David I. Roytenberg

Hillel Neuer Fights On

Canadian Leader of UN Watch Joined Discussion About the Upsurge of Antisemitism

While this article was being prepared for publication (originally published May 24) we got the sickening news that the International Court of Justice at the Hague had ordered Israel to stop its offensive in Rafah. The Canadian government urged Israel to comply. I am relieved to report that Israel will not be following that advice. We will have much more to say on this subject in the coming days. Wishing everyone who observes, a restful and meaningful Shabbat.

This past week we got to meet someone we’ve admired for many years. Thanks to the Macdonald Laurier Institute, a small group of us had the opportunity to participate in a round table discussion with Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch. Under Neuer’s leadership, UN Watch has campaigned tirelessly for human rights, and has been sharply critical of the United Nations’ singular preoccupation with the State of Israel.

The group gathered for yesterday’s conversation, included leaders of Canada’s Jewish community, a university professor, members of Parliament and faculty from Ottawa universities. There were also leaders from non-Jewish civil society groups and representatives of the Macdonald Laurier Institute.

Speaking at today’s gathering, we discussed the explosive growth of antisemitism since the start of the war. The discussion that followed addressed the fact that antisemitism is fueled by the spread of the idea that Israel is a force for evil in the world. When people feel they are standing up against evil, any sort of action becomes permitted.

This belief that Israel is uniquely evil is something that enemies of Israel have been cultivating for many years. Spreading the libel that Israel is an apartheid regime has been an important part of this. While the idea was already in the air at the Durban Conference on Human Rights in 2001, the near simultaneous publication by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of reports in 2009 accusing Israel of practicing Apartheid, added the imprimatur of bodies that command international respect, and gave the idea greater credence.

With the current war, a world wide campaign to brand Israel as guilty of genocide, and the repetition of this accusation daily on news broadcasts, at demonstrations and by pundits in the media, has greatly advanced the demonization of Israel. This in turn fuels antipathy to Jews, who are identified with Israeli evil in the minds of many, due to their support for Zionism.

Readers may remember a recent article on this site about the push since 2021 in Canadian newsrooms “to treat Israel like other human rights abusers”. This campaign assumes as true that Israel abuses human rights with impunity. The adoption of this belief has undermined the idea that the Israeli point of view deserves fair coverage in Canadian news reports. This is especially damaging in the face of the daily allegations of genocide during the current conflict.

As discussion continued the group focused on the understanding that the problems that are fueling the outbreak of antisemitism threaten western civilization generally, which is a problem for everyone, not just for Jews. Jews cannot fight it on their own. A broader movement of people who support liberal values is needed.

One participant said that there is a need for people to learn to think critically, rather than being immersed in critical theory. A university professor described students he encounters in his classroom as jaded and without a sense of where to turn for reliable information. He says they need to know where they can find trustworthy facts that they can think critically about.

The group discussed the role and relevance of the UN in the current world. UN Watch has played an important role over the years in pointing out the ways that the UN has fallen short of its own ideals. Particularly in the area of human rights, UN Watch has been very active in bringing people in front of the UN Human Rights Council to advocate on behalf of victims of rights abuses in Iran, China and Russia. UN Watch has called on the UN Human Rights Council to live up to its founding principles. It has also called on the UN to avoid electing human rights abusers like Russia China and Iran to the Council.

While failing to engage effectively with the problem of human rights violations in Iran, China and other places, the UNHRC devotes an inordinate amount of attention to allegations of human rights abuses in Israel. We’ve have written already about the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Violations by Israel in the Occupied Palestinians Territories. This is a position which is filled by the UNHRC and over the years it has been occupied by people with an ever greater animus towards Israel.

While the first incumbent of the special rapporteur position pointed out the fact that the mandate prevented him from investigating human rights violations by Palestinians and called for the position to be abolished, more recent incumbents have embraced the council’s inherent bias against Israel. At the time of her appointment, Francesca Albanese, the current incumbent, was on record as saying the United States was “subjugated by the Jewish Lobby” and that Europe was ‘“burdened by a sense of guilt due to the memory of the Holocaust”, which sparked protest that she was chosen for the role.

While it is widely known as a strong critic of misconduct by the United Nations and its constituent bodies, UN Watch believes in the importance of the UN and is committed to continue working to get the UN to live up to the ideals laid out in its founding documents.

The Macdonald Laurier Institute is Canada’s leading think tank and is dedicated to promoting the best possible governance in Canada. I’m grateful to Brian Lee Crowley, the executive director for the opportunity to participate in yesterday’s discussion. I look forward to future thought provoking and relevant discussions under their auspices, as they promote critical thinking about the issues that will make a difference to the quality of Canadian governance.

This article was originally published on may 24 at Canadian Zionist Forum

About the Author
David Roytenberg is a Canadian living in Ottawa, Canada, with a lifelong interest in Israel and Zionism. He spent 9 months in Israel in 1974-75 on Kibbutz Kfar Glickson and is a frequent visitor to friends and family in Israel. He is married and the father of two sons. David is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and the chair of Adult Education for Kehillat Beth Israel in Ottawa. He wrote monthly about Israel and Zionism for the Canadian Jewish News from 2017 to 2020.
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