Brian Cohen: Good evening, and welcome to Face of the Nation. Our subject tonight: freedom of expression and criticism of Israel. Every Canadian knows that freedom of expression is guaranteed under Article 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Without freedom of expression, there would be no freedom to dissent, and without the freedom to dissent, there would be no individualism, and without individualism there would be no democracy.
On the other hand, freedom to express oneself is not absolute. Libel, slander and disinformation cannot be defended or justified under Article 2. Nowhere do these illegitimate forms of expression find greater expression than on the subject of Israel and Palestine.
It’s fitting that this debate should take place soon after Israeli Apartheid Week. As the annual event attracts increasing numbers of supporters on university campuses, Israel’s defenders resort to more militant countermeasures to stifle it. This year, for example, a government MP even introduced a bill to condemn Israeli Apartheid Week on the grounds that it’s ‘anti-Semitic.’ Of course, he failed.
Tonight’s show focuses on the new concept of “lawfare,” a term recently coined by zionists to charge Israel’s critics with abusing freedom of speech to single out Israel for criticism. Now, let’s meet our guests: Speaking on behalf of Israel is Canadian MP Irwin Cotler, who comes to us from Ottawa via satellite. Mr. Cotler is a former justice minister, and on March 11 in New York City was one of three co-chairman of the inaugural conference of The Lawfare Project.
In the studio to defend legal actions against Israel is Stan Rice. Mr. Rice is a Carleton graduate student in history and researching how Israel uses the holocaust and demonized Arab stereotypes to support its occupation of Palestine. Welcome to both of you. Let’s begin with Irwin Cotler. Tell us what exactly “lawfare” is.
Irwin Cotler: Thank you, Brian. The Lawfare Project has been created to raise awareness about the abuse of the law as a weapon of war and the exploitation of human rights law. The term refers to the use of law as a form of warfare.
For example, “human rights” ought to apply to all peoples of all nations, yet international organizations like the United Nations and anti-Israel activists use the term as a political weapon to demonize Israel. Time and again the UN has used legalistic-sounding language to single it out as a pariah state. Let’s not forget that 35 years ago the UN passed its infamous resolution equating Zionism with Racism. It gave the abomination of anti-Semitism the appearance of international legal sanction.
A more recent example is the UN’s notorious Goldstone Report. By accusing Israel of committing war crimes during its military operations in Gaza last year, the UN again singled out one member state for disproportionate condemnation, thereby clearly discriminating against Israel. Such behaviour diminishes the credibility of the UN and it diminishes respect for international law.
In addition, there is the more pervasive problem of using pseudo-legalistic language to refer to Israel as an “apartheid state” at events like the 2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban. Such abuse undermines the struggle against racism worldwide. So you see, the use of legalistic language and procedures to serve biased political ends has a long history.
Cohen: Stan, how in your mind does lawfare fit into the larger picture of free expression?
Stan Rice: It doesn’t. It has no place in a democratic society governed by the rule of law. Contrary to what Irwin Cotler would have us believe, lawfare strips human rights and freedom of expression of any independent worth by reducing them to instruments of Israeli propaganda. You will note that at no time does Mr. Cotler address the substance of the charge that zionism is form of racism, or that Israel did commit war crimes.…
Cotler: You see, this is precisely what I mean! Your student guest is demonizing Israel and…
Cohen: …Hold on. Hold on. Let him finish.
Rice: What Mr. Cotler fails to mention is that the author of the report, Richard Goldstone, is a Zionist Jew with great affection for Israel who deliberately understated the magnitude of Israel’s atrocities.…
Cotler: There! This is precisely…
Rice: …Moreover, Ehud Barak admitted that the decision to attack Gaza had been planned for six months and that Hamas rockets had nothing to do with it. A premeditated attack on a civilian population is by definition a war crime, yet Mr. Cotler and The Lawfare Project attack those who want to these Israeli war criminals prosecuted.
Cohen: Irwin, what Stan said about the cause of the Gaza attack is true—it’s documented—so how does using legal methods to have those responsible brought to justice amount to an abuse of the legal system?
Cotler: Israel has an absolute right to defend itself, and its politicians deserve the same rights as those of any other country.
Rice: That’s right—the same rights, not preferential rights! The applicability of international law is universal, and all countries have a duty to uphold the law and seek the arrest of those suspected of committing war crimes. But Israel is deathly afraid of the law so it sabotages the law wherever it can. (Cotler tries to interrupt). It coerces countries like Spain, Belgium and now the U.K. to rewrite their laws to allow Israelis to evade arrest. “Lawfare” is designed to hobble the law by perpetuating the double-standard of one law for Israel and one for the rest of the world.
Cotler: How dare you speak of double-standards! Israel is the greatest victim of double…
Rice: …Do you deny the facts in the Goldstone Report?
Cotler: That report is biased and illegitimate.
Rice: How can it be biased against Israel if Goldstone admitted that he biased his report to favour Israel?! Is this the sort of thinking The Lawfare Project endorses? Like the David Project and the Israel Project, this is just another zionist propaganda make-work project.
Cotler: Brian, are you interested in a debate or an Israel-bashing session?!
Cohen: Nobody’s bashing Israel, Irwin. Moving on to the subject of boycotts… Irwin, why is The Lawfare Project taking aim at the Boycott Divestment and Sanction movement? Aren’t these legitimate forms of political protest?
Cotler: This is prime example of how the world is ganging up on Israel. Any singling out of Israel amounts to demonization and anti-Semitism.
Rice: Oh, here we go…
Cotler: You endorse anti-Semitism, do you?
Rice: I think you need to check yourself back into the National Centre for Psychiatric Abnormality. (Cotler looks furious and starts raising his voice)
Cohen: Okayyyy, that sounds like the cue for a commercial break. (turns to the camera) We’ll be right back!” (2.5-minute pause) Now that we’ve had a chance to cool down, I want to return to the subject of BDS and the law. The BDS campaign against Israel is gathering steam one could argue that Israel is under selective attack. How would you respond, Stan?
Rice: I agree. Israel is under attack, but it’s a legitimate attack, just as the boycott against apartheid South Africa was a legitimate…
Cotler: …Equating Israel with South Africa is classic anti-Semitism and I won’t stand for…!
Cohen: …Irwin, we can’t have a productive debate if you continually go off on anti-Semitism. It makes intelligent discussion impossible. We’re here to talk about The Lawfare Project.
Rice: (cutting in) The Lawfare Project is designed in part to savage anyone who makes the case that Israel is an apartheid state, something that the editors of Ha’aretz newspaper and former Israeli cabinet minister Shulamit Aloni have already done, as if Irwin Cotler didn’t know. The Project goes after Israel’s condemners not because they are wrong, but because they are right!
Cohen: Irwin, does the Lawfare Project act on behalf of any other country that feels unfairly targeted by legal strategies?
Cotler: No. No other country is subjected to the kind of vilification and hatred that Israel must endure!
Cohen: I’m not so sure the government of China would agree, Toward the end of March, the Ontario Superior Court began hearing arguments on a 2004 civil case brought by six Falun Gong plaintiffs, including a Canadian citizen, against the government of Jiang Zemin for redress of torture. One of the intervenors for the plaintiffs is B’nai Brith lawyer David Matas, who rejected the defendants’ claim that they are immune from prosecution because they were state officials. Why has The Lawfare Project not come to China’s defence and what makes this case any different, legalistically, from human rights cases brought against Israel?
Cotler: There is absolutely no connection between legitimate human rights cases brought against an odious regime like China’s and illegitimate human rights cases brought against a democracy like Israel! I am surprised you would even bring up such an obviously inappropriate comparison!
Rice: Can I pick up on that?
Rice: The notion that Israel is somehow a special case permeates every aspect of the Middle East and makes a mockery of the very law Mr.Cotler purports to uphold. To give another example, did you know that the U.S. Department of Commerce acts as Israel’s proxy to sabotage boycotts?
Cohen: Hold on. What do you mean “proxy”?
Rice: The Bureau of Industry and Security in the Department of Commerce goes after U.S. companies that co-operate with businesses and countries that boycott Israeli goods. On June 25, 2003, The Kansas City Star reported that the bureau filed charges against Cook Composites and Polymers Co. because it confirmed to a customer in Bahrain that the goods being shipped did not contain any Israeli materials. Cook was forced to paying a $6,000 fine for violating U.S. Commerce Department regulations to counter the Arab boycott of Israel. All the company did was answer a question!
The article went on to say: “Knowing violators of the anti-boycott provisions face fines of up to $50,000, or five times the value of the exports at issue, and possible imprisonment. Offenders can also be denied export privileges.”
This is a perfect example of how Israel wages “Lawfare” to persecute individuals and groups who want to prosecute criminals. What we need is a “Lawfair” Project to defend individuals and groups from harassment and malicious propaganda. In a free society, “all’s fair in law and war.”
Cohen: (to the camera) On that pithy note, we’ll have to wrap things up. I’d like to thank my guests Irwin Cotler, and Carleton graduate student Stan Rice. See you next time on Face of the Nation. Good night.