Cotler keeps up the pressure on Iran

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 8-4-10


MP Irwin Cotler, the globe-trotting lawyer, professor, legislator and human rights activist, is at it again. While many people around the world ignore the abuses and dangers emanating from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran, or at best make symbolic gestures of opposition, Cotler has relentlessly opposed what he calls “the toxic convergence of four distinct – yet interrelated – dangers.”
While UN sanctions, finally, offer at least some response to the nuclear threat, Cotler notes, the international community has ignored the other three “clear and present dangers”: “the genocidal incitement threat; state-sponsored terrorism; and the systematic and widespread violations of the rights of the Iranian people.”

Recently, on the anniversary of the murder of the Iranian heroine Neda Agha-Soltan during justified protests against Iranian electoral fraud, Cotler once again tried to rally the international community to make the punishment fit the crime, to respond proportionately to the disproportionate evils of Ahmadinejad and the mullahocracy.

Flanked by Neda’s fiancé, Caspian Makan, and the beauty queen turned anti-child-death-penalty crusader Nazanin Afshin-Jam, Cotler released his “Responsibility to Prevent” petition, endorsed by 100 leading scholars and activists, pleading for some serious action. In fact, toothless sanctions and limited responses can be even worse than inaction – they give the illusion of action, lulling us into a false sense of security – as the oppression of Iranians and the threats to world peace metastasize.

The world’s blind spot regarding Iran is stunning. How could it be that campuses did not come alive last year when Ahmadinejad was stealing an election in broad daylight and slaughtering his own people in the streets? How could it be that Iranian expatriates, Jews and human rights activists haven’t come together to launch the modern successor to the civil rights, anti-apartheid and Soviet Jewry movements in response to Ahmadinejad and his Revolutionary Guard goons?

The passivity on the Iran issue reflects a broader blindness to evils that fester among Islamist regimes particularly, and the Third World generally. It’s a doubly destructive form of political correctness. The West is increasingly threatened by this unchecked menace, and it’s a form of liberal condescension that ultimately reveals contempt toward others when we fail to hold them to the high standards of behaviour we have for ourselves, and for those who look and act like “us.”

Just consider the table of contents to Cotler’s report. Here are the sub-headings to one aspect of his four-pronged indictment, regarding Iran’s massive mistreatment of its own people. The report details: “The widespread and systematic violations of the rights of the Iranian people, including: the beatings, execution, killing, torture and other inhumane treatment of Iranians,” as well as “the systematic and widespread oppression of a minority – the Baha’i” in particular, the “exclusion of, discrimination and violence against, religious minorities,” the “exclusion of, discrimination and violence against, ethnic minorities,” the “assault on women‘s rights,” the “repression of freedom of speech, assembly and association – a war against students, professors, activists and journalists – and against fundamental rights and those who would exercise them,” the “crackdown on cyber dissidents,” the “assault on labour rights,” the “imposition of the death penalty for juveniles,” the “denial of gay/lesbian rights,” the “murder of political dissidents,” the “failure to provide a system of justice – show trials, forced confessions, denial of due process, [and the] absence of an independent judiciary and impunity of the Basij militia” and the Revolutionary Guards.

Proof that we’re dealing with a form of postmodernist decadence comes from Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia University in September 2007. His antics there stirred minimal outrage, until he denied there are any gays in Iran. This homophobia crossed the line, just as the most recent sexist threat that a pregnant Iranian Maryam Ghorbanzadeh might be stoned to death for adultery generated lots of press.

The selective indignation is troubling, although having some indignation at least marks an improvement. Cotler should stop being a lonely prophet – not because he stills his voice, but because finally, belatedly, but justifiably, millions start heeding his call to conscience, and his warnings to act collectively against Iran, before it’s too late.

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Gil Troy: Canadians uphold a proud human rights legacy

Canadians uphold a proud human rights legacy

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 5-21-09

Canada stood tall – dare we say, glorious and free? – during the recent Durban Review debacle in Geneva, thanks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pre-emptive strike in boycotting the so-called UN anti-racism conference long before anyone else did.
Canada is now spearheading the push to reform the United Nations, while challenging liberal and autocratic hypocrisy worldwide. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bigotry at an anti-racism conference defined Durban II as yet another festival of despots bashing the West and Israel. But more significant was the alliance forged beyond the conference halls between pro-Israel and human rights activists frustrated that the UN’s Israel obsession hurts human rights.

Canadians such as MP and former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler and the executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, were essential marriage brokers in building this friendship, demanding the UN live up to its ideals and condemn the world’s true human rights abusers.

During the first World Conference Against Racism, held in 2001 in Durban, South Africa, the streets filled with anti-Zionists shouting vitriolic anti-Semitic slogans that Adolf Hitler didn’t finish the job. Some human rights groups and pro-Israel groups began working to reform the UN human rights mechanisms.

Not surprisingly, Canadians such as Cotler and Neuer were crucial in launching this initiative. Many Canadians maintain great faith in the UN’s founding ideals and are proud that John Peters Humphrey, a longtime McGill University law professor, drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Cotler, on leave as a law professor from McGill, is a world-renowned human rights crusader who has spent decades cris-crossing the globe defending the oppressed, including Nelson Mandela and Natan Sharansky. Neuer was Cotler’s student at McGill, continuing this McGill – and Canadian – tradition.

When the UN started preparations to host a review conference in Durban, Neuer was particularly well-placed to head off another hatefest. Based in Geneva as the executive director of UN Watch, he has frequently highlighted the UN’s anti-Israel obsession and its hypocrisy in letting dictatorships dominate the Human Rights Council. Working with various organizations in shifting coalitions – including its parent organization the American Jewish Committee, as well as NGO Monitor and B’nai Brith International, Freedom House and Freedom Now – UN Watch helped redirect the process.

Effective lobbying of the Ford Foundation and others cut off funds that NGOs would have used to replicate the Durban I sideshow. The UN, embarrassed by Durban I, agreed to shift the venue of this year’s conference to Geneva, where the UN and Swiss police could better control events. Western diplomats worked to moderate the Durban Review declaration. In this environment, Canada’s bold decision to boycott galvanized the forces trying to right Durban’s wrongs.

As a result, in Geneva, there were no angry mass rallies against Israel. UN Watch and dozens of other groups hosted conferences and side meetings, giving dissidents and victims from Iran, Egypt, Cuba, Burma, Rwanda and Darfur opportunities to tell their tales. The participants denounced the United Nations for allowing oppressors such as Libya to chair the Human Rights Council, and for ignoring real abuses in their zeal to demonize Israel.

The largest demonstration appears to have been a festive gathering of 2,000 to 3,000 Israel supporters on the conference’s third day. Joining one American, one Italian, one Israeli, and one French politician on the podium were two of us from McGill, Cotler and I, as well as Harper’s parliamentary secretary – and personal representative to the side conferences – MP Pierre Poilievre. The MC, David Harris, of the American Jewish committee, joked that at these events, Canadians rarely outnumber Americans. May we always compete to lead the way on these issues.

“Please use your liberty to promote ours,” Soe Aung, a Burmese dissident, begged at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy, which celebrated 60 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention. While the first Durban sideshow embodied the UN at its worst, the second Durban side conferences tried to meet Aung’s challenge.

If the UN starts to reform, history will honour the Conservative Harper – with his Liberal colleague Cotler – for not only saving the United Nations, but also for helping to save many liberal activists from their own moral myopia.

Center Field: Remembering the Holocaust after Ahmadinejad denied it

Center Field: Remembering the Holocaust after Ahmadinejad denied it

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-21-09

DURBAN DIARY

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. He is attending the Durban Review conference as an observer.

Thanks to tremendous prep work by the Jewish community along with human rights organizations and democracies ashamed by Durban I, Durban II has been mild. Despite the undercurrent of hostility – and the occasional security threat — the UN’s move from Durban to Geneva worked. The NGO delegates’ lounge has the festive schmoozy air of any conference. The streets have been relatively quiet.

In fact, pro-Israel forces have dominated the street. On Monday, members of the European Union of Jewish Students taped their mouths shut – and were joined spontaneously by two Darfur refugees – to protest the UN’s silence on Sudan’s crimes and other human rights violations. Last night, a moving Yom HaShoah commemoration in front of the United Nations featured Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, Canadian parliamentarian Irwin Cotler, Father Patrick Desbois and the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy.

Cotler recalled his parents’ lesson that some events “in Jewish history, in world history, are too terrible to imagine, but not too terrible to have happened.” Cotler’s words and his denunciation of Ahmadinejad’s genocidal designs on Israel linked the traumas of the past that Elie Wiesel described so eloquently with the threats of the present. Mourning the Holocaust in Europe, with six elderly survivors lighting candles in front of the UN, hours  after Ahmadinejad’s Durban Review conference appearance, also linked the world’s failures yesterday with the world’s failures today.

Still, with so many eloquent supporters of Israel assembled, this conference often feels like a Jewish fringe festival – and a gathering of my mentors and heroes – but with a profound message.

Today (Tuesday), after hearing predictably anti-Israel speeches from the Palestinian and Syrian conference delegates, I attended a side NGO session on modern anti-Semitism. The capacity crowd heard Professor Wiesel, visibly anguished by Ahmadinejad’s appearance, denounce the Iranian’s speech as “an insult to our intelligence, an insult to our sensitivity, an insult to our memory.”

Wiesel received a standing ovation by demanding the UN apologize for inviting Ahmadinejad at all. The actor Jon Voight followed with a heartfelt tribute to Israel and the Jews, mystified by the hatred such a “sacred” people endure. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz then drew “the unbroken line” linking Hitler, his Palestinian ally Haj Amin el Husseini, Yasser Arafat who called Husseini a hero, Ahmadinejad and his terrorist proxies Hizbullah and Hamas.

“Woe unto any of you out there who support Hamas,” Dershowitz thundered. “You are supporting Hitler’s heirs – you are complicit in the great evil of the twentieth century.” Natan Sharansky linked the Soviet Union’s “Orwellian world” with the modern UN’s Orwellianism. Sharansky offered a simple test for “a real conference against racism.” Countries that grant free speech should be given free speech; countries that fight against racism should be allowed to join the conference combating racism. Father Desbois, who uncovers mass graves of Jews in Eastern Europe by speaking to elderly parishioners, demonstrated the importance of challenging people to do the right thing. When he approaches, many ask “Father, why are you coming so late.”

While each of these speakers testified eloquently against the Durban distortions, the fifth speaker, Professor Shelby Steele, tried explaining the continuing appeal of modern anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. Steele, a leading black American intellectual, analyzed the wave of revolutions after World War II which eliminated white supremacy. Unfortunately, for many Africans, Arabs, and African-Americans, ending racism, achieving freedom, did not improve their lives as much as they expected. The result was an obsession with racism, and a scapegoating of Israel and Jews, as an act of “bad faith.” It is easier, Steele said, to denounce someone else than to take responsibility for your own misery – or to work hard to improve. Anti-Semitism, is a way of “changing the subject.”

On this Yom HaShoah, in the unlikeliest of places, some of Israel’s most thoughtful defenders helped change the subject in Geneva constructively, away from the Durban obsession with “changing the subject” destructively. Professor Cotler’s warnings that the unimaginable can become the historical haunt me, even as the words of Father Desbois comfort me. We cannot be complacent. And we cannot wait for others to recognize the justice of our cause. We must challenge our friends, our neighbors, seeking out allies. We must make sure that in the future, no one looks back on a preventable historical tragedy and wonders “why are you coming so late” to ask for help.

Gil Troy “Center Field: Parliamentarians pledge to fight”

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 2-21-09

I have considered myself a “Daniel Pearl Jew.” Like that Wall Street Journal reporter Islamist terrorists kidnapped then beheaded in Pakistan – whom I never met – I was born in the early 1960s into the post-Auschwitz covenant. The world had sinned against our people, but now condemned anti-Semitism. We felt especially protected as Americans. Welcomed by America’s meritocratic openness, we were lucky enough to attend elite schools, I went to Harvard; he went to Stanford. Our final layer of protection came from working as professionals for world class institutions, me at McGill University, him at the Wall Street Journal. Pearl interviewed Islamic fundamentalists unafraid – he was a Wall Street Journal reporter in a post-Holocaust world, after all.

Pearl’s brutal beheading after being forced to say “I am a Jew,” symbolized the new surge of anti-Semitism from Islamist barbarians. This resurgence, fueled by genteel enablers on campuses and in the media, violated the post-Auschwitz covenant. Few of us have paid the price Daniel Pearl and his family did. Nevertheless, too many of us have experienced an unhappy step back toward our grandparents’ world, a world populated and marred by too many anti-Semites.

FOR THAT REASON, the London Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism held February 16 through 18, was so significant – and potentially healing. Watching 125 parliamentarians from 42 different countries devote two and a half days to discussing this curse, was sobering yet inspiring. The magnificent setting in the House of Parliament and historic palaces generated a mystical sense of historical tikun, repairing, as so many non-Jewish politicians denounced this old-new malady in halls of power that once helped perpetuate it. Cocktails at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s majestic home adorned with severe portraits of pinched predecessors who detested Jews, felt particularly redemptive.

The words spoken were even more splendid than the buildings, evoking a collective power repudiating this hateful prejudice. John Mann, the member of Parliament who hosted the gathering, is an altruist with no Jewish connection, few Jewish constituents, but an aversion to injustice. “We have drawn a line,” he thundered in closing the conference, “and those who cross it – we will re-educate or we will knock down.”

Earlier, the Canadian MP Irwin Cotler, co-founder with Mann of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism, explained the need for such a conference. He described the new anti-Semitism’s “globality and toxicity,” generated by a pathological Islamist ideology, fueling genocidal threats against Israel from Iran, spread by the Internet, echoed by useful idiots who overlook Islamist’s fascist tendencies in their zeal to tag Israel with the sins of Nazism and Apartheid. This demonization transforms the traditional hatred of the individual Jew into an unreasoning prejudice and unremitting campaign against Israel, the collective expression of the Jewish people.

Amid all these eloquent ministers and righteous legislators, a highlight was the appearance of that hero who showed that sometimes good men can triumph over evil systems, Natan Sharansky.

BEYOND THE RHETORIC and the ringing tones of the London Declaration the parliamentarians ratified, a parallel conference of experts analyzed strategies for combating anti-Semitism. The conference showed that:

  • It is possible to criticize Israel without degenerating into anti-Semitism; it becomes anti-Semitic when Israel is treated as individual Jews have been treated over the centuries, singled-out, disproportionately criticized, demonized.
  • Islamism is the enemy. Dennis MacShane, Labour MP, writes in his important new book, “Globalising Hatred”: “Islamism the ideology … has unleashed new twenty-first century anti-Semitism and it is impossible to discuss the problem without dealing with Islamism.”
  • There are many ways to criticize Israel but those who call Israelis Nazis or invoke the historically inaccurate analogy of apartheid racism malevolently link Israel with the 20th century’s two great national sinners to justify Israel’s ostracism and destruction.
  • Thanks to the Internet, anti-Semitic material that marginal characters once peddled wrapped in brown paper can now be cited unwittingly by students who stumble onto information manipulated to appear at the top of the Google search engine.
  • In April the review of the infamous Durban conference will probably give modern anti-Semitism renewed respectability. Inviting other countries to join Canada in boycotting this farce, the Canadian Minister Jason Kenney challenged Europeans for waiting for the Americans or worrying about the UN’s sensibilities, saying: “I always thought Europe prided itself as having its own independent foreign policy aligned with its own values and interests.”THE FIGHT against anti-Semitism must be proactive not just reactive. Smart coordinating strategies between Jewish institutions and local police forces in both England and Canada have improved community intelligence, increased police effectiveness, while empowering individuals. On the Internet, defensive strategies are insufficient. Educators must envision Citizenship 2.0, teaching students to avoid polluting on line-discourse themselves, to combat on-line hate, to be critical of sources on-line, and to use the net’s grassroots power to defend democratic values against purveyors of hate.

    At the opening breakfast, England’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks praised the gathering’s cross-party and international nature. “I want to bless you for being here,” he said. “One of the worst things about being hated is the fear that you are alone. We are not alone.”

    We are blessed. In the name of Daniel Pearl and other victims, in the name of the Holocaust martyrs who had no such conference to try saving them, in the name of Jewish students harassed on campuses, in the name of French Jews beaten by fresh converts to Islam forced by their new co-religionists to prove their loyalty, the 125 honorable parliamentarians proved this is not the 1930s. We cannot let the Islamists and their enablers Left and Right win. We should follow leaders like John Mann and Irwin Cotler, spearheading this army of righteous people to repair the post-Auschwitz covenant, and combat Jew hatred as part of the broader fight against bigotry worldwide.

    The writer, a professor of history at McGill University, is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His latest book Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents, was recently published by Basic Books.