March 25, 2011
To President Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian National Authority
Dear Mr. President:
RE: THE PALESTINIAN NATIONAL AUTHORITY AND THE INTER–PARLIAMENTARY COALITION FOR COMBATING ANTISEMITISM (ICCA)
I am writing on behalf of the Seriously Free Speech Committee, a committee based in Vancouver, Canada that is mandated to defend free and open debate on the question of Israel/Palestine at a time when there is a considerable effort by pro-Israeli forces, both in Canada and internationally, to suppress this discussion. Our committee also defends those who have been harassed or threatened by supporters of Israel.
The Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism (ICCA) is of particular concern to our committee. This international group of pro-Israeli Parliamentarians (lobbyists) is attempting to broaden the traditional definition of anti-semitism to include criticism of Israel, and thereby create a political environment that suppresses the full story of events on the ground. At a recent conference in Ottawa, in November 2010, the ICCA passed the “Ottawa Protocol” which includes this broad new definition, and invites international agencies, parliaments, educational institutions and other organizations to adopt it as well.
On February 10, 2011, the Canadian Jewish News published comments by Canadian politician Irwin Cotler (attached) that you “reacted favourably to the idea of designating ‘one or two’ Palestinians” to participate in the ICCA. Cotler was further quoted to the effect that you “had expressed regret that [you]could not attend the coalition’s conference last November but [you] did send a statement.” An article on this conference by respected Canadian journalist, Marray Dobbin, is also attached for your information. In addition, it was reported that you would be visiting Canada in the next six months for “meaningful dialogue” and that the “raison d’etre for [your] visit to Canada is to meet with the Jewish community”.
Given Cotler’s politics, it is difficult to know how accurate this report is. We are anxious to find out if this is your position? Does the attached report accurately represent your views and comments? It is most important that this matter be clarified. Irwin Cotler is one of the strongest Canadian and international advocates for Israel and the key strategist in attempts to criminalize criticism of Israel. He is no friend of Palestine, those who are critical of Israel or those who believe in full discussion and exposure of the circumstances of the occupation. He spares no effort in attempts to shut down free speech on the grounds that criticism of Israeli policies and practices is equivalent to hatred of Jews. Recently Cotler and his political party have been leaders in attacking Israel Apartheid Week (an educational week on Israel/Palestine issues) on campuses across Canada.
The Seriously Free Speech Committee is very aware that the Canadian Jewish News article and its contents have been circulated widely in Canadian Jewish and Palestinian activist communities. So it is important that you clarify with all speed what your response is to Mr. Cotler’s presentation of your views on this matter.
In closing, we believe that any relationship, links or contacts, official or otherwise, between the Palestinian Authority and the ICCA would only benefit the anti-Palestinian forces in Canadian society and internationally, and give legitimacy to a project whose sole purpose is to suppress criticism of Israel by mis–labelling it antisemitic.
We look forward to hearing your views on these matters.
Co-Chair, Seriously Free Speech Committee