Video: Canada activists disrupt top supporter of Israeli war crimes

Former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler was on stage as one of several “inspiring thought leaders” talking about “pressing human rights issues” at Montreal’s Concordia University on Monday.

But one issue the chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights was in no hurry to talk about is Israel’s massive and systematic violations of Palestinian rights.

Cotler was the focus of a disruption that sought to raise the question of Palestine in a place where members of Canada’s liberal elite preferred silence.

As the video above shows, lawyer and activist Dimitri Lascaris jumps up on the stage and challenges Cotler directly, pointing out how Israeli snipers have deliberately killed journalists, medics and unarmed protesters during Great March of Return protests in Gaza over the last year.

Lascaris says that he used to believe that Cotler, a prominent figure in Canada’s Israel lobby, was a “true defender of human rights.”

“But I’ve learned since then that you refuse to criticize a regime which is running roughshod over the human rights of the Palestinian people, and I find that disgraceful,” Lascaris says.

“Are you prepared to criticize Israel for anything?”

Cotler refuses to answer as people in the audience can be heard chanting, “Palestine will be free,” and demanding that the former justice minister address the question about Gaza.

Eventually Cotler asserts that for the last four decades, “I’ve been a supporter of two states for two peoples.”

Event officials criticize Lascaris for disrupting the conference, to which he responds: “I object to a man who was a justice minister of the country of which I am a citizen apologizing for the heinous crimes of an apartheid regime relentlessly.”

“I will disrupt your event to express my objection to this outrage.”

“Human rights-free zone”

Lascaris is a member of the Quebec Movement for Peace, and two other members of that group, author Yves Engler and human rights activist Malcolm Guy, also mounted the stage to take part in the protest.

As can be seen in this video, they stand behind Cotler with signs saying, “Free Palestine”:

Engler admonishes Cotler for his “constant justification of Israeli violence against Palestinians.”

Lascaris told The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday why he thought it was important to protest Cotler, a high-profile member of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party.

“Wittingly or unwittingly, Cotler has assumed the function of legitimizing the support for the Zionist entity among liberals and moderate progressives in Canada, and he does this effectively because in matters unrelated to Palestine he has engaged in advocacy promoting human rights around the world,” Lascaris said.

“But he behaves as if historic Palestine is a human rights-free zone and as if the laws that apply to other actors are inapplicable there.”

Indeed, Trudeau has acknowledged Cotler’s influence on the Canadian government’s extreme pro-Israel policies, including its smear campaign against the nonviolent BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement for Palestinian rights.

Cotler’s support for Israel is so unconditional that he publicly rebuked Trudeau’s government for not being pro-Israel enough, and blamed Hamas for Israel’s deliberate shooting of unarmed protesters in Gaza:

The Cotler family’s ties to Israel are such that Michal, Irwin’s daughter, ran in Israel’s elections in April as a candidate for the party headed by Benny Gantz, the general who commanded the Israeli army during its 2014 assault on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 550 children.

Support for Venezuela coup effort

During his protest on stage, Engler also mentions how Cotler has been a key supporter of the Canadian government’s joint effort with the Trump administration to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and Guy holds up a sign reading, “Hands off Venezuela.”

Cotler was part of a panel of so-called independent experts appointed by the Organization of American States that called for the prosecution of Maduro at the International Criminal Court for supposed crimes against humanity.

During a press conference presenting their findings a year ago, journalist Max Blumenthal also challenged Cotler both about the panel’s biases – Cotler, for instance, was a lawyer for Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the US-backed opposition – and for his silence about Israel’s crimes in Gaza:

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I'm not sure what a "Canada activist" is -- someone advocating for Canada? (Does it need advocates?)
But AFAIK, Lascaris and Engler, and probably Guy, are Canadian activists.

Kudos to all three. Cotler is a fraud, a Canadian (not Canada) Dershowitz.

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This was a brilliant intervention by these activists. In particular, Dimitri Lascaris' eloquent challenge was very satisfying. The complete moral bankruptcy of this unjustly honoured charlatan and the sort of fraudulent, cosy event that would host him, was fully registered in Cotler's baffled inability to even address the question. Many thanks for posting. It's one to savour.

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Glad to see that Cotler has been exposed for what he is, a farcical advocate of human rights. His advocacy of human rights ends where Israel, its illegal occupation of Palestinian land and its massive and continuing oppression of the Palestinian people, start. When it comes to freedom, justice, and human rights (all of which are essential elements of the Palestinian issue), there is no room for "selectivity" and/or "partiality."

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How this academic mountebank has managed to take in so many of his fellow countrymen will ever remain something of a mystery. The career of 'Mandela's lawyer' (soi-disant), so bereft of noteworthy accomplishment or real intellectual distinction, seems to be little more than an exercise in prestidigitation. In the main his business in life would appear to consist of exculpating the atrocities perpetrated by Israel's government, for whose criminal behaviour in Palestine he has taken it upon himself to serve as megaphone in Canada; where it exists at all, the scholarly record of this emeritus professor on closer examination turns out to be exiguous. A remarkable achievement.

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On further reflection, there is nothing very mysterious about this fellow's rise to prominence in his native land, nor anything puzzling about the position he has - alas! - come to occupy in its public affairs. Four things explain it: a gift for schmoozing; expertise in self-promotional networking; a certain fluency of delivery at the lectern; and, not least, a rather grand conceit of himself.

On this basis a man and the lies he peddles can go very far.

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If only to sharpen one's teeth and to fortify the case to be made in its favour - to say nothing of knowing thy enemy - there are in fact several arguments against BDS worthy of serious consideration by all who support it. Yet of these (ostensibly sound though misguided) arguments, grist to his mill did he but know it and not far to seek on the part of anyone with a computer and a serious interest in the subject of Israel/Palestine, our friend shows no sign at all of being aware. Nor, it seems, has he the patience to advance much farther beyond tendentious cliches of his own devising.

Far better (because more apt to win applause and acclaim) to bandy about lame and hackneyed notions - "lawfare"; Israel as "the Jew among nations"; "the new anti-semitism";Iran as intent on genocide - tailor-made for preaching to audiences here in Canada of the converted, the gullible, or the susceptible. This vain and self-satisfied defender of the indefensible is never happier, never more in his element, than when risen up on his hind legs to do so.

It may be necessary, I grant, but it is hard to respect an opponent so wanting in critical faculties (including, when it comes to Israel advocacy, the faculty of critical self-appraisal); so lacking in analytical sophistication.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.