threat to Jews but an assault on our shared democratic values and our common humanity,” it said.

Cotler says he was motivated to present the motion by his participation in the first-ever United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Anti- Semitism on January 22.

“I came back and said, ‘We need our own public forum on anti-Semitism,’ so we had what is called a take-note debate, which is a discussion on a matter of national concern in which all parties participate,” he says. “What struck me that evening, in what turned out to be a very good debate, is that we approach the issue through the prism of the traditional indicators of anti-Semitism.

In other words, that Jews have too much power, and all the 11 indicators that the ADL used for its excellent global survey.”

Yet, Cotler says, a new anti-Semitism has been evolving over the last two decades or so, which he describes as “a discrimination against, denial of, assault upon, the right of Israel and the Jewish people to exist as an equal member of the family of nations.”

In this particularly virulent form of anti-Semitism, he adds, “Israel emerges as the collective Jew among the nations.” And for this new anti-Semitism, Cotler cautions, “we have not developed any indicators to identify it.”

“So what I tried to do that night in Canada and very briefly at the Global Forum, is to suggest a number of indicators,” he says.

Cotler has developed a matrix of 12 indicators, of which he says he will mention just four.

The first he calls “genocidal anti- Semitism.”

“I don’t know of any other term to characterize the toxic convergence of the most horrific of crimes, namely genocide, anchored in the most radical of hatreds, namely anti-Semitism, and finding expression in acts of terror or worse,” Cotler says.

As examples, he cites the incitement, hate and genocide against Israel of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calling for wiping Israel off the map, the Hamas Charter (“which not only publicly calls for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews, but is replete with the classic anti-Semitic motifs that the Jews are responsible for all the evils in the world”), the genocidal calls by radical imams at mosques from Europe to the Middle East for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews, and the chants of “Kill the Jews” by protesters on the streets of European cities during Operation Protective Edge.

“Israel is the only state in the world today, and the Jews the only people in the world today, that are the object of a standing set of threats from governmental, religious, and terrorist bodies seeking their destruction,” Cotler has written. “And what is most disturbing is the silence, the indifference, and sometimes even the indulgence, in the face of such genocidal anti-Semitism.”

He says a second indicator is “the demonization of Israel, the portrayal of Israel as the embodiment of all evil in the world, and all the evils of the 20th century, including colonialism and imperialism and apartheid.”

“Israel emerges, in that sense, in the same way as the classic stereotype of the Jew as the devil. Now you’ve got Israel as the embodiment of all evil,” he says. “And by the way, this is used as a prologue or justification for violence against this devil state.”

A third indicator, he says, “is the denial of Israel’s right to exist as a state, or the denial of its legitimacy, or even worse, the denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination or the denial of the Jews as a people.”

“Martin Luther King Jr. put it best when he called it a denial to the Jews of the same right which we grant to all other people of self-determination,” he says.

The fourth indicator is what he calls “the laundering of anti-Semitism under universal public values.”

“In other words, to portray Israel as the enemy of all that is good, and the repository of all that is evil,” he says.

“For me, a Canadian for whom the UN is part of my DNA, an international centerpiece for my own identity, human rights, foreign policy, a credo by which I live by, this kind of laundering is not just prejudicial to Israel. It’s prejudicial to all these things that we ought to care about. It undermines the integrity of the UN, erodes the authority of international law, corrupts the culture of human rights, and demeans the struggle against racism.”

For example, he says, if you say that Israel is “an apartheid state,” this demeans the real struggle against the real apartheid.

“If you say that Israel is like South African apartheid, that means that South African apartheid against which I and others fought had universal franchise, free press, an independent judiciary, rule of law and the like,” he says.

“So I think when we talk about delegitimization, it’s not just a threat to Israel and Jews. It’s a very threat to the universal values which underpin the whole struggle for democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law. And so that’s how we have to address it.”

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