Defending Irwin Cotler


Last week, JTA published an op-ed from U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler arguing that, with Iranians preparing to elect a new president, it was time for the United States and Canada to increase its support for dissidents in the Islamic Republic.

Shai Franklin, a senior fellow for United Nations Affairs at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy and a regular JTA contributor, found that argument cynical and submitted a response arguing that Jews could care about the human rights situation in Iran, or they could care about preventing an Iranian nuke that would pose an existential threat to Israel, but they cannot do both.

Franklin’s op-ed also included this line:

The co-authors, Canadian MP Irwin Cotler and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), are high on the AIPAC speakers list because they are leaders in the effort to safeguard Israel’s security on the ground and protect its good name at the United Nations. It’s been a while since either of them was significantly involved in broad-based human rights work unrelated to the pro-Israel agenda.

JTA has received a number of responses defending Cotler’s human rights record, including this one, from Payam Akhavan, a professor international law at McGill University in Montreal:

I have known Professor Cotler for almost 20 years as a fellow academic, human rights advocate and a renowned voice of conscience for victims of injustice everywhere.
As the Canadian minister of justice and a distinguished parliamentarian, Cotler has worked tirelessly to advance numerous human rights causes. The suggestion that “it’s been a while” since he “was significantly involved in broad-based human rights work unrelated to the pro-Israel agenda” shows total disregard of well-known facts. In recent years, Cotler has championed worthy causes ranging from the Darfur genocide, to the struggle of Bahrainis and Egyptians in the Arab Spring, to the plight of Chinese dissidents Liu Xiaobo and Gao Zhisheng. None of these would seem to have a direct bearing on Israel.

Franklin has issued an apology and requested that the line in question to be removed from his article.

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