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Irwin Cotler, MP

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The Laundering of Anti-Semitism through Universal Public Values

Posted on May 14, 2015

(As published in The Jerusalem Post)

Recently, I spoke in the first-ever Canadian parliamentary special debate on the rise of global anti-Semitism. One of the main themes in this parliamentary debate, as well as in my remarks at January’s historic United Nations General Assembly Forum on anti-Semitism, was one particularly insidious manifestation of this new permutation of hatred.

I am referring here to the laundering or masking of anti-Semitism under universal public values – laundering under the protective cover of the UN, the authority of international law, the culture of human rights, and the struggle against racism.

As Canadians, the UN is part of our DNA; international law is a centerpiece of our identity; and human rights is an organizing idiom of our foreign policy.

Indeed, as the Canadian minister of justice, the struggle against racism and hate was a focus of my work, including introducing the first-ever National Justice Initiative against Racism and Hate.

Regrettably, the laundering of anti-Semitism under universal public values effectively subverts these values as it seeks to portray Israel and the Jewish people as the enemy of all that is good and the repository of all that is evil. This strategy is not only prejudicial to Israel, but undermines these universal values themselves – incriminating the UN in these pernicious and prejudicial falsehoods – as illustrated in the following brief examples.

First, the laundering of anti-Semitism under the protective cover of the UN found dramatic expression in December 2014, when the General Assembly – in yet another annual discriminatory ritual – adopted 20 resolutions of condemnation against one member state, Israel, in comparison to only four resolutions against all other states combined. This singling out of one member state for differential and discriminatory treatment is a standing denial of the UN charter commitment to “equality of all nations large and small,” while the major abusers of human rights continue to enjoy exculpatory immunity.

A second example – and here one of laundering under the authority of international law – occurred this past December 17, when the Contracting Parties to the Geneva Convention put Israel in the docket for violations of international humanitarian law. This was only the third time in 50 years that any state has been so accused. On all three occasions, that state happened to be Israel, with the worst of the human rights violators – such as Syria or Iran – given yet another exculpatory pass.

A third example is the laundering of anti-Semitism under the culture of human rights, where the UN Human Rights Council, mandated to promote and protect human rights pursuant to the UN Charter, regularly singles out Israel for differential and discriminatory indictment. This is a clear denial of equality before the law in the international arena, as well as the violation of the principle of equal protection for states that are the standing targets of major human rights violators.

One might add that on the agenda of every session of the UN Human Rights Council is a permanent agenda item number 7 called “violations by Israel of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Agenda Item 8 speaks of “human rights violations in the rest of the world.” You thus have an Alice in Wonderland situation where one state is singled out for indictment even before the hearing begins.

Finally, anti-Semitism is laundered as part of the struggle against racism, involving not “simply” the indictment of Israel as an apartheid state – the kind of rhetoric that is so prominent in the campus culture – but involves the call for the dismantling of Israel because it is an apartheid state, where apartheid is defined as a crime against humanity under international law.

And more: where Israel must be dismantled not only because it is an apartheid state, but a Nazi one.

The call for its dismantling emerges, therefore, as not just hortatory but imperative; for how can you have an apartheid Nazi state existing as part of the international community? Accordingly, all supporters of this apartheid Nazi state – which could reference all participants in this Global Forum – are deemed collaborators in an international criminal conspiracy, which has an intimidating and silencing effect on students on campus, if not supporters of Israel generally speaking.

But what should concern us is not only the laundering of anti-Semitism under universal public values and the resultant delegitimization of Israel and the Jewish people, but that this laundering of anti-Semitism under universal public values undermines the values themselves – it erodes the integrity of the UN; diminishes the authority of international law; corrupts the culture of human rights; and shames the real struggle against real racism.

Accordingly, and in part because of this understanding, the Canadian Parliament, pursuant to its special debate on anti-Semitism, unanimously adopted a resolution – one which could be a template for this Global Forum, if not for parliaments generally – that: a) Condemned… “the alarming increase in anti-Semitism worldwide… which constitutes not only a threat to Jews but an assault on our shared democratic values and our common humanity”; b) Reaffirmed in the words of the Ottawa Protocol on Combating anti-Semitism (referred to as a model for domestic and international implementation) that “criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is wrong. But singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium – let alone denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction – is discriminatory and hateful, and not saying so is dishonest”; c) Called upon the government to advance “the combating of anti-Semitism as a domestic and international priority….”

As the adage goes – and as reaffirmed by this resolution – it may begin with Jews, but it doesn’t end with Jews. Universal public values are on the line as well.

The writer is a member of the Canadian Parliament, emeritus professor of law at McGill University, and the former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. He is a co-founder and past chairman of the International Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism, attending this week’s Global Forum on Combatting anti-Semitism.

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