21 June 2007

Irwin Cotler on Israel & the UN

Today, former Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler has a fantastic editorial in the online edition of the Globe and Mail. Read it here. Cotler's article points out how criticizing and condemning only Israel's policies in the UN Human Rights Council is anti-Semitic in its tone and substance. I've been in a couple heated discussions involving Israel lately, and in both cases the topic of criticism of Israel's policies and anti-Semitism has come up. One can disagree and be critical of specific Israeli policies without being anti-Semitic; rational people simply call that a discussion or a debate. But what Cotler is discussing goes much deeper:

Regrettably, this discriminatory and one-sided approach has become not the exception but the norm. Council sessions of the past year reflected not only the same contempt for the rule of law, but the systematic singling-out of a member state for selective and discriminatory treatment, while granting the major violators exculpatory immunity.
Examples abound:
– There have been nine resolutions condemning one member state only (Israel) but none of any of the other 191 members of the international community, including, for example, no condemnation of the genocide in Darfur, or of the public and direct incitement to genocide and massive human-rights violations in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran.
– The continuing exclusion of one member state (Israel) from membership in any of the five regional groups that govern the council, thereby denying a member state the fundamental rights of due process and equitable standing.
– The council's discourse, as exemplified in the session just ended, as an endless drumbeat of indictment and incitement against Israel, again contrary to the council's founding principles and procedures.

Way, way back when the new Council was first established I expressed my severe doubts about the legitimacy and sustainability of the new body. I hate to be proven right when it comes to such a serious topic as human rights. The UN has long been institutionalizing hatred of Israel, and many individual people read these UN reports without any counterbalancing literature and end up contributing to the problem that has turned the state of Israel into "the Jew among nations," which is in itself a contemptuous anti-Semitic term. The Human Rights Council is the latest UN arm in extending anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment.

When someone as distinguished as Professor Cotler expresses his frustration at the UN in such strong terms, something is deeply wrong. For those who don't know, Cotler has been around in Canadian politics for a very long time and played no small role in promoting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it was initially conceived. He represented Natan Sharansky when he was on trial in the Soviet Union (Sharansky, after being released, returned to Israel and has been a very successful politician; he also wrote me a nice email after I emailed him about his book The Case for Democracy) and his rights were being abused. He's a long-time friend of Alan Dershowitz, who knows a thing or two about rights. But he is most well-known to me for the simple statement: "rights are rights are rights."

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