Lobby Watch 26 November 2020
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday named prominent Israel lobby figure Irwin Cotler as Canada’s “special envoy” for combatting anti-Semitism.
In that role, Cotler will lead the country’s implementation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) “working definition” of anti-Semitism.
The definition conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish bigotry.
Independent Jewish Voices Canada, a group that opposes imposition of the IHRA definition, said it was “deeply troubled” by the appointment.
The group noted that Cotler “is one of the leading proponents of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ movement, which seeks to label criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.”
Trudeau’s announcement sends a clear message to civil society in Canada: Criticism of Israel will not be tolerated, and Israel’s lobby can set the terms of the debate.
This comes just weeks after Ontario’s premier Doug Ford forced through a measure to adopt the IHRA definition without allowing the public to voice concerns or lawmakers to cast a vote.Irwin Cotler is Canada’s former justice minister and the longtime unofficial adviser to Israel’s former defense minister and war crimes suspect Moshe Ya’alon.
Cotler will become a special envoy to the IHRA delegation, Trudeau said.Trudeau said last year that Canada would use the IHRA definition as part of its strategy to “combat racism and discrimination.”
Cotler, Trudeau said on Wednesday, “will support advocacy and outreach efforts with Canadians, civil society and academia to advance the implementation of this definition across the country and its adoption internationally.”
Israel and its lobby have been pushing for the IHRA definition to be codified into law in the US, Canada and European countries in order to shield Israel from criticism over its human rights violations.
In the past, Trudeau has acknowledged Cotler’s influence on the Canadian government’s extreme pro-Israel policies, including its smear campaign against the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.
Cotler’s role “will be to stifle dissent in civil society about Israeli human rights violations,” Michael Bueckert, vice president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, said.This is only the latest effort to try to block organizing for Palestinian rights by smearing human rights defenders as anti-Semites.
On 25 October, Ontario premier Ford adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism by executive order.
Civil rights groups and thousands of human rights supporters had participated in campaigns calling on members of Ontario’s provincial parliament to reject a private bill to adopt the IHRA definition.
Many had prepared testimonies opposing its adoption into Ontario law.
The testimonies were to be presented before the legislature’s Standing Committee on Justice Policy in a public hearing.
“It was anti-democratic to just shut down the hearings,” Corey Balsam, national director of Independent Jewish Voices Canada, told The Electronic Intifada.
“We were really gaining momentum. When the committee was announced, people started showing up and organizations were taking an interest,” he added.
Adoption of the IHRA definition has been opposed by hundreds of Canadian scholars who warn of its chilling effects on academic freedom and free speech.
There have been dozens of examples around the world where the IHRA definition has been used to smear Palestinians and advocates of Palestinian rights, Independent Jewish Voices Canada notes, including at least three incidents in Canada.
Moreover, adopting the IHRA definition conflicts with the beliefs of most Canadians.
Just last month, a national survey found that the majority of Canadians don’t believe that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, despite well-financed efforts by Israel lobby groups.
Three major Canadian cities – Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver – have rejected or declined to adopt the definition.
From anti-BDS bills to IHRA
Ford’s move to ram through the IHRA definition without public input is being welcomed by Israel lobby groups and pro-Israel lawmakers.
Ford may have taken this undemocratic route to avoid what happened in 2016, when lawmakers rejected an anti-boycott bill.
That bill would have blacklisted supporters of the BDS campaign for Palestinian rights.
It was rejected after a debate in which supporters falsely accused the BDS movement of encouraging 1930s-style boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses.
They also tried to tie Palestine solidarity activism to attacks by suspected Islamist militants in France.
Bueckert noted that Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather, members of Canada’s federal parliament and hardline supporters of Israel, co-authored an op-ed last year celebrating the IHRA definition because it goes after the BDS movement and speech critical of Israel.“Yes they are trying to ban Palestine activism, they just don’t want you to talk about it,” Bueckert tweeted.
After Ford signed the order adopting the IHRA definition, Ontario parliament member Kaleed Rasheed told civil society groups that the definition’s “illustrative examples” explicitly conflating anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel were excluded from the order.
However that was refuted by other members of parliament, and Rasheed then denied making the claim.
Since the Ontario government left it unclear whether the IHRA definition’s “illustrative examples” – most of which focus on Israel – are included in the executive order, “we can expect to see powerful actors interpreting the definition as they see fit,” Hammam Farah, a Toronto activist and board member of the Palestinian Canadian Community Centre - Palestine House, told The Electronic Intifada.
Farah expects more cases of institutions denying jobs to scholars or refusing to give organizations funding and access to resources in fear of violating the vague IHRA guidelines.
Palestine House and allied groups have condemned the order, saying that “the Israeli government knows that it lost the public debate and that it must resort to cowering behind anti-democratic laws to protect its colonial endeavor against the Palestinian people.”
Farah explained that ever since Israel’s “long-term campaign against BDS reached the Canadian government, we’ve found ourselves on the defensive, having to scramble to declare our opposition against government attacks on our freedom of speech.”
Human rights and civil society organizations say that while they consider legal options to challenge Ford’s order, they will continue to expose Israel’s apartheid system and resist censorship efforts.
“We want to encourage other people to not be silent either,” Balsam told The Electronic Intifada.
“The fear is the institutionalization of that chill.”
Balsam hopes that solidarity groups will continue to “open up doors to talk about racism in Israel, Zionism’s relationship to racism and the impact that this definition has on Palestinians and on people of color.”
“We can’t let them dictate the terms of the debate,” he said.
- IHRA definition of anti-Semitism
- Israel Lobby
- Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME)
- Independent Jewish Voices Canada
- Corey Balsam
- Hammam Farah
- Palestine House
- Kaleed Rasheed
- Doug Ford
- Justin Trudeau
- Irwin Cotler
It's very rude to tell the truth
Permalink tom hall replied on
Here's Irwin Cotler being confronted by human rights attorney Dimitri Lascaris in 2019. These Israel apologists must be challenged.
Erwin Cotler appointment
Permalink Guy replied on
Justin Trudeau has now shown his true colors by appointing Erwin Cotler as the fox to watch the hen house . Most us know that Erwin Cotler will provide cover for Israel and the brutality it exercises against the people that it has a duty to protect while under occupation.
With the conservative government in opposition taking much the same views as the Liberals on this subject we ,as Canadians ,are left with very little choice as to who could possibly redress this blatant unjust appointment by the Trudeau government. Are we going to be subject to the thought police under the Liberals now that we will not be allowed to criticize Israel's criminal actions , since the UN will not do what it was supposed to do ,for the protection of the occupied region of Palestine .
... but on the bright side
Permalink Eric replied on
Cotler (Canada's Alan Dershowitz, but without the Jeffrey Epstein connection as far as we know)
has been special agent for cold warrior Chrystia Freeland, Trudeau's former foreign affairs minister
and now deputy prime minister as well as finance minister, in her high-powered campaign with
the 'Lima Group' of right-wing countries to overthrow the government of Venezuela.
Given the failure of the U.S. administration's almost farcical coup efforts and other vicious measures
to destroy the elected government, for Venezuelans it may be a relief that Cotler is now focusing
on domestic Canadian services for Israel and the empire. Perhaps a parallel to Pompouseo's special
agent Elliot Abrams, who has failed to install a puppet president in the South American country
and is now leading U.S. regime change efforts against Iran. Abrams is reportedly still working
against Venezuela, in particular attacking any Iranian support for Venezuela.
Most effective response: a consumer boycott
Permalink Richard Cook replied on
Don't bother yourself about politicians. This is a waste of your good organizing time and talent.
Your true community is the millions of people of good will who want to help Palestine and will love you for showing them an effective way to help. That's your Mission - show the way.
Ask yourself why Israel is so afraid of BDS. Then:
1. Pick a retail product with a high visibility label & obvious connections to the Occupation.
2. Ask a retail chain to remove the product - you do not need to give them a lengthy rationale. A brief, written, documented explanation is enough. You are not there to debate. Ask for a response by a deadline.
3. No response is a response. Ask consumers to shop elsewhere until the product is off the shelves. All public statements should be brief, to the boycott-point.
NOTE - retail has narrow profit margins; if a chain sees a fraction of even 1-2% dip in sales, they will want to react. If the retailer puts out a statement, this is free boycott publicity. After you have asked for the product to be removed, don't communicate further with the chain but stay focused on the selected chain until the product disappears from the shelves and also from on-line. The chain may want you to partner with them in a compromise. No.
4. After a victory, move on to another retail chain, making sure, by monitoring, that the 1st and every subsequent boycott victory you win is permanent. If a selected chain stops selling the boycotted product but starts selling again, immediately announce a renewed boycott and get to it. Otherwise, no retailer will take you seriously and neither will your thousands of boycotters.
5. Effective use of social media and community/ church/unions/campus support may do the trick without your reliance on picketting. Put the social media universe to work for you. With one victory, you can more easily raise funds to increase your boycott publicity.
6. Stay on the product until it is gone from your country.
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