The federal government has named former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler to lead the government’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). For several years Cotler has been promoting the IHRA’s definition of “anti-Semitism” which many find problematic. Over a year ago, CTIP wrote to Mr. Cotler asking for some clarification of his interpretation of that definition. He has still not answered. Read more.
Former Liberal Cabinet minister Irwin Cotler has a good reputation for defending for human rights, including actively fighting anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism does exist in Canada, of course, and CTIP supports and joins with all those who oppose it as well as various other kinds of racism.
On November 25th, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Cotler as Canada’s special envoy and representative to a group called the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Cotler has been actively involved with the IHRA for some time, most recently trying to get a “new” definition of anti-Semitism called the IHRA definition, adopted by various legislative bodies in Canada (federal, provincial, municipal).
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
– IHRA working definition
This “new” IHRA definition is not very different from existing definitions of anti-Semitism easily available in any dictionary, but it adds on a series of “examples” whose main objective appears to be to protect the State of Israel by labelling various criticisms of it “anti-Semitic”.
Two of the activities that the IHRA alleges to be “anti Semitic” behaviour are:
- “Claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
- “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
Last year, when Mr. Cotler was already actively promoting the IHRA definition, CTIP wrote him an open letter asking him for clarification on whether ten specific statements about Israel, all of which CTIP believe to be accurate, would in his view constitute anti-Semitism.
Here is an excerpt from our letter to Mr. Cotler:
“We would like to ask you for clarification”, we wrote Mr. Cotler, “Which, if any, of the following ten statements, would you hold to be examples of “anti-Semitic acts or behaviours?”
- “In Israel today as in Nazi Germany, (and unlike Canada), “Jewishness” is determined not by individual choice but is a civil status determined by the state. It forms the legal basis for discriminating among different categories of citizens.”
- “Gaza, where Palestinian refugees from all over southern Israel have been concentrated since 1948, and which has been described by a former British Prime Minister as an “outdoor prison”, has a striking similarity to the Warsaw ghetto where Nazis concentrated Jews.”
- “The contemporary Israeli policy of forcing Bedouin citizens of Israel off their lands and concentrating them into small areas is very similar to Canada’s own historic racist policy toward its indigenous peoples.”
- “According to Bishop Desmond Tutu Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is “worse” than Apartheid.”
- “Leading Israeli politicians advocate for ethnic cleansing to achieve a pure society, as did the Nazis.”
- “The international community should bring peaceful, legal pressure on Israel including through boycott , divestment and sanctions, to force Israel to comply with international law.”
- “Canada should continue to support UN Resolution 194 (which Canada voted for in 1949) calling for the Palestinian right of return.”
- “Israel’s policy of systematically destroying Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem, while building new homes for Jews is, in fact, a form of ethnic cleansing reminiscent of the Nazi objective of a “judenrein” Germany (i.e. free of Jews)”.
- “With the passing of the “Nation State law” Israel has become an officially discriminatory state based on religion, just as Nazi Germany was.”
- “During the 1948 Nakba, Zionist militias confiscated millions of dollars of private property from Palestinians, just as the Nazis stole art, silver, paintings from Jews.”
What does Prime Minister Trudeau think?
In fact, CTIP did not and does not expect an answer from Mr. Cotler. While all of the statements are VERY critical of the actions or policies of the State of Israel, none of them reflects either “hatred” or any other form of prejudice toward Jews. They could only be viewed as anti-Semitic by those who feel that every harsh criticism of Israel is automatically anti-Semitic.
CTIP joins other organizations, including Independent Jewish Voices Canada in expressing concerns both over the Cotler appointment as well as the IHRA definition itself.
“In appointing Irwin Cotler to this position, the Canadian government further aligns itself with the highly controversial IHRA definition of antisemitism, which is being weaponized to portray supporters of Palestinian human rights as antisemitic, and to shield Israel from legitimate criticism,” commented Corey Balsam, National Coordinator of Independent Jewish Voices Canada.
Since Prime Minister Trudeau has named Cotler as Canada’s representative, perhaps we might ask Mr. Trudeau whether he too, feels that Israel should be protected from criticisms of its actions and policies towards the Palestinians.
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.
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