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Caesar and the 'Ottawa Protocol' - the conference of the Interparliamentary Coalition for Combatting Anti-semitism

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By Mordecai Briemberg

The party is over -- one we weren't welcome to attend. The money is blown -- that came from our pockets. The photos and declarations fashioned for the media have been broadcast. And the "Ottawa Protocol" has been nailed to the door.

What does it tell us about the conference of the Interparliamentary Coalition for Combatting Antisemitism (ICCA), an event managed by Jason Kenney and Irwin Cotler, which took place just over a week ago?

This second ICCA conference was to "build upon" the first, held in Feb. 2009, which culminated in the "London Declaration." Comparing London with the Ottawa Protocol, it seems we have more of a rehash than an advance. There are similar "alarms" and "concerns," and Ottawa has several "reaffirms" and "renew." In short, treading the same ground, including the "call" on governments "to adopt the EUMC [European Union Monitoring Committee] working definition [of anti-Semitism]" of 2005, and to "anchor" it "in law."

As an aside, the EUMC has no legal powers and acts as an agency of the European Union to "formulate opinions and conclusions for political decision makers." Obviously subject to lobbying, the EUMC names the organizations with which it worked to develop its working definition of anti-Semitism, one that is expanded to include criticisms of Israel. The "contributing" organizations listed are known advocates for Israeli government policies and actions, like the Anti-Defamation League and B'nai Brith International.

Indeed there are clear signs that the CPCCA effort to be the platform for launching an advance is in some disarray. Its staged hearings were to provide the material for that advance: "evidence" that anti-Semitism in Canada is spreading like wildfire. But police testimony showed confusion over what is meant by "anti-Semitism," and several invited university officials didn't show, while others denied the campuses were engulfed in flames.

Indeed, in an article by Irwin Cotler, published at the end of the event, he concedes for the first time: "If one were to look only at Canada one might be hard put to speak of a pandemic of anti-Semitism." The long promised and equally long delayed report of the CPCCA hearings now are to be released "before the next federal election," "hopefully," according to co-chair Scott Reid, speaking to Globe and Mail reporter Gloria Galloway. The time may be indefinite, but the meaning is hardly ambiguous.

The Ottawa Protocol calls for new efforts to define anti-Semitism and gather facts of actual incidents. How does this square with the contention in the same Ottawa Protocol of a "dramatic increase in recorded anti-Semitic hate crimes and attacks". Such contradictory statements are not uncommon. The Ottawa Protocol correctly identifies "holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel" as one expression of anti-Semitism. Why then does Irwin Cotler keep repeating that Israel is the "collective Jew" -- also an expression of anti-Semitism as it holds every Jew accountable for Israel's crimes.

In numerous early submissions, all ignored by the CPCCA, critics of Israel made the point that the exclusive concern with anti-Semitism was disdainful of the more frequent pains of other victims of bigotry in Canada -- first nations, Moslems, visible minorities, refugees, women.

Now the Ottawa Protocol concedes the point, declaring a desire to "work with universities [to achieve] zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind against anyone in the university community on the basis of race, gender, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or political position." Nice words -- until one realizes that for them this comes after dealing with the (expanded version of) anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, it generally is acknowledged that Jews in Canada today are among the least vulnerable socially, politically and economically.

Unrelated, perhaps, this month Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told the Jerusalem Post that the "word ‘anti-Semitism' has been overused, and words like 'racism' should be used instead."

The Ottawa Protocol makes another concession to its growing number of critics; hand-over-heart, it swears to accept the right of people to criticize the actions and structures of the state of Israel, provided it is "similar to that levelled against any other country."

Overwhelmingly serious criticisms of Israel have been exactly that.

Apartheid is defined by the United Nations in terms of its fundamental characteristics without reference to any specific country. The application to any particular country requires a fact-based demonstration that it meets the criteria of the UN definition. The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) spent considerable effort and time to prepare a fact-based study of Israel in relation to the UN criteria, and concluded that indeed Israel is an apartheid state. But the CPCCA decrees that any such conclusion -- regardless of facts and reasoning -- is ‘inherently' anti-Semitic.

Similarly international laws and treaties, particularly since the experience of Nazi war making and occupation, have established criteria to determine when war crimes, crimes against humanity, violations of limitations placed on occupying powers have taken place. Numerous human rights bodies have used these to make fact-based and reasoned conclusions that many countries, including Israel, are guilty of such crimes.

But the CPCCA decrees, in advance and regardless of facts, that such a conclusion in the case of Israel is motivated by "anti-Semitism," even when the author is a Jew and self-professed Zionist, as in the case of international judge and legal expert Richard Goldstone.

Those who treat Israel as a "singular exception" are not its critics, but rather its defenders. The Cotlers and the Kenneys shout-out: only anti-Semites hold Israel accountable for its crimes.

When Caesar had a quick triumph in the battle of Zela, he proclaimed "veni, vidi, vici." I came. I saw. I conquered. When the ICCA gathered with the CPCCA in Ottawa, they saw more accumulated resistance than they expected, and had no victory to declare. Certainly they will continue their battle to silence criticism of Israel, both by stealth and by frontal attack, with bombast and with old rickety arguments.

But their grand hoax of a "new" (rebranded "contemporary") anti-Semitism has more people than ever thinking "enough already." How do I know? Well, for one, my commercial community newspaper had an editorial this week titled "Don't confuse criticism with anti-Semitism," and it was directed squarely at the CPCCA.

Mordecai Briembergis a member of the Seriously Free Speech Committee




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