By Ben Tinsley
DENTON — Irwin Cotler refers to it as “the laundering of anti-Semitism under universal public values.”
It’s an insidious practice — portraying Israel and the Jewish people in general as the nemesis of everything good and noble — and by definition the epitome of all that is dark and evil.
Ultimately, this is a practice that proves to be prejudicial against Israel and undermines the universal values themselves, Cotler, a respected international human rights lawyer, told an audience of over 50 people at the University of North Texas.
Cotler said the world is witnessing a new and escalating form of anti-Semitism focused on the hatred of Israel — the discrimination against the rights of the Jewish people and Israel as a collective whole.
“Anti-Semitism did not die at Auschwitz,” Cotler told the audience. “Anti-Semitism remains today the bloody canary in the global mineshaft of evil.”
Cotler is a former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada and emeritus professor of law at McGill University. He first was elected to the Canadian House of Commons in a by-election in November 1999.
He was the Member of Parliament for Mount Royal from 1999 to 2015 and served as the minister of justice and attorney general of Canada from 2003 until the 2006 federal election, which is when the Liberal government of Paul Martin lost power.
Cotler’s Tuesday, Dec. 1 speech at UNT’s Gateway Center was sponsored by the college’s Jewish and Israel Studies Program and the Division of Student Affairs.
Addressing an audience largely composed of students, Cotler told them the assault on Jews and on human rights in the world proves anti-Semitism is the oldest and most enduring of hatreds.
On the subject of Auschwitz, he noted that 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of that camp.
Cotler said he participated in the two-week “2015 March of the Living” in April and was reminded of the sobering number of people slain there: It is estimated that the SS and police deported at least 1.3 million people to the Auschwitz complex between 1940 and 1945. Of this number, camp authorities murdered about 1.1 million.
Cotler has categorized certain areas of anti-Semitism — including subsets such as “genocidal” and “political,” which attribute to Israel all the world’s evils, deny the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, call for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people, call for the de-legitimization of Israel as a state and compare Zionism to racism.
A dangerous practice
This practice also includes the practice of comparing Israel to an apartheid state.
“When you say Israel is an apartheid state, you are saying Israel is a crime against humanity and it has no right to be,” Cotler explained. “ … If you end up comparing Israel to an apartheid state you are demeaning … the real struggle against apartheid.”
The most dangerous practitioners of anti-Semitism are those who wish to rid the world of a Jewish state, Cotler said.
Anti-Semitism is a practice that is dangerous to everyone, he emphasized.
“We have learned only to our peril that anti-Semitism begins with Jews but does not end with Jews,” he said.
However, Cotler added, this is not to imply Israel is not responsible or not to be held accountable for violations of human rights and intentional law.
“It’s not that anyone should seem above the law but they also cannot be systematically denied equality under the law,” he said. “This standard must be applied equally to everyone. Israel deserves respect as part of the family of nations.”
After the meeting, Cotler fielded a couple of questions from the audience. In response to one, he acknowledged he is a proponent of the “two states for two peoples” philosophy.
“By two states I mean one state of Israel and a prospective state of Palestine,” he said. “Both of them are effectively laying claims to what might be regarded … as the same indigenous territory.”
Cotler said the “religiosity” of this struggle has become exasperating to him.
“I’m beginning to think the best thing one can do is for each party — Jews and Palestinians alike — is to acknowledge and respect the legitimacy and the self determination of the other … and not allow religion to become a zero-sum game,” he said.