CIJA, Cotler join forces to fight anti-Semitism

Mount Royal Liberal MP and renowned human rights advocate Irwin Cotler, right, is putting the finishing touches on his new International Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism.

Cotler, along with British MP John Mann – who chairs the British all-party parliamentary committee against anti-Semitism and commissioned a 2006 inquiry into anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom – launched the coalition last month with an announcement at the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem. The new coalition will be run under the auspices of the forum.

Speaking to The CJN from Ottawa late last month, Cotler said he has approached fellow parliamentarians from all the major political parties to begin assembling a Canadian version of Mann’s all-party inquiry.

He also outlined the task forces he will put together over the next year to combat anti-Semitism in all its guises.

“I’ll head up a task force on genocidal anti-Semitism,” he said. “There will be one on state-sanctioned anti-Semitism, [another] dealing with state-supported anti-Semitism like those of Hamas and Islamic Jihad… I don’t think people realize these groups are state-supported.”

The coalition will also deploy a task force to look into anti-Semitic terrorism –  what Cotler calls “specific acts of terror targeting Jews inside and outside of Israel” – and a legal remedies task force to be headed by David Matas, senior legal counsel to B’nai Brith Canada.

Cotler said the coalition has also approached individuals with expertise on anti-Semitism to act as advisers for his coalition, including former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky; Gregg Rickman, America’s special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism; Per Ahlmark, Sweden’s former deputy prime minister; and Mikhail Chlenov, secretary general of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.

Cotler expects the coalition to be fully “active and activated” by the time of the next global forum on anti-Semitism in 2009.

He added that Mann has indicated the next forum will be hosted by the United Kingdom.

Hershell Ezrin, CEO of the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA), is also lending his organization’s weight to both the coalition and the forum in the form of a website to fight anti-Semitism.

CIJA’s “Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism” website says that it will provide “a forum for the exchange of ideas and best practices to eliminate the scourge of anti-Semitism around the world.”

Ezrin, who was also in attendance at the global forum – which drew almost 300 parliamentarians, academics, human rights activists and Jewish leaders from around the world to Jerusalem – said CIJA’s presentation to the delegates last month was well-received, and he added that a number of nations and groups have already expressed interest in joining the fledgling Internet site.

As of last week, the website was still under construction, but Ezrin said it was on target for a May launch.

“We will integrate the work Cotler and Mann are doing,” he said. “But one of the main conclusions to come out of the forum was to involve the non-Jewish community in combating anti-Semitism.”

Citing his organization’s ongoing success in promoting the initiative Fighting Anti-Semitism Together (FAST) – a coalition of non-Jewish Canadian business and community leaders that funds educational curricula encouraging students to speak out against racist activity – Ezrin said delegates showed “a great deal of interest” when it was revealed that nearly 800,000 Canadian students have participated in FAST programs over the last year.

“We wanted the international community to see what we’ve done,” he said. “The U.S., United Kingdom and some others… wanted to see if an initiative taken by non-Jews would be something they could follow in their own countries.”

Ezrin noted that one of the major pieces missing to effectively counter anti-Semitism is the ability to share “best practices” on the subject between people and organizations worldwide.

The CIJA website is intended to fill that void, he said.

“We want to build a knowledge-transfer site to meet people’s needs… in both real time and in planned groups,” Ezrin said. “We want to report action alerts, provide materials to experts and NGOs, parliamentarians and scholars around the world.”

But the website will mostly be a members-only affair, he noted, saying that many organizations require confidentiality in order to effectively conduct their battles against anti-Semitism.

“We also agreed to build a compact, public site and post public information as well,” he added.