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January 12, 2024

Comment, The National Post

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

More by this author...

Prof. Cotler is wrong

Re: South Africa is inverting reality by accusing Israel of genocide - Jan 10, 2024

I met Irwin Cotler several times when he served as an MP and as Minister of Justice. I found him to be an excellent academic thinker and communicator.

But today, I need to tell him that he’s wrong in his defense of Israel’s war against Palestine and in his censure of South Africa for seeking to have Israel charged with genocide by the International Court of Justice.

Here's why:

Genocide, as defined and taught in law schools today, owes its name, concept, and content to Polish-born Raphael Lemkin (1900 – 1959), a renowned human rights lawyer of Jewish descent.

As a law student, Lemkin was deeply affected by the horrific massacres of Armenians at the hands of Turkey (1915 – 1923), which moved him in 1933—before the Holocaust—to write a set of ground-breaking proposals that such atrocities should be prosecuted as international crimes.

Following WWII and Hitler’s genocide against Europe’s Jews, Lemkin dedicated the rest of his career to developing legal precedents that would better protect all people under occupation and deter hostile occupiers from committing “genocide”—a term which until then had never been used in any law code or legislation.

Lemkin later fled war-ravaged Europe and became a Professor of Law at Duke University. He wrote and taught that genocide takes various forms: physical, moral, religious, political, social, biological, cultural, or economic. All of them are crimes against humanity.

Incredibly, Lemkin’s detractors argued that genocidal crimes happened too seldom to legislate against them and would be too difficult to prosecute.

But Lemkin never gave up. In 1944 his classic 674-page study, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress, was published. One of its most crucial chapters dealt with “Occupation Practices” and offered strong recommendations for preventing the genocide that Lemkin had witnessed during WWI against the Armenians and in WWII against the Jews. 

In 1948 the United Nations approved the Genocide Convention to protect occupied peoples, thanks to Lemkin’s years of dedicated advocacy.

Today, it is the Palestinians under Israeli occupation who desperately need the protection that Lemkin’s principles on genocide gave to the world. Would you not agree, Prof. Cotler?

I find it cruelly ironic that so many uncompromising supporters of Israel seem to have no knowledge of the pioneering anti-genocide work done by Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish lawyer and humanitarian whose vision included all oppressed and occupied peoples, not just “his own.” 

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, FRSC, FIEEE, FCAE, FEIC is Emeritus Professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo.

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