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Irwin Cotler & Catherine Chatterley


by Rhonda Spivak, June 15, 2017

Listening to Irwin Cotler's excellent thoughtful at the Shindleman lecture for the Canadian institute of Antisemitism, I was reminded of  Sandy Tolan's  book the Lemon Tree published in 2006 . In the book which is non-fiction Bashir Hailey, ( the Palestinian refugee who was born in Ramle and fled with his family to Ramallah as a child during Israel's 1948 war of  Independence)  meets Dalia, ( the Jewish immigrant whose family escaped the Holocaust in Romania and now lives in the house Bashir's father built in Ramle near Lod).  He tells Dalia "we [ Palestinian Arabs]believe only Jews who were here before 1917 "[which is the date of the Balflour declaration] can remain in the land that what was  mandatory Palestine , and not those who came after.  What Bashir is really saying is that Jews can live as a minority in Islam,but not as a majority who have the right to self determination in their own state. He also indicates that those Jews who come to Israel after 1917 should go back to Europe, where they came from. The idea of turning back time, and stopping the clock at 1917 is of course patently ridiculous, but many Palestinians have adopted Bashir's hardline position
This distinction of  Jews (who live as a minority in a Diaspora) vs Israelis  is one which I encountered while travelling in Jordan. A shopkeeper who served my friends and I tea in his gift shop in the remote northern Muslim town of Um Qais near the border with Syria told me that he had no problem with Jews coming to visit Jordan, but he didn't want Israelis coming. I think he rather suspected we were Jewish. I was taken aback at this distinction between Jews and Israelis at first but encountered it on several occasions. Although he said Jews were welcome, once he said Israelis were not welcome, it somehow it didn't make me feel very welcome. 
The statement made by Bashir in the Lemon Tree which was written in 2006 rings ever more relevant today As Dr Catherine Chatterley, founding director of CISA, pointed out in the question period of the evening with Cotler on April 27, 2017, this year marks the 100th year of the Balfour  Declaration. To mark this occasion the Palestinian Authority has threatened to sue Britain over the Balfour Declaration, and is demanding an apology.
In his remarks, Cotler noted that one aspect of the Balfour declaration that is not well known is that it became incorporated in the League of Nations", and the wording used in the League of Nations makes reference to the "reconstitution" of the Jewish homeland, which according to Cotler is a "a recognition that the Jews are an indigenous people to the Holy Land  (as opposed to the Palestinian narrative which has them as outside colonizers).   Because of the fact that the League of Nations incorporates wording which refers to the reconstitution of the Jewish homeland Cotler indicated that the  "Balfour Declaration and that which follows from it deserve to be better known and acted upon" and "followed in international law."
Cotler added "The PA wants to take Britain to the international criminal court ." But he said the does not think that the international criminal court will hear it. "I don't think the ICC will take the case to begin with," he said.
Sadly, shortly after Cotler spoke, there were news reports that Prince Charles has cancelled his scheduled trip to Israel to mark the 100 years since the  Balfour Declaration, due to fears of angering Britain's Arab allies. (
Cotler also spoke about the  upcoming 70th Anniversary of the UN Partition plan in which the UN called for a Jewish State and Arab State. He acknowledged that the Palestinian "people have suffered and continue to suffer ". "The Palestinians had the right to reject the UN partition plan if they felt it didn't comport with thier aspirations... but did not have the right to do is to then launch a war of aggression against the nascent Jewish state which they not me spoke of as a war of extermination. Cotler added that what they didn't have a right to do is turn on Jewish nationals and arrest, detain, expel and   disenfranchise  so that at the end their were "two sets of refugees-Palestinians form the 1948 war" and Jews expelled form Arab lands
"Its a tragedy to think had Arab and Palestinian leadership  accepted partition, we'd celebrating the 70th anniversary two states for two peoples and  avoided all the pain and suffering that had been inflicted all these years," Cotler added.
Most Jews don't even know about Jewish refugees form Arab Countries. Cotler added
". ..We should make the facts better understood..."
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.