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David Matas

David Matas: Antisemitism and anti-Zionism of the regime of the mullahs in Iran

by David Matas, March 8, 2015


(A submission to the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights 26 February, 2015, Ottawa)



When the subject matter is international human rights violations and Iran, we have regrettably a wide range of subjects we can discuss.   Today we want to focus on Iranian antisemitism and anti-Zionism not just because we represent B'nai Brith.  We do so because antisemitism and anti-Zionism are central to the regime of the mullahs of Iran.  Though the regime bills itself as Islamic and Shiite, it is more accurate to describe it as anti-Zionist and antisemitic. 


There are many different ideological strands to the anti-Zionism and antisemitism of the regime.  Here I will mention only five - Holocaust denial, the rejection of any possible peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis, the mistreatment and expulsion of its own Jewish population, the creation of Hezbollah as a surrogate to attack Israel and the terrorism directed to Jewish targets worldwide.


There is a difference in tone, we acknowledge, between the previous president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the present President Hassan Rouhani.  Yet, in substance, the regime remains ideologically the same.  Francois de La Rochefoucauld wrote that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.  If one focuses on what the regime of the mullahs does, its actions are unequivocal.


Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hosted a Holocaust denial conference in Teheran in December 2006.  Another one was scheduled for December 2013 which Rouhani cancelled.  Rouhani also has said "the crime that Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non Jews is reprehensible and condemnable".   But then, under Rouhani, the Holocaust denial conference happened anyways, last year, in October 2014.


Second, the regime of the mullahs is actively hostile to any peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis.  The regime takes the position that Israel should not exist, no matter whether the Palestinian authority comes to terms with Israel or not. Symptomatic of this attitude is the refusal of the regime even to call Israel by its name.  Instead Iran refers to Israel as the Zionist entity.  This is terminology President Rouhani himself uses.


I go to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva regularly, amongst other reasons, to attempt to counter with my colleagues in B'nai Brith International the ganging up on Israel at the UN. B'nai Brith International will be sending a mission again to Geneva in ten days and I will be joining them.  In one of my previous UN visits, when I was sitting observing events in the Human Rights Council chamber, an Iranian delegate fomented a typical diatribe against Israel, referring to it only as "the Zionist entity". The President of the Council interrupted the speaker and said that he could not do that, that he had to call a state by its name.


President Rouhani has said that whatever the Palestinians would accept, Iran would accept .  He referred to Palestinians and not the Palestinian Authority. That means that he included Hamas, who could not accept peace with Israel without ceasing to be Hamas. Rouhani has also said that Israel is an "old wound" that should be removed.


The Jewish population of Iran has shrunk from 100,000 to 120,000  in 1948 to 8,756 in 2011 .  The Iranian constitution enacted after the revolution states that Jews are a recognized religious minority who are free to perform their religious rites and ceremonies and to act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education.  


Yet, Jews, including Jewish community leaders, have been arbitrarily executed, accused and convicted of spying for Israel, and their property confiscated.  The leadership of the Jewish community has been forced to condemn Israel publicly and take part in anti-Israel demonstrations.  


On behalf of B'nai Brith Canada, I sought a visa from Iran in 2000 so that I could observe the trial of 13 Orthodox Jews in May of that year, prosecuted on trumped up charges of espionage for Israel.  The Government of Iran never responded to my visa request.  Ten of the accused were convicted in unfair trials and given sentences ranging from 4 to 13 years.


Hezbollah began in Iran in 1982 as part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.  The Iranian regime sent fighters from Iran to Lebanon at the end of 1983; these fighters constituted the initial core of Hezbollah.  


A United States Federal Court judge Royce Lamberth, in a May 2003 judgment wrote:

            "It is clear that the formation and emergence of Hezbollah as a major terrorist organization is due to the government of Iran. Hezbollah presently receives extensive financial and military technical support from Iran, which funds and supports terrorist activities."

Hezbollah is listed in Canada as a terrorist organization.


A suicide bomber drove a car bomb in the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires Argentina in March 1992.  The attack killed 29 people and injured 100.  Ibrahim Hussein Berro, a second suicide car bomb terrorist, attacked the Jewish community centre, called the Israeli Argentine Mutual Association, with the acronym AMIA, in Buenos Aires in July 1994, killing 85 and wounding over 200. 


The Argentinean intelligence service investigated this second attack and concluded, in a detailed report, that the attack was planned and organized by the Government of Iran.  The decision to mount the attack was taken in August 1993 by Iran's National Security Council.  Participating in the decision were the then and current leader Ayatollah Khamenei as well as the then president Hashemi Rafsanjani.  Iran used Hezbollah to perpetrate the attack.   This attack has made the news recently because the lead Argentinean prosecutor Alberto Nisman was murdered in Buenos Aires just last month, in January.


Two Hezbollah operatives killed five Israeli tourists and a bus driver and wounded thirty two Israelis in Bulgaria in July 2012.   One of the two attackers identified by the Government of Bulgaria, Hassan el-Hajj Hassan, is a Canadian citizen as well as a citizen of Lebanon.


In the little time allocated, I would like to spend a bit on possible actions the Government and Parliament of Canada can take. I will limit myself to six points.


One is to expand the exceptions to sovereign immunity to catch Iranian human rights violations in a larger net.  It should be possible for victims of the Iranian regime to sue in our courts for the harm that the regime has done to them. 


Parliament has, we note and welcome, enacted the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act in 2012 and the Government has designated Iran under that legislation.  The designation of Iran allows victims to sue Iran for acts of terrorism. 


Yet, the crimes of Iran go beyond terrorism to encompass a wide range of international human rights violations.  We need exceptions to the state immunity regime which cover genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture.  We commend to your attention Bill C-632, the Private Member's Bill of Irwin Cotler, the proposed Redress for Victims of International Crimes Act which does just that.


Second, we urge the Government of Canada to ask for the extradition of Hassan el-Hajj Hassan, the Canadian citizen Bulgarian bomber, from Lebanon to Canada.  Under the Criminal Code, Canada has jurisdiction to prosecute him because he is a Canadian citizen.  Canada does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon, but our Extradition Act allows for extradition, even without a treaty, on a case by case basis by agreement with the state where the accused is found.  


Third, we support the suggestion of a previous witness to this Committee Mark Dubowitz from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies that any arms agreement between Iran and foreign states include a human rights component paralleled on the Helsinki Accord.   The linkage in the Helsinki Accord between human rights and peace turned out to be extremely helpful in promoting respect for human rights behind the Iron Curtain.  Canada should urge such a linkage here.


A regime hell bent on destruction of Israel and the Jews should be kept as far away from weapons of mass destruction as possible.  A nuclear weapons agreement with Iran, if one can be reached, should not just prevent nuclear weapons capability. It should have a place for human rights.


Fourth, the European Union belatedly in July 2013 added the military wing of Hezbollah to its list of terrorist entities.  The listing of the military wing is too limited.  Canada should urge the EU to list Hezbollah in its entirety.


The Government of Canada also initially listed only the military component of Hezbollah as terrorist.  B'nai Brith Canada went to Court in November 2002 to challenge the decision not to list also the civilian wing of Hezbollah as terrorist.   Part way through the Court proceedings, the Government agreed without our position.


Fifth, Canada every year at the United Nations General Assembly is the lead sponsor on a resolution about Iran and, as such, has an important influence on its language.  I have, over the years, urged the strengthening of the language of the resolution, but have met with resistance on the basis that stronger language would mean fewer votes. 


While we would not suggest language so strong that the resolution would be lost, Canada today has some room for manoeuvre.  The annual Iran resolution passed the General Assembly in December 2014 by a margin of 48, 48 more states voting for the resolution than against.  The margin was an increase of five over the year previous.  There is more than enough room, given this margin, to strengthen the language even if it means losing a few votes.


Right now the resolution

            "Expresses deep concern at serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran relating to, inter alia:

            Continued harassment, at times amounting to persecution, and human rights violations against persons belonging to recognized religious minorities, including ... Jews,"


There is no mention in the resolution of anti-Zionism or antisemitism as such, nor its importance to the regime.  There should be.


Sixth and finally, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development in November 201 recommended that

            "the Government of Canada encourage the direct negotiating parties to take into account all refugee populations as part of any just and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli Palestinian and Arab Israeli conflicts."

That, of course, includes 55,000 Jewish refugees from Iran, driven out of Iran by the regime of the mullahs. 


We welcome the Committee recommendation, but not so much the Government response.  The Government of Canada has expressed reservations about that recommendation on the basis that "There currently are no direct negotiations on the subject of Jewish refugees between Israel and the refugees' countries of origin in the Middle East and North Africa." 


We say that the issue of refugees, all refugees, is central to the first stage peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.  We ca not see our way through to peace without breaking the chains of anti-Zionism holding Palestinian refugees down.  We do that by confronting the myth of one refugee population with the reality of two refugee populations. We do that by confronting the myth that Israel is a Western, imperial, colonial enterprise, a myth which holds particular sway with the mullahs of Iran, with the reality that Israel is in large measure composed of Jews from the Middle East, including Iran.  Unless the Palestinians themselves accept the reality of dual victimization, a meaningful peace becomes impossible. 


The Palestinian Authority cannot settle financial claims of Jewish refugees from Iran or the many other countries whose governments victimized their Jewish nationals.  The Palestinian Authority can though acknowledge the reality of this Jewish refugee population and set up a mechanism and standards for compensation of both Arab refugees from Israel and Jewish refugees from the West Bank and Gaza which can then be emulated in broader later negotiations between Israel and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.  The Government of Canada should accept that this sort of acknowledgement can be part of the first stage negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, when and if those negotiations revive.


David Matas is senior honorary counsel to B'nai Brith Canada.  He is an international human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.







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