Since the start of the 21st century, the world has been “witnessing a new and escalating, globalizing, virulent, and even lethal anti-Semitism,” Cotler said, one which substitutes hate for the Jewish person with hate for the Jewish state. “We had moved from the discrimination against Jews as individuals, to the discrimination against Jews as a people, to Israel as the targeted collective ‘Jew among the nations.”
But he said not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.
“I think we’ve got to set up certain boundaries of where it does cross the line, because I’m one of those who believes strongly, not only in free speech, but also in rigorous debate, and discussion, and dialectic, and the like,” he said. “If you say too easily that everything is anti-Semitic, then nothing is anti-Semitic, and we no longer can make distinctions.”
LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF HAARETZ
Your headline in the article “Canadian MP Cotler: Calling Israel an apartheid state can be legitimate free speech“ – as well as the inappropriate juxtaposition of disparate comments – suggest that the indictment of Israel as an apartheid state can be legitimate free speech.
As all of my writing, my talk at the President’s Conference and my follow up interview with Ha’aretz make clear: the indictment of Israel as an apartheid state is false, defamatory and hateful, but the right to be wrong, defamatory and hateful – however offensive it may be, can nevertheless be an exercise in free speech. Simply put, the fact that the indictment is hateful – and may cross the line into being anti-Semitic when it calls for the dismantling of the State – does not mean that we should prohibit the hateful speech to begin with.
It means, as I said in the interview, that we need to engage it, expose it, rebut it and thereby “delegitimize the delegitimizers” – not prevent their delegitimizing speech to begin with.
The main theme in my writings – and in the interview – was regrettably not referenced in the article itself: that the real concern is not the phenomenon of the delegitimization of Israel. That has always been with us – what is new, and particularly offensive, is the laundering of the delegitimization of Israel under all that which is good, for example: the struggle against racism, international law, human rights, and the like. The result is not only prejudicial to the State of Israel – as in the indictment of Israel as an apartheid state or the singling out of Israel for differential and discriminatory treatment in the international arena– but prejudicial to the case and cause of the struggle against racism and human rights.
To label Israel an apartheid state demeans the real struggle against apartheid – in which I was honoured to be at the forefront – as much as it falsely misrepresents Israel, however one may criticize Israeli policy and practice.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada