Mesdames et Messieurs, merci bien pour votre collaboration et j’aimerais commencer en félicitant John et ses collègues pour avoir organisé cet colloque historique et très important.
And I’d like to also commend my Canadian colleague, Irwin Cotler for his important role in organising this conference. I’d also like to note the presence of a substantial number of my Canadian parliamentary colleagues who are here, members of parliament Carolyn Bennet, Raymonde Folco, Hedy Fry, Randy Hoback, James Lunney, Joyce Murray, Anita Neville, Bob Rae and Scott Reid. We almost have a quorum for the House of Commons here assembled. And we came from not a close distance. And I’d also like to acknowledge of course my good friend Senator Jerry Grafstein.
I hope that this forum will be the beginning of an ongoing process of educating and mobilising parliamentarians throughout the world, and through them political formations across the spectrum, and indeed national governments to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism. I also hope that this will be the beginning, not the end, of this important work. And to that end I know that my Canadian colleagues and I would be delighted to host the next conference of the inter-parliamentary commission in Canada.
We’ll have to return to Canada, John, and just formalise that, and figure out exactly how it will be done. But you’ve got a good number of Canadians here who would be delighted to see this important work cross the Atlantic.
Ladies and gentlemen, in November during a trip to Kiev I paid my respects at the Babi Yar Holocaust site where more than 33,000 Ukrainian Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis over a two day period in 1941.
For me this brought to mind a new dimension of the unfathomable evil of the Holocaust. Babi Yar was not about the mechanised and perversely discreet killing of the gas chambers. Here men in uniform lined up and shot 33,000 individual human beings one by one non-stop over a period of two days. Even for those who were just following orders there had to be some deep blackness in their hearts, some hatred that allowed them to dehumanise the innocent individual human beings who they shot down one by one.
A few weeks ago I was in Mumbai, India, where I went to visit Chabad’s Nariman House. I was literally sickened walking through the debris, seeing the blood-splattered walls; to stand in the place where Rabbi Gavriel Holzberg and his wife Rivkah were tortured and slaughtered. As I later looked out on Mumbai from the rooftop of Chabad House I marveled to think that in this huge, teeming city of 20 million the killers had meticulously, deliberately sought out to target this one rather obscure, peaceful place, and this particular man and his family.
Why did they do so? Because and only because they were Jews, and as such because they represented all the Jews. 68 years and thousands of miles separate the ravine of Babi Yar from the debris of Nariman House, but these places are connected by the same uniquely durable and pernicious evil of anti-Semitism. Even peaceful and pluralistic Canada sees signs that this evil is newly resurgent. The 2007 audit of anti-Semitic incidents by B’nai Brith, Canada’s league for human rights, recorded over 1,000 reported anti-Semitic incidents, up by 11% from the previous year and also reflecting a doubling of the number of reported incidents over the past five years.
Just a day, Friday, as I was boarding the flight for London, as a simple concrete example of this new environment, one page of one of our national newspapers, two articles. One about Jewish university students at one of our major universities being attacked by a mob shouting anti-Jewish slogans at them. And another article, man sentenced for firebombing Jewish institutions.
We in Canada are beginning to experience the same. Of course we’ve always had the old-school anti-Semitism, and it’s still present. The manifestations from the extreme right and their presence on the internet. In my assessment, it’s marginal, small and a shrinking form of anti-Semitism, but one which we can never forget. We do have robust hate crimes laws to deal with those manifestations of anti-Semitism, but we do see the growth of a new anti-Semitism, the anti-Semitism predicated on the notion that the Jews alone have no right to a homeland, the anti-Zionist version of anti-Semitism.
Now, let me say… je suis totalement d’accord avec mon collègue du Maroc et avec le Rabin en chef de la Royaume-Uni : On ne doit pas être d’accord avec les politiques particulières de l’Israël sur n’importe quelle question, on peut critiquer les politiques des gouvernements de l’Israël sans être antisémite. But the argument is not about criticising the politics of the Israeli government. Lord knows there’s enough of that in the Knesset. The argument is with those whose premise is that Israel itself is an abomination, and that the Jews alone have no right to a homeland. And in that sense anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Our government clearly understands this. Last year at our national Holocaust commemoration ceremony Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, speaking of the Holocaust that, “this genocide was so premeditated and grotesque in design, so monstrous and barbaric in scale and so systematic and efficient in execution that is stands alone in the annals of human evil.”
“Unfortunately in some countries,” he went on, “hatred of the Jews is still preached from religious pulpits and still proclaimed from political podiums. There are still people who would perpetrate another Holocaust if they could.”
“That’s why we must resist the error of viewing the Holocaust as a strictly historical event. It’s not good enough for politicians to stand before you and say they remember and mourn what happened over six decades ago. They must stand up to those who advocate the destruction of Israel and its people today. And they must be unequivocal in their condemnation of anti-Semitic despots, terrorists and fanatics. That is the only way to honour the memory of those who were consumed by the Holocaust.”
Let me briefly tell me some of the things that Canada is doing to respond to this new and growing anti-Semitism. We have recently applied to join and expect to become full members of the international taskforce on commemoration, education and research of the Holocaust. In that respect we have conducted a national baseline study of school curricula on Holocaust education. Our parliament has declared through all-party support – and two of the sponsors are here today – a bill for claiming the National Yom Ha-Shoah Holocaust Memorial Day, which is participated in by all party leaders.
We are addressing for the first time our own history of officially sanctioned anti-Semitism, the most notorious manifestation of which was Canada’s refusal to accept the hundreds of Jewish European refugees aboard the St Louis as it arrived in Halifax harbour in 1938. In fact, one of my predecessors, as that boat arrived in Canadian waters infamously declared with respect to European Jewish refugees that none is too many for Canada to receive. That is why our government has established a $2.5 million commemorative fund to help educate future generations about the St Louis incident and the hatred which underscored it.
We’ve created communities at risk security fund which is providing security, enabling grants for dozens of synagogues, Jewish schools and for other communities who have faced hatred or violence. As minister responsible for our multi-culturalism programme we have adjusted our programme to move away from celebrating our differences to focusing on social cohesion and building bridges between communities, combating radicalisation of youth.
For instance, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to support an exciting new venture launched by the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Canadian Somali Congress, which will provide young Canadians of Somalian origin, typically refugees, with an opportunity to find internships in Jewish-owned businesses and professions so they can meet and de-stigmatise people from other communities.
I follow with great interest your government’s programme to sponsor British high school kids, secondary school children, to be able to go and visit the death camps in Europe and to learn firsthand and report back to their peers the reality of the Holocaust. And I’m hopeful that we can find ways to participate in similar programmes.
Also very importantly, our government takes a zero tolerance approach to expressions of anti-Semitism in the public square. There are organisations in Canada, as in Britain, that receive their share of media attention and public notoriety, but who at the same time as expressing hateful sentiments expect to be treated as respectable interlocutors in the public discourse. I think, for example, of the president of an organisation called the Canadian Islamic Congress, Mohamed Elmasry, who notoriously said three years ago on live television that all Israelis over the age of 18 can legitimately be killed. They are combatants, and therefore legitimate targets for elimination.
I think as well of the leader of the Canadian Arab Federation, who notoriously circulated an e-mail when my colleague, our shadow Foreign Minister, Bob Rae, was running for the leadership of his party, calling on people to vote against Mr. Rae because of Arlene Perly Rae’s involvement in Canada’s Jewish community. The same individual, the same organisation, the Canadian Arab Federation, just last week circulated – including to all parliamentarians – videos which include propaganda, including the inculcation to hatred, of children by organisations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
These and other organisations are free within the confines of our law and consistent with our traditions of freedom of expression, to speak their mind, but they should not expect to receive resources from the state, support from taxpayers or any other form of official respect from the government or the organs of our State. And I would encourage all other governments to take a similar approach to organisations that either excuse violence against Jews or express essentially anti-Semitic sentiments.
I would encourage international organisations to be vigilant in this respect as well. I was disturbed to see at the OSCE high-level conference in Bucharest a representative of one of these organisations brought in by the OSCE to be an expert panelist. Let me conclude by telling you what Canada is doing on the international stage, talking about anti-Semitism. Mentioning Bucharest, I was there to express on behalf of our government a change of policy to call for the maintenance of a personal representative and a specific process to focus on anti-Semitism, not to the exclusion of other forms of hatred, racism and xenophobia, but to recognise the uniquely durable and pernicious form of hatred that is anti-Semitism.
As you know, the government of Canada has consistently voted against resolutions singling out Israel as a scapegoat at international forums such as the Francophonie and the United Nations Human Rights Council. Just two, three weeks ago we were unfortunately typically the only country of the 40 some member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council to oppose in this instance a resolution scapegoating Israel in an unbalanced way as being responsible for the violence in Gaza.
And finally, my proudest moment as minister was a year ago this month when I announced on behalf of our government that Canada would withdraw, and has withdrawn, from the Durban 2 process. We did so deliberately. We did so after having participated in the initial preparatory meetings. We did so being fully conscious of Canada’s tradition as an international champion of tolerance, pluralism and mutual respect. And that’s precisely why we withdrew from the Durban process.
We withdrew from a process that sees Iran sitting on the organising committee, a country whose president has repeatedly engaged in inciting genocide against the Jewish nation, a conference in which Libya plays a central role on the organising committee, a conference where many of the key organising meetings were set, no doubt coincidentally, on Jewish high holidays to diminish the participation of Israeli and Jewish delegates, a process which re-invited to participate all of the NGOs that turned the original Durban conference into the notorious hate-fest, including those responsible for circulating copies of the Chronicles of the Elders of Zion and organisations which outside the conference venue held up portraits of Adolf Hitler, and a conference which as well re-invited those NGOs made it difficult or impossible for Jewish NGOs to come as observers, including the Canadian Council on Israeli and Jewish Affairs.
Now, I understand and appreciate the position of some governments to continue to wait and see how this process develops. I think many of us made the wrong decision several years ago to unwittingly legitimise the process. And I understand the position of some European governments that they want to watch and wait and see what Washington does. I find that a bit surprising. I always thought Europe prided itself as having its own independent foreign policy aligned with its own values and interests. That’s certainly the position of the government of Canada. We would encourage our friends elsewhere to remember that the Trans-Atlantic relationship includes Canada, and that we have taken what we believe to be a principled position on the Durban process.
In conclusion, let me close by quoting again the Prime Minster, Stephen Harper, following his visit last summer to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. He said, “I was moved beyond words by what I saw to revulsion, anger and most of all a deep, aching sadness for the millions of innocents who perished. But I also felt hope, hope because of the indomitable spirit and strength of the Jewish people, hope that left behind the horror of the Holocaust and moved forward to build the thriving, modern democratic state of Israel, and also hope because today most people in most civilised countries recognise anti-Semitism for what it is, a pernicious evil that must be exposed, confronted and repudiated whenever and where ever it appears, an evil so profound that it is ultimately a threat to us all.” Thank you very much.