Irwin Cotler: “Contemporary Anti-Semitism and How We Can Overcome it.”

Fighting the new Anti-Semitism

July 22nd, 2010

by Arsen Ostrovsky

Frum Forum

On 21 July, I was privileged to hear Irwin Cotler deliver the Gandel Oration for the B’nai B’rith Anti Defamation Commission in Sydney, Australia. His topic –Contemporary Anti-Semitism and How We Can Overcome it.

Cotler is a Canadian MP, famed human rights lawyer and one of the world’s foremost experts on racism, genocide and Anti-Semitism.

In the oration, Cotler differentiated between ‘old Anti-Semitism’, which denied the rights of Jews as individuals to self-determination and to live as equal members of their communities, with the ‘new Anti-Semitism’, which he described as:

singling out Israel as the collective Jew among the nations for differential and discriminatory treatment in the international arena.

Cotler called this new Anti-Semitism “pervasive, pernicious and persistent” and said:

What we need now is a new conceptual analytical framework, paradigm shift in our thinking and understanding in what Anti-Semitism is all about.

He then specifically described six ‘indices’ of the ‘new Anti-Semitism’ that ought to form part of this new conceptual framework.


1. Genocidal Anti-Semitism

According to Cotler, this is the most lethal form of Anti-Semitism – “a toxic convergence of Anti-Semitism with state sanctioned incitement to genocide”. This is exemplified by Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric, such as to ‘wipe Israel of the map’ and is underpinned by Iran’s illegal pursuit of atomic weapons. It also extends to Iran’s ‘terrorist proxies’ Hamas and Hizbullah, who have openly proclaimed their goal of destroying of Israel.

2. Political Anti-Semitism

Denial of the fundamental rights of the Jewish people, including their right to self-determination and of Israel’s right to exist.

3. Ideological or Racialist Anti-Semitism

Ideological or Racialist Anti-Semitism purports that Israel is a crime against humanity and that there is a moral responsibility to destroy it. According to Cotler, this type of Anti-Semitism is one of the most ‘pernicious’ and ‘dangerous’ forms of Anti-Semitism, because it is:

laundered under the cover of the international struggle against racism.

4Legalized Anti-Semitism

According to Cotler, this type of Anti-Semitism:

simultaneously seeks to mask itself under the banner of human rights, to invoke the authority of international law and to operate under the protective cover of the UN.

Cotler says that the main example of legalized Anti-Semitism is the United Nations Human Rights Council, which has condemned Israel in 80% of its country-specific resolutions, while the major human rights violators of our time, such as Iran, Sudan and Syria enjoy exculpatory immunity. According to Cotler, the UNHRC is:

an assault on the very Charter of the United Nations.

5. Globalisation of Boycotts

This includes the singling out of Israel and the Jewish people, including their supporters, for selective opprobrium and exclusion, and can be found on campuses, unions, scientific and cultural arenas and academia.

6. Old / New Protocols of the Elders of Zion

While it has been well established that the original Protocols were a Tsarist forgery, the idea has been re-energized, with Israel and the Jews being accused of all types of evil – from September 11, spreading AIDS and the Avian Flu among the Palestinians, the Danish cartoons, Darfur, War in Iraq and abducting Palestinians to steal their organs for transplant.


Turning to fighting Anti-Semitism, Cotler suggested that a “new template needs to be developed by which we identify, monitor, measure, expose and combat the new Anti-Semitism”. He then gave some of the following examples:

1. Importance of Holocaust remembrance and education not just to the Jewish community, but also to the broader community to “act as an antidote to the Anti-Semitism that underpins the state sanctioned cultures of hate.

2. Urged more countries to join the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, which consists of representatives of government, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations.

3. Creation of multi-party governmental coalitions (including law enforcement agencies) to take witness testimony, document evidence of Anti-Semitism and to develop the instrumentality to combat Anti-Semitism.

4. The UN and the international community must “be true and give expression to its own ideals.” It cannot continue to single out Israel, because:

the denial of Israel’s fundamental rights are not just inimical to Israel’s standing and right to equality before the law, but to everything that the UN purports to promote.

In his wide-ranging oration, Cotler also touched on a number of other issues, including:

1. Genocide

The enduring lesson of the Holocaust and of genocides in Rwanda, Darfur, Srebrenica is that they occurred not simply because of the machinery of death, but because of state sanctioned culture of hate and genocide…one must not wait until after the genocide. One must act to prevent it by prohibiting the incitement.

2. Free speech

There is no such thing as the absolute protection of free speech. Free speech is not a gift for the haters and those that incite hatred. Even if one were to argue against any hate speech law…there is still a fundamental difference between hate speech in a constitutional democracy and state-sanctioned incitement to genocide in a non-democracy such as Iran.

3. Criticism of Israel

I do not suggest that somehow Israel is above the law or is not accountable…not at all. Israel like any other state is responsible for any violations of human rights and humanitarian law. But the important point here is ‘like any other state’ and ‘equality before the law’.

4. Iran

Cotler claimed that Iran was already guilty of the crime of incitement to genocide and called on states that are party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (of which Iran is also a party) to undertake the mandated legal remedies afforded under the Treaty. These include – referring Iran to the UN Security Council, initiating an inter-state complaint before the International Court of Justice, or taking Ahmadinejad to the International Criminal Court.

However, Cotler’s most sobering and elucidating remarks were left for the end, where he concluded by saying:

We must pledge never again will we be indifferent to racism and hate. Never again will we be silent in the face of evil, particularly the radical evil of Anti-Semitism. Never again will we stand idly by while we have the unspeakable genocide in Rwanda and Darfur. I say unspeakable not only because of the horrors of the genocide, but because these genocides were preventable. Nobody can say we did not know. We knew but we did not act. And the silence remains deafening. And so we have to pledge that we will not be silent, nor indulge, nor acquiesce in this evil. The time has come for a wake up call for all of humanity.


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