'Delegitimization of Israel masked as good vs. evil'

Int'l law expert Irwin Cotler tells Knesset panel that anti-Israel rhetoric is laundered as defense of human rights.

March 20, 2012 18:48
2 minute read.
Irwin Cotler (L) at FADC meeting

Irwin Cotler at FADC meeting 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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Delegitimization of Israel is being masked as a fight for public values, such as human rights and the struggle against racism, Canadian MP Irwin Cotler told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday.

The former Canadian justice minister and expert in international and human rights law spoke in English to five MKs, as well as representatives from the Finance Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Public Diplomacy Ministry and Justice Ministry.

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According to Cotler, delegitimization has taken place for decades, but recently became a “buzzword in the discourse.”

“The real issue is not delegitimization,” he explained. “It is the masking of delegitimization under public values. Israel is considered the enemy of good and the repository of all that is evil.”

Cotler recounted the 1975 UN resolution that Zionism is racism as an example of delegitimization, and said that even then UN agencies were labeling Israel as the enemy of culture, women’s rights and peace.

The reason that delegitimization has become such a buzzword in recent years, the Canadian MP explained, is that it reached a critical mass through globalization.

Although globalization often refers to economies, there has also been a global human rights and legal revolution that began in the mid-1970s.

Cotler discussed four ways in which delegitimization is masked under the current discourse, and argued that to fight the phenomenon one must say it undermines the integrity of the UN, international law, human rights and the struggle against racism, because they are being misused to cover anti-Israel sentiment.

The first way is under the cover of UN organizations.

Cotler pointed out that the UN General Assembly passes 20-22 anti-Israel resolutions each year, a trend that trickles down into all of its agencies.

Delegitimization is also laundered under the cover of international law. While, according to Cotler, universal jurisdiction is not inherently wrong, it is often abused in regards to Israel.

The third way in which delegitimization is laundered is under the cover of human rights. The Canadian MP pointed out that major human rights violators like Syria, Iran and China “enjoy exculpatory immunity.” He called the UN Human Rights agency an “Alice in Wonderland situation,” in which Israel is singled out from the rest of the world and constantly condemned before hearings begin.

Finally, Cotler explained the delegitimization is often hidden behind the struggle against racism, pointing out that in the case of racism, “the label supplies the indictment, and no further proof is required.” In addition he said that those who accuse Israel of being an apartheid state deny its right to exist, because apartheid is a crime against humanity under international law.

MK Einat Wilf (Independence) asked Cotler about language used in the discourse about Israel, saying that Israel adopted the Palestinians’ language during the Oslo Accords, and that it became acceptable to use the terms occupation and refugees.

Perhaps it would benefit Israel to say that Judea and Samaria are under conflict and not occupied, she asked.

Cotler mentioned one example – the change from “the Arab-Israeli conflict” to “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” – as having done Israel a disservice.

In addition, he said, “it does not help when Jews and Israelis call Israel an apartheid state. I don’t like to get into the business of the discourse of whether a Jew or Israeli saying it [makes it more valid] – it demeans the real complaint against apartheid.”

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