On Saturday I interrupted Irwin Cotler. At the premiere of First to Stand: The Cases and Causes of Irwin Cotler I called Canada’s former justice a “fraud” who claims to promote human rights yet backs violence and apartheid against Palestinians.
The audience’s reaction was priceless. There was a loud guffaw inside the Cinema du Musée at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. The crowd had just watched a documentary lauding their hero and were in no mood to hear about Cotler’s promotion of violence against Palestinians.
With multiple security guards inside, the organizers wanted to ensure Cotler wasn’t challenged by the audience. A security guard grabbed me, quickly turning off my video recording and ushering me out of the room.
Beyond my opening line, I was only able to yell “free Palestine”. I had planned to ask the ‘human rights lawyer’ whether he agreed with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. I also hoped to ask Cotler if the openly racist and homophobic ministers in Netanyahu’s new government would give pause to his aggressive Israel advocacy.
Thousands viewed my video on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media. Quds News Network and Palestine Online repackaged it and shared it while someone messaged me to say it was on the news in Gaza.
The next day I posted a poll on my twitter asking, “Should I return to challenge Irwin Cotler’s anti-Palestinian racism when he speaks at the second premiere of his new film First to Stand: The Cases and Causes of Irwin Cotler tonight?” The two choices were: “Yes. He promotes apartheid” and “No. He’s a human right champion”. 133 people participated in the tongue in cheek poll with 94% choosing yes.
By Sunday evening Liberal MP Anthony Housefather had taken to Twitter to denounce my brief interruption. In a message shared widely among Canada’s apartheid lobby, Housefather wrote, “Irwin Cotler is one of the greatest human rights defenders and greatest Canadians of our times. He is 82 years old. This weekend was the premiere of a movie about his life’s work. Yet a ‘so called’ activist chose to disrupt the event. Just deplorable behaviour.”
What’s “deplorable behaviour” is Housefather promoting apartheid and colonialism. He previously boasted that the Trudeau government has the most anti-Palestinian voting record of any recent Canadian government at the UN anddescribes himself as “one of the foremost advocates on behalf of support for Israel.”
Even more “deplorable behaviour” is a high-profile former minister using his influence to pressure the International Criminal Court to ignore Israeli war crimes and Ottawa to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem while attending events put on by the racist Jewish National Fund and meeting with far-right colonists seeking to cleanse occupied East Jerusalem of Palestinians. Last May Cotler rallied behind Israel’s violence and earlier defended its shooting of ‘march of return’ protesters in Gaza as well as the 2014 and 2009 attacks on Gaza that left nearly 4,000 dead. Just after Israel killed 1,200 Lebanese in the summer of 2006 Cotler spoke to a conference of top Israeli military officials on the importance of managing the message in modern war.
Cotler is a staunch proponent of what B’Tselem calls “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea”. Cotler also targets Israel’s competitors and has a longstanding obsession with Iran. He has worked with the violent, cult like and Saudi financed Iranian MEK. More generally, Cotler has also supported NATO’s destruction of Libya, Paul Kagame’s violent regime and the ouster of Venezuela’s government.
At his best, Cotler’s campaigning warps a basic moral principle: the necessity of focusing on the crimes of your own government. With few headlines to be made challenging Canada’s role in Haiti or mining companies’ abuses, Cotler focuses on expressing moral outrage at official enemies.
Irwin Cotler is a human rights fraud and truth telling requires we chip away at his media glow.