Cotler: Democracies too silent on Ahmadinejad

In 'Post' interview, Canadian human rights leader accuses West of "appalling silence" in wake of anti-Semitic rhetoric.

irwin cotler 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
irwin cotler 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jewish groups may have succeeded in "taking back the narrative" at last week's UN conference on racism in Geneva, but Canadian human rights leader and politician Irwin Cotler believes Western democracies didn't do enough to prevent the gathering from becoming a platform for anti-Zionist sentiment. In a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post, Cotler accused Western democracies of "appalling silence" on anti-Semitic rhetoric delivered repeatedly by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad's fiery anti-Israel speech at the opening session of the Geneva gathering - known as "Durban II" after the previous conference on racism held in South Africa in 2001 - was interrupted by French Jewish activists wearing rainbow-striped clown wigs and throwing red clown noses. Delegates from 23 European nations also walked out in protest of the speech. Cotler, who arrived in New York on Thursday from Switzerland, told the Post the spectacle "need not have happened." "It was too late for these 23 states to walk out, when in fact they should have made their feelings known for years," Cotler said. "We have to concern ourselves not with the dictatorships of the autocrats but the silence of the democracies - I think what has happened here with Ahmadinejad is an appalling silence by the democracies," Cotler went on. Cotler, Canada's former justice minister, said he believes Ahmadinejad has already violated the UN''s genocide treaties barring incitement to hate and genocide. Speaking Thursday night at a screening of a film on Jewish refugees from Arab lands sponsored by the David Project, a nonprofit educational group, Cotler added that he thought Ahmadinejad belonged "in the dock of the accused" rather than at the podium of a UN event. Canada and Israel boycotted the entire Durban II planning process over concerns that member states - including preparatory committee chair Libya - were doing too little to prevent a repeat of the 2001 conference, from which both Israel and the US walked out in protest of anti-Zionist language included in official agreement documents. The US said in March it would not attend the Geneva parley after planners insisted on reaffirming the 2001 documents. Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand also withdrew from the conference after Ahmadinejad announced he would make his appearance as a head of state - unusual at the conference, which was not billed as a high-level gathering. Delegates from the Czech Republic pulled out of the conference after Ahmadinejad's speech.