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David Matas

 


HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER DAVID MATAS TELLS HOW THE HOLOCAUST SHAPED HIS LIFE’S WORK AT BEN GURION U’S TRIBUTE LUNCHEON

Ben Gurion U has just Discovered Algae that Dramatically Reduces Cholesterol and Blood Pressure

By Matthew Ostrove, September 13, 2010 with files from the Winnipeg Jewish Review

Some four hundred people attended the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s tribute luncheon on Thursday, August 26, in honour of Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Winnipeg’s David Matas, an internationally renowned human rights lawyer.

The funds raised at the luncheon will go toward the establishment of the Harry and Esther Matas Medical Research lab at the University in honour of Matas’s parents.

In an interview with the editor of the Winnipeg Jewish Review, national Executive vice- president of Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University Leo Marcus said that the event was “very successful” and noted that “in the field of medical research the Winnipeg Jewish community has played a very positive role.  The hematology department in Ben Gurion U was established in honour of Dr. Lionel Israel.”

Marcus also noted that Ben Gurion U has just made a breakthrough discovery in the medical field.  “The University has discovered algae that is created with fresh water and sunshine and this algae has a marked effect in reducing cholesterol and blood pressure. It will be available all over the country in about a year.”

Matas, who was presented with the 2010 Negev Award of Distinction by Professor Amos Drory, the University’s vice-President for External Affairs, has been nominated this year for the Nobel Peace Prize for his investigation into China’s atrocities against the Falun Gong, whose spiritual practice was banned by the Chinese government.

“The Falun Gong have been killed in China by the tens of thousands so that their organs could be sold to transplant patients,” Matas said.

 As part of receiving the Negev Award of Distinction, Matas was presented with a three thousand year old antiquity from the Iron Age found in the Negev.  He was introduced by Liberal Member of Parliament and Former Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler, who spoke extensively about the fourfold threat posed by Ahminenijad’s Iran.

In accepting the award, Matas spoke of the immigration of his Zaida Simon from a shtetl near Odessa in 1900 and his Baba Rose’s immigration from Piatra Neamt, Romania to Omaha, Nebraska in 1904. 

Matas spoke of the influence of the Holocaust, an unimaginable event which shaped his life’s mission and human rights work. He noted that in 1943, the year he was born, about 4.5 million Jews were murdered.  Specifically, he mentioned that the community of 180,000 Jews of Odessa, from which his Baba Anna immigrated, was destroyed in the Holocaust, as Odessa’s Jews fled, were killed or deported. 

From the “age of eight,” Matas said he knew he wanted to do something to speak out against the atrocities of the Holocaust and ensure they were not repeated. “I have directed my energies into speaking out against hate and for human rights and the protection of refugees,” said Matas, who is also senior legal counsel for B’nai Brith Canada.

 “The lessons I have drawn from the Holocaust are the need to bring to justice mass murderers; to ban hate speech; to protect refugees; and never to accept in silence gross violations of human rights, wherever they occur,” he said.

“ I have engaged in human rights work to act on these lessons, to join the human rights struggle in four connected fronts and in fighting on these four fronts, I have had to combat four different enemies that prowl throughout the human rights battlefield.”

According to Matas, the four factors that prevent people from speaking out to advance human rights and against hate speech are hypocrisy, indifference, absolutism and a sense of helplessness.  Human rights are “fragile” and will wither unless individuals promote respect for them.

Matas said that he had thought that the lessons of the dangers of Anti-Semitism had been learned as a result of the Holocaust. “I am stunned to see the resurgence of hatred against Jews and Israel worldwide. The Holocaust was a disaster for non-Jews too. World War II claimed the lives of 31,000,000 non-Jewish civilians.”

Matas believes that the world took a step backward in combating Anti-Semitism shortly after World War II when the Nuremberg Trials were prematurely stopped so that the West could deal with the new Communist threat. “All Nazis should have been held accountable for their actions,” he said.

Matas spoke of  Anti-Zionism as being the  “modern face of Anti-Semitism, “ and noted that  the spread of this poison throughout the Moslem world  has seeped into the United Nations’ human rights agencies.  He sees the United Nations Human Rights Commission being an Israel bashing commission, and said “its continued existence was unsustainable.”

The luncheon was chaired by Debby Gray. She pointed out that the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is a world leader in areas of medical and environmental research and water management. As she told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, “We were pleased to have had such great community support to honour David Matas. Those in attendance were treated to wonderfully illuminating speeches by David and by Irwin Cotler. I think people also came away with a renewed appreciation for the achievements of BGU."

Cotler praised Matas as an “authentic human rights hero” who “has shown all of us moral courage.” Cotler noted that Matas, takes on “just causes”, both Jewish and general, even when they may be unpopular. 

Mayor Sam Katz praised Matas for his courage in speaking out to advance human rights, and the Honourable Christine Melnick, Manitoba’s Minister of Water Stewardship, spoke of the recent day long visit to Ben-Gurion University in Israel and the impressive work that is being done there.  National President of the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion U, Gary Fine was also in attendance.

The sentiment at the luncheon was clear: Matas’s award was well earned and deserved!


To read our earlier article about David Matas being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, please click on:
http://www.winnipegjewishreview.com/article_detail.cfm?id=2&sec=6&title=WILL_IT_BE_OBAMA_AND_THEN_MATAS:_IS_DAVID_MATAS_THE_FIRST_WINNIPEG_JEW_TO_EVER_BE_NOMINATED_FOR_THE_NOBEL_PEACE_PRIZE

 
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