When lawyer, human rights activist and proponent of Israel David Matas speaks at a symposium on Israel, Palestine and International Law in Winnipeg on Sept. 9, he is fully expecting to be facing a hostile crowd.
“I don’t mind addressing hostile audiences,” he said. “I am used to facing disagreement when I go to court for clients.”
Matas said that the program seems to be full of anti-Zionist propaganda.
“I don’t expect to change the minds of people whose minds are made up,” he said, “but perhaps there will be some people whose minds are still open, who may read reviews of the presentations.”
The symposium’s sponsors – Independent Jewish Voices Canada, the Mennonite Church Manitoba Working Group on Palestine-Israel, the Palestinian Canadian Congress, Peace Alliance Winnipeg, United Jewish People’s Order (Winnipeg) and the Winnipeg Centre Federal Green Party Association – are all organizations that are known for their bias against, or outright hostility toward, Israel.
Mark Golden, one of the symposium organizers, says that the three-day event, which runs from Sept. 7-9 at the Fort Garry Hotel, has been in the planning since last fall. “Dave Kattenburg came up with the idea,” he said.
Perhaps there will be some people whose minds are still open.
– David Matas
Kattenburg is a University of Manitoba microbiology professor who took the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to court last year, claiming the agency did not follow Canadian and international law when it decided to allow two wines produced in the West Bank to be sold in Canada labelled as a “Product of Israel.” His lawyer in the case was Dimitri Lascaris, who is also one of the featured speakers at the symposium.
When asked why there is a need for the symposium, Golden said that, “People are talking about international law, but most of us have no idea what that entails. So we have assembled a panel of experts to educate us as to how international law might apply to Israeli settlements and blockades.”
Golden, a retired University of Winnipeg philosophy professor, is happy that Matas accepted the invitation to speak on one of the panels. “David is a well known and respected human rights lawyer and he lives in Winnipeg,” Golden said. “We are delighted that he accepted.”
The other presenters – in addition to Lascaris, a former Green party candidate who was fired two years ago for publicly criticizing the leader of the B.C. Green party, Andrew Weaver, for the latter’s opposition to an anti-Israel boycott motion – include: Michael Lynk, associate professor of law at the University of Western Ontario and the UN Human Rights Council’s Special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory; Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University and the author of numerous anti-Israel books and papers; Palestinian human rights activist Suha Jarrar; and Ardi Imseis, who recently joined the faculty of law at Queen’s University, following a 12-year career with the United Nations.
They will discuss numerous topics, including “Canada’s legal obligations under the UN Charter and other instruments of international law,” “The Palestinian ‘right of return’ under international law – is there such a right?” and “What role should international law play in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace process’?”
When asked why the symposium focuses only on Israel, Golden said that there are “specific issues” that apply to Israel and the Palestinians, but that it may identify issues that apply to other places, as well.
Golden said that the organizers are hoping to attract up to 200 participants, but have no idea how many people will actually register.