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Cotler urges Trudeau to name anti-Semitism envoy

Irwin Cotler, left, discusses the “explosion” of global anti-Semitism with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Prime Minister’s Office/Adam Scotti photo)

In a face-to-face meeting, human rights advocate and former justice minister Irwin Cotler encouraged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to appoint a special envoy to monitor and combat global anti-Semitism.

Cotler said the Canadian government should follow the example of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the European Union, which have all named such representatives.

He also urged the government to make countering anti-Semitism a domestic and foreign policy priority.

The meeting, which lasted over an hour, was held in the prime minister’s office on Dec. 9, the anniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of the Genocide Convention in 1948.

Cotler stressed that anti-Semitism around the world has reached an “intensification that has no parallel since the end of the Second World War and the atmospherics are reminiscent of the 1930s.”

Cotler picked up on a theme in the Dec. 5 throne speech pledging that, “as a coalition-builder, the government will build partnerships with like-minded countries to put Canada’s expertise to work on a global scale, in areas like the promotion of democracy and human rights…[and] as an ally, the government will contribute to multilateral efforts to make the world more safe, just, prosperous, and sustainable.”

Now the founder and head of the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR), Cotler was a Montreal Liberal MP for 16 years and justice minister and attorney general from 2003-2006.

“I told the prime minister that he has already taken a lead with his compelling address” last year in his apology for Canada’s turning away of the St. Louis ship carrying Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany in 1939.

Cotler was joined at the meeting by RWCHR executive director Judith Abitan and policy and projects director Brandon Silver. Trudeau had at his side three aides, including two senior foreign policy advisers, Cotler said.

He described the meeting as positive and felt Trudeau had listened attentively to what he said. “He is engaged on the issues. I believe there will be followup,” said Cotler.

Cotler used the starkest terms to describe how grave the situation of Jews in the world, including those in Israel, is today.

He said Canada should not only follow its allies, but stressed that it is equipped to play a leading role in combating what he called “the oldest, most enduring, most toxic and lethal of hatreds.”

Ten years ago, Canada was a co-founder of the International Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism, and hosted its first conference in Ottawa where a protocol was adopted that presaged the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which Canada  endorsed this year.

Cotler quoted from the unprecedented UN report on the growth of anti-Semitism presented by special rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed of the Maldives to the General Assembly in October. Shaheed is a senior fellow of the RWCHR.

“Shaheed sounded the alarm that anti-Semitism is a threat not only to Jews, but our common humanity, and that it is coming from the far right, the far left and radical Islam,” Cotler said he told the prime minister.

He also presented him with a recent study by the Anti-Defamation League that found a disturbing rise in “classical anti-Semitism,” that is, based on stereotypes such as Jews having too much power.

“Jews are [denounced] as the enemy of all that is good, and the Jewish state the repository of all that is evil,” he said

Cotler also warned of “state-sanctioned incitement to genocide” targeting Jews and the Jewish state. He referred to Iran, but also Hamas, Hezbollah and radical Islamic groups, which also call for the destruction of Jewish people.

Non-violent “ideological” anti-Semitism is also a danger, he warned.

This includes the denial of Israel’s right to exist and, “its most sophisticated form, the laundering of anti-Semitism under universal values: the protection of the UN, the cover of international law, the culture of human rights, and the struggle against racism.”

Cotler used the occasion to reiterate the Jewish community and others’ displeasure with Canada’s vote last month at the UN in favour of a resolution affirming Palestinians’ self-determination, reversing a 15-year record.

He argued that it unfairly singles out Israel for indictment, “presupposing Israel is the aggressor,” and breaches the UN charter’s principle of equality for all member states.

Cotler stressed that the timing was insensitive because Israeli civilians were being bombarded with hundreds of rockets from Gaza.

However, Cotler told The CJN that he does not believe that single vote out of a package of 20 resolutions represents a policy shift, nor the attitude of new Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne. He thinks neither he nor Trudeau knew how the Canadian delegation would vote.

Trudeau told him that it was intended to affirm Canada’s support for two states, and Canadian policy on the conflict remains the same.