Yves Engler – If the ancient storyteller Aesop was correct and “a man is known by the company he keeps” what can we learn about Irwin Cotler from his friends and associates?
As I’ve written, the former Liberal justice minister has been a leading anti-Palestinian activist for decades. More recently, he has sought to unseat Venezuela’s government and stoke confrontation with Iran and Russia. Since writing two stories about Cotler earlier this year I’ve come across more about his dubious human rights credentials and links to some questionable characters, including:
- The MEK. Cotler has enabled the violent, cult like, Iranian Mujahedin-e Khalq. In 2012 the Jewish Telegraphic Agency cited Cotler, alongside Alan Dershowitz and Elie Wiesel, as prominent pro-Israel activists who worked with Iranians dissidents to convince the State Department to remove the MEK from the US terrorism list, which paved the way for Ottawa to follow suit. In 2014 Cotler invited MEK leader, Maryam Rajavi, to speak at Iran Accountability Week on Parliament Hill. In “We asked Canadian politicians why they engaged with a ‘cult’-like group from Iran”, Shenaz Kermalli points out that Cotler regularly attends events organized by the MEK-aligned groups Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran and National Council of Resistance of Iran. The MEK backed Iraq in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and, according to US government sources, teamed up with Israel to assassinate Iranian scientists more recently. It is thought to be funded by Saudi Arabia.
- Paul Kagame. Asked about Kagame’s human rights record on the sidelines of an event on Rwanda in April, Cotler refused to criticize Africa’s most bloodstained leader. Cotler and the Rwandan president both attended the 2017 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, DC, and the self-declared human rights champion spoke alongside the “Butcher of Africa’s Great Lakes region” later that year. Cotler has also participated in events put on by the Rwandan High Commission in Ottawa. In 2008 Cotler pushed a House of Commons motion to commemorate genocide prevention/Rwanda’s genocide on April 7. The choice of the day reflects the simplistic, one-sided, version of Rwanda’s tragedy Kagame promotes to legitimate his dictatorship and belligerence in the region. On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down, unleashing the genocidal killings. So why choose April 7, rather than April 6, to commemorate genocide prevention/Rwanda’s genocide? Because Kagame’s RPF shot down the plane carrying the two Hutu presidents and most of Rwanda’s military command, which facilitated their seizing power after a multi-year war
- Proponents of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine. A high-minded cover for Western imperialism, R2P was cited by Paul Martin’s government, which included Cotler as justice minister, to justify overthrowing elected Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Thousands were killed in post-coup violence. Cotler called R2P “arguably the most significant development in the defence of human rights since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” In 2011 Cotler pushed for R2P to be invoked in Libya. He co-wrote a New York Times op-ed headlined “Libya and the Responsibility to Protect” that argued for ousting Muammar Gaddafi. They wrote, “the Security Council should adopt a new resolution to immediately extend recognition to the nascent provisional government of the country, authorize a NATO-supported no-flight zone over Libya to preclude any bombing of civilians, and permit all U.N. members to provide direct support to the provisional government.” That’s largely what transpired. But the NATO war has been a disaster. Eight years later Libya remains divided and the NATO bombing destabilized large parts of Africa’s Sahel region.
- Proponents of the Magnitsky Act. Cotler led the campaign for Canada to adopt sanctions legislation modeled after the 2012 US Magnitsky Act. Designed to demonize Russia, Ottawa immediately sanctioned Russian and Venezuelan officials under legislation that allows the government to freeze individuals’ assets/visas and prohibit Canadian companies from dealing with sanctioned individuals. Cotler recently called for Canada to invoke the 2017 Magnitsky Act to “impose sanctions in the form of travel bans and asset freezes” on Iranian officials. The legislation is named after Sergey Magnitsky who proponents claim was tortured to death for exposing Russian state corruption. The source of the claim is William Browder, an American who got rich amidst the fire sale of Russian state assets in the 1990s. With billionaire banker Edmond J. Safra, Browder co-founded Hermitage Capital Management, which became the largest hedge fund in Russia. Hermitage Capital earned a staggering 2,697% return between 1996 and 2007. Those who question the western-backed story line say Magnitsky was an accountant who helped Browder claim illicit tax breaks. According to this version of the story, Browder exploited Magnitsky’s death – caused by inhumane jail conditions – to avoid being extradited to Russia on tax fraud charges. Investigative journalist Adrian duPlessis recently emailed me about Cotler being “the person who’s opened doors for Browder and his scam in Ottawa.” duPlessis has followed Browder for years, receiving a 1998 National Newspaper Award for Business Reporting about Russian mafia money in North America. As part of the campaign for Canada to adopt the Magnitsky Act, Cotler held multiple press conferences and public meetings with Browder. (While it’s hard to be confident about the truth, I find it difficult to believe that a US capitalist who got rich in Russia in the 1990s would simply turn into a human rights activist. On the other hand, the idea that a wealthy and powerful individual meshed self-preservation with growing Russophobia seems plausible.)
- Organized crime. duPlessis pointed me to Le Journal de Montréal coverage of Cotler’s business associates’ ties to the Montréal mafia. In one of two stories from 2015 the newspaper noted, “for the last decade or so, former Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler has been a shareholder in a company that has financed promoters close to organized crime.” In one of the firms, Faybess Investments, Cotler owned a third of the shares and in the other, Ace Investments, 1/6 of the company. Cotler’s main associates in these companies — Hyman Bloom and Richard Dubrovsky — invested millions of dollars with the notorious Rizzuto family. The police bugged Dubrovsky and Bloom’s offices and their names came up at the Charbonneau inquiry into corruption in Québec. Cotler claimed his role in the companies was passive even though he was vice president of Faybess, which he co-founded with Dubrovsky, for part of the period in question.
- Alan Dershowitz, an important figure in the Jeffrey Epstein pedophilia/rape scandal. Dershowitz negotiated (partly through intimidation) the scandalous “non-prosecution agreement” under which Epstein served 13 months in a Florida jail, which was largely spent on “work release” in an office. A close friend of Epstein, Dershowitz is accused of raping two of Epstein’s sex slaves. In a court filing Virginia Roberts said, “Dershowitz was so comfortable with the sex that was going on that he would even come and chat with Epstein while I was giving oral sex to Epstein.” Roberts added that she had sex with Dershowitz “at least six times”. In the 2015 article “Israel defender Alan Dershowitz has long history of attacking sex abuse victims” Rania Khalek details his aggressive anti-woman positions. In 1997 Dershowitz argued that “puberty is arriving earlier, particularly among some ethnic groups.” As such, the eminent lawyer called for — a position repeated recently — the age of consent to be lowered (if a child reaches puberty at ten should they be legitimate targets for sexual predators?). A close friend and political ally, Cotler would have almost certainly been aware of Dershowitz’s position. In 2004 the Globe and Mail reported, “Dershowitz and Mr. Cotler met at Yale Law School in the early 1960s and are so close that the first person Mr. Cotler called after being appointed to cabinet last December was his friend at Harvard.” In 2014 Dershowitz called Cotler “my mirror image in Canada” and nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. They are both currently part of the Honorary Board of the Jewish Coalition for Kurdistan and Dershowitz is a Senior Fellow at the Cotler chaired/founded Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. According to Cotler, “everyone regards Alan as not only the best defender of Israel, but the best defender of the most just of causes in the court of public opinion.” In the Acknowledgments section for The Vanishing American Jew Dershowitz lists Cotler’s name right before Epstein’s. They are both also listed in the Acknowledgments for The Case for Israel.
- Leslie Wexner. Cotler has done a series of events with the Wexner Foundation, including serving as “distinguished faculty member” at the Wexner Israel Fellowship Alumni Institute in Haifa. Jeffrey Epstein was one of three trustees of the Wexner Foundation for over a decade and its namesake, Leslie Wexner, was the main source of Epstein’s wealth. Epstein had power of attorney for a significant portion of Wexner’s fortune and in May 1997 Epstein posed as a talent scout for Victoria’s Secret — owned by Wexner — to lure model Alicia Arden to his hotel room where he sexually assaulted her.
- Other key figures in the Epstein sex scandal. Epstein’s decades-long sex ring coordinator/partner Ghislaine Maxwell is the daughter of Robert Maxwell, a crooked British press baron and Mossad spy. Bill Bowder worked for Robert Maxwell before he died in a mysterious boating incident in 1991. Additionally, the co-founder of Hermitage Capital with Browder was Edmond Safra whose name is cited in Epstein’s little black book. Cotler has repeatedly spoken at the Edmond J. Safra synagogue and, as mentioned previously, Cotler hosted a series of events with Browder.
Perhaps all this company that Cotler has kept means nothing, but you’d think, at a minimum, the political, corporate and media establishment that promote his ‘human rights’ credentials might be made anxious by the possibilities it suggests. You’d also think that some mainstream investigative journalist would ask questions. I emailed Cotler to ask if he had met Jeffrey Epstein, been on his private plane or private island. Of course he failed to respond to my repeated messages, but maybe Cotler would feel compelled to answer a CBC, CTV, Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette or Toronto Star journalist.