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August 28, 2015 10:19 am

MP Irwin Cotler Explains Why Canadians and Americans Differ on Iran Nuclear Deal (INTERVIEW)

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Canadian MP Irwin Cotler believes the nuclear deal will pass, but that it can still be improved. Photo: Facebook.

Canadian MP Irwin Cotler believes the nuclear deal will pass, but that it can still be improved. Photo: Facebook.

“Foreign policy doesn’t have the salience in Canada as it does in the United States,” Liberal MP Irwin Cotler told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “And the Iran deal does not have the same priority of concern as domestic issues, like health care and the environment.”

Coming from Cotler, who divides his time between sessions in the Canadian Parliament and trotting the globe promoting human rights, combating antisemitism and defending Israel, this kind of statement might sound peculiar. But, says Cotler, ranked by The Algemeiner among “The Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life, 2014,” this is reflected in the polls and conduct of the party leaders ahead of the October 19 Canadian general election, less than two months away.”

“The overall orientation – and motto of all three parties — involves ‘what’s good for the middle class,’” he says.

Still, both Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a conservative, and Cotler, on the other side of the aisle, have been extremely vociferous in their objection to the nuclear agreement. And each is a staunch defender of Israel.

Cotler says this is because Harper considers foreign policy to be his strong suit – something atypical of previous Canadian leaders.

What is distinguishable about Harper, says Cotler – a member of the Canadian Parliament since 1999, who served as Justice Minister and Attorney General from 2003 until the Liberal government of Prime Minister Paul Martin lost the 2006 election to Harper – “is not his support for Israel, but his mainstreaming of that support as a Canadian foreign-policy principle. So he is seen as more pro-Israel.”

Cotler takes issue with what he considers Harper’s attempt to make this a wedge issue.

“Part of Harper’s campaign is to assert that anyone who cares about Israel should vote for him. But both the liberal and conservative parties support Israel. In fact, while [Liberal Party leader Justin] Trudeau has publicly backed Harper’s position on Israel, Harper claims to head the ‘pro-Israel’ party.”

Cotler agrees that this situation in particular, and the Canadian zeitgeist in general, is different from that of the U.S., where he said it was the left-leaning Democrats who were turning Israel into a partisan issue.

This, coupled with the U.S.-led nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic, is a source of disappointment to Cotler, who was initially pleased with the election of President Barack Obama.

“I supported Obama because of his championing of human rights and his domestic positions on climate change, health care and so forth,” Cotler says. “Where foreign policy is concerned, however, he has been leading from behind; mostly not leading at all; and when leading, going about it in the wrong way, not only with regard to Iran.”

Cotler says the reason the debate on Iran is fierce in the U.S., while barely discussed in Canada’s election campaign, makes sense under the circumstances.

“The U.S. has led the P5+1 dealings, while Canada is not even a member of that group,” he points out. “And Congress is set to vote next month on whether to pass the nuclear deal, while the Canadian Parliament is not.”

Though a proud Jew with an Israeli wife, Cotler is disturbed by the constant linkage being made between the nuclear deal and Israel. The connection is perhaps unavoidable, due to Tehran’s ongoing threats to destroy the Jewish state and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s exhaustive efforts to educate the U.S. Congress about the dangers of what he says is a bad deal.

But Cotler, an expert in international law, is concerned that this is yet another way of obfuscating the bigger picture.

“The P5+1 focus on Iran’s nuclear program ended up overshadowing, to the point of sanitizing, the severe human rights abuses committed by the regime against its own people,” he says. “As well as its sponsorship of global terror.”

Cotler goes on to describe some interesting differences between the Jewish communities of North America.

“In Canada, the Jews are smaller in number and less dispersed, with 75 percent living in Montreal and Toronto,” he says. “They are a more of a ‘recent vintage’ immigrant population, with a large proportion of Holocaust survivors and their offspring.”

But, he explains, “In general, Canada is a country of hybrid identities; it calls itself a ‘mosaic.’ In contrast, the metaphor for the U.S. is ‘melting pot.’”

The emphasis in Canada, he says, is on identity, rather than blending.

“Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, unlike the U.S. Bill of Rights, actually constitutionalizes multiculturalism,” he says. “In other words, the ‘mosaic’ is a constitutional ethos, not only a sociological and political one. Thus, much of Canada’s electoral politics is organized around ethnic identity – with Ukrainians, Jews, Italians and others paying attention to their own interests.”

Where support for Israel is concerned, the two countries are also dissimilar, he says.

“In Canada, Israel and the Middle East do not resonate so much, while Americans are more engaged in those issues,” he says. “You can see this in public opinion polls, where support for Israel among Canadians hovers around 18% and support for the Palestinians might reach 15%, with the rest of the public undecided or say they don’t know.”

Americans, on the other hand, “are much more engaged, with percentages in the 50s in polls. Indeed, many more American take sides – a majority siding with Israel – than Canadians.”

Canadian Jews, being part of the “mosaic,” do take an interest in Israel, he says. “But the first time Israel became a ballot-box issue among them was in 2011, when, for the first time, a majority of Jews in ridings [electoral districts] that had been traditionally liberal, voted for conservatives.”

This represented a shift in Jewish voting patterns, he said, likening it to the election of Ronald Reagan in the 1980 U.S. presidential race against incumbent Jimmy Carter.

Still, he says, “American Jews rank Israel fourth or fifth on their list of priorities at the ballot box, while Canadian Jews in the last election ranked it first.”

He continues: “From what I can see and appreciate, a majority of Americans oppose the Iran deal, but it’s possible that a majority of American Jews support it. In Canada, a majority of Jews would probably be against the deal, while a majority of the wider population might favor it, partly because they’re not paying attention, and partly because Canadians are fundamentally anti-war, like Europeans.”

Does this lead to accusations against Canadian Jews of dual loyalty?

“Dual loyalty is a classic anti-Jewish trope,” Cotler says. “It’s always going to be there. But you won’t find it the way you do in America around the Iran issue.”

While on the topic of Iran, Cotler is both pessimistic and optimistic.

“The nuclear agreement is a bad deal,” he says. “But my view is that a bad deal is not better than no deal, and that a better deal is still possible. I don’t believe its opponents in Congress will garner enough votes to override a presidential veto. I do believe, however, that the congressional debate could produce an animus and action to improve the agreement.”

It is precisely because Cotler sees the deal passing, “that work has to be done to improve it, rather than leave it in its current form. Changes have to be made, for example, about when the sanctions ‘snap-back’ comes into play in the event of major Iranian violations.”

Cotler concludes: “This is now a game that doesn’t end with the vote in Congress.”













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  • David

    Prophetic comments by five eminent Jews:

    Then Secretary of State for India and the British cabinet’s only Jewish member, Lord Edwin Montagu’s response to Prime Minister Lloyd George following issuance of the 1917 Balfour Declaration: “All my life I have been trying to get out of the ghetto. You want to force me back there.”

    Senator Henry Morgenthau Sr., renowned Jewish American and U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, 1919: “Zionism is the most stupendous fallacy in Jewish history….The very fervour of my feeling for the oppressed of every race and every land, especially for the Jews, those of my own blood and faith, to whom I am bound by every tender tie, impels me to fight with all the greater force against this scheme, which my intelligence tells me can only lead them deeper into the mire of the past, while it professes to be leading them to the heights. Zionism is… a retrogression into the blackest error, and not progress toward the light.”
    Asked to sign a petition supporting settlement of Jews in Palestine, Sigmund Freud declined: “I cannot…I do not think that Palestine could ever become a Jewish state….It would have seemed more sensible to me to establish a Jewish homeland on a less historically-burdened land….I can raise no sympathy at all for the misdirected piety which transforms a piece of a Herodian wall into a national relic, thereby offending the feelings of the natives.” (Letter to Dr. Chaim Koffler Keren HaYassod, Vienna: 2/26/30)

    Albert Einstein, 1939: “There could be no greater calamity than a permanent discord between us and the Arab people…. Let us recall that in former times no people lived in greater friendship with us than the ancestors of these Arabs.”

    Lessing J. Rosenwald, president of the American Council for Judaism, 1944: “The concept of a racial state – the Hitlerian concept- is repugnant to the civilized world, as witness the fearful global war in which we are involved. . . , I urge that we do nothing to set us back on the road to the past. To project at this time the creation of a Jewish state or commonwealth is to launch a singular innovation in world affairs which might well have incalculable consequences.”

  • Reform School

    Like United States law professor Alan Dershowitz, Cotler could be the poster child of American Jewish Liberalism, mistaking Liberal philosophy and illogical Law for wisdom.

  • golem

    Canada has no military forces…a hand full of planes and a few ships…This country exists and prospers due to the fact that the United States protects Canada from invasion by Russia since ww1.Of course if Iran threatened Canada in some way they would indeed not support Iran having nuclear armed ICBM missiles…

  • Why does the whole world become obliged to cerebrate, contemplate and decide upon the of degree of guilt to confess, respecting everything at all that concerns the Jews. Might this be because of their reported “God’s Chosen People” or might this be due to theiir strategic wielding of their moneys and influence, of which they control a considerable amount?
    Cotler is sly in evading any consideration of this important ingredient of the debate. Like-wise his differential classification of Jews in different Countries, admittedly he says distinguishes the different Groups,—- elevates this subject to “Special Consideration Status”, which we perpetually refuse our Aboriginal People to indulge in?!
    Nothing but Nothing is ever the Matter with how Jewish folks along with their Government chose to interpret any factual situation. They have not, and in fact need not have any concern as for why their sensitivities obligate Governments everywhere to keep their influences in mind when electoral times come about. The writer commends Jewish People for pulling off this stunt. One must for God’s sake. The Centuries or Millenia it may take for this
    matter regressing to its mean is not predictable other than to expect that this will happen as it always does according to recorded History. All had better bear this in mind.
    Harry Singh.


  • Sweet Psalmist of Torontostan

    The Liberal Party up here is ANTI-ISRAEL, and Cotler and other Canadian Jews who still support it are totally delusional. Justin Trudeau’s Middle East advisor is a Saudi with an anti-Israel history and Trudeau, himself, is disgustingly sycophantic in his relations with the muslim community. A Trudeau victory will be very bad for Israel AND for Canadian Jews, too.