Anti-Semitism is at a level today not seen since World War II and is even more dangerous in the sense that it masquerades under the human rights banner, Irwin Cotler warned in the keynote address at a recent international conference at Indiana University on the topic.
“We are witnessing a new global, escalating, sophisticated, virulent and even lethal anti-Semitism reminiscent of the atmospherics of the 1930s, and without parallel or precedent,” said Cotler, a former member of Parliament and justice minister, who shared his comments with The CJN following the conference.
A McGill University law professor emeritus, Cotler, after retiring from politics last year, founded and chairs the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.
Cotler terms what he views as the attempt to find a respectable cover for hatred of Jews and denial of their nationhood as “the laundering of delegitimization under universal public values.”
The United Nations (UN) is the ultimate “protective cover,” offering legal sanction by virtue of its historic authority in international law, human rights and combating racism, he added.
Cotler said he is not talking about criticism of Israel, which he does not believe to be anti-Semitic.
“The new anti-Semitism involves the discrimination against, denial of, or assault upon, the right of the Jewish People to live as an equal member of the family of nations – or to live at all – with Israel emerging as the targeted collective Jew among the nations,” he said.
The conference was held from April 2 to 6 by Indiana University’s Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism. About 70 scholars from different countries attended. The theme was “Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism and the Dynamics of Delegitimization.”
“This attempt to portray Israel and the Jewish People as the enemy of all that’s good and the repository of all that’s evil, and to incriminate the UN and the universal public values in that process, is as pernicious as it is prejudicial,” he said.
When he speaks of a lethal anti-Semitism, Cotler explained that it may also be called “genocidal anti-Semitism” because the Geneva Convention prohibits incitement to genocide, as well as the act itself.
He believes the Iranian regime’s explicit calls for the annihilation of Israel fall into that category.
“This genocidal anti-Semitism can be seen, for instance, in the state-sanctioned incitement to genocide of [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei’s Iran, a characterization I use to distinguish it from the people and public of Iran, who are otherwise the targets of Khamenei’s massive domestic repression,” he said.
The charters of Hamas and Hezbollah also express a genocidal intent with their tenets to destroy Israel and kill Jews, Cotler added.
In singling out Israel for condemnation, the UN is granting impunity to the major human rights violators, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China, he said, and the integrity of the UN is diminished.
Similarly, designating a UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories is wrong because this only looks at violations by Israel and not any other Middle Eastern country, he continued.
However, Cotler concluded, “as a Canadian, the UN is in my DNA,” and he is not ready to give up on it.
“We should not retreat or abandon the UN because of its singling out of Israel,” he said. “Rather, we should seek to reform and amend these breaches of the UN charter and launch a set of initiatives for this purpose.”