BOG 2024: Pursuing Justice in Times of Rising Antisemitism

Discussing democracy, antisemitism and the assault on human rights.
20 June 2024
From left: the Hon. Rosalie Silberman Arbella, the Hon. Irwin Cotler, PC OC OQ, Prof. Milette Shamir, TAU VP and Prof. Uriya Shavit, Head of the Irwin Cotler Institute (Photo: Dor Haase)

During its 2024 Board of Governors meeting, Tel Aviv University inaugurated the annual forum of the Irwin Cotler Institute for Democracy, Human Rights and Justice. This event took place during the BOG’s Symposium on Democracy, Antisemitism and the Assault on Human Rights.  


The forum’s panel, moderated by Prof. Uriya Shavit, focused on pursuing justice in times of rising antisemitism. It included the Hon. Irwin Cotler, an international human rights lawyer and the former Canadian Minister of Justice and Special Envoy on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism.


The Hon. Rosalie Silberman Abella, a Samuel and Judith Pisar Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, and the former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, was also a part of the panel. In her speech, she described Cotler as “living proof that when the right person is bending it, the long arc of the moral universe does bend towards justice.” 


Silberman Abella also discussed her own family history, having been born in a displaced persons’ camp in the ashes of the Holocaust. She talked about her relationship to Israel and said that we have collectively reached a point of such virulent, and socially acceptable, antisemitism by tolerating intolerance far too long. “We were reluctant to hold intolerant countries who abuse their citizens accountable,” she said. 


Prof. Milette Shamir, TAU’s Vice President International, also participated in the panel, building on Silberman Abella’s points. Today, she said, the epicenters of tolerating the intolerable are college campuses, where tolerating antisemitism “threatens to erode academia, communities, individual persons.” 


Shamir shared personal anecdotes of facing the BDS movement, most notably one where her own professional organization, the American Studies Association, began boycotting Israeli scholars, the first professional organization to do so.


The Symposium came at a time when antisemitic incidents are skyrocketing globally. As described by Cotler, the international bystander community is doing nothing about the “public incitement to genocide,” a known crime, explicit in Hamas’ charter since 1988. “What we have found since Oct. 7 is an unprecedented international explosion of antisemitism. Allowing hate to fester had put us in this situation,” he said.


“Some of us have in fact not only tolerated the intolerable but have not even know the intolerable was happening,” Cotler concluded, calling the audience to stand up against injustice.

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