Jewish speaker outraged after debate cut short
UNITED NATIONS — Canada’s top diplomat at the United Nations in Geneva used his position as debate chair to cut short an accredited speaker as he detailed anti-Semitism in Islamic-sourced books.
The action by Ambassador Marius Grinius took place in the UN’s Human Rights Council, where Muslim and Arab countries regularly deliver harangues against the “Zionist Entity” — a term many of them use to describe Israel.
He said David Littman, delivering a joint statement for the Association for World Education and the World Union for Progressive Judaism, had been “off topic” as the chamber debated a series of human rights reports.
Littman said his bid to call for a “universal condemnation” of defamations of Judaism was appropriate because a report dealing with freedom of expression and hate speech had been at the top of the agenda list.
“There was no valid reason for me to be stopped by the chair,” he wrote in a letter of protest to Grinius Monday.
“We are constantly stopped by points of order by (Muslim) delegates . . . It is very depressing to be censored this time by the Canadian chairman.”
The office for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said it was looking more closely at what happened during the debate, which took place Friday. Officials said a preliminary inquiry suggested UN procedural officials had been consulted.
“This was a procedural ruling and in no way indicative of the views of the Government of Canada on either the content of Mr. Littman’s remarks or on the issue of defamation of religions,” said Catherine Loubier, spokeswoman for Cannon.
Littman said in an interview Grinius knew that what he was saying was “incendiary” for Muslim and Arab countries in the 47-member council, which last year ruled references to Islamic Shariah law were prohibited in debates.
“Our statement revealed the incitement to religious hatred in the Muslim world, which indicates that only Islamophobia is considered a subject for debate, and not Christianophobia or Judiophobia,” said Littman, who regularly addresses the human rights body as a representative of non-governmental organizations approved by the UN’s Economic and Social Council.
Though Canada holds a vice-president position at the council, Grinius sat as chair because the Nigerian president had been absent.
The first interruption came at two minutes into Littman’s statement, after he had spoken of two books he said were anti-Semitic, but which were available on UN premises in Geneva during a December event organized by the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference.
After telling Littman he could continue only if he stopped “straying off the subject matter,” Grinius cut short the statement after about another minute — ahead of its conclusion.
Pakistani Ambassador Zamir Akram, whose mission co-ordinates OIC affairs at the council, said the matter was between the “Canadian chair and the NGO.”
Littman claimed in his letter that a “senior western” council representative was among several delegates who privately agreed with him that he had not been out of order. The Geneva-based monitoring group UN Watch openly offered its support.
“This was a very troubling interruption of a speech protesting the distribution at the UN of a vile anti-Semitic book,” said Hillel Neuer, UN Watch executive director. “We’re used to seeing NGOs interrupted . . . by Iran, Pakistan, and Egypt. But diplomats from democracies need to resist, not accommodate, the forces of censorship and intolerance.”
Procedural rules at the UN can often be complicated, and are as such susceptible to being used by certain delegations to stymie debate.
Littman acknowledged in his letter to Grinius the Canadian had outlined a procedural limitation that prompted the interruption — but he dismisses the explanation.
“This is a very strange interpretation of the ‘rules of procedure’ by a chairman,” he wrote.
According to Littman’s letter, Grinius said the report in question had not been mentioned in a separate “Introduction of Reports” available in print the morning of the debate.