By Henok Yihdego,
DAVID MATAS, a well-known international human rights lawyer and activist who regularly speaks to the press on behalf of Eritrean refugees in Canada is drawing criticism from people who say they are troubled by the Winnipeg-based lawyer’s militant public support for the state of Israel.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Eritreans residing in Israel today receive no social assistance and live under constant threat of arrest and deportation. Described as infiltrators by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they are not recognized as refugees and often live without any rights.
Some are asking how Mr. Matas, a former Harper appointee to the Rights and Democracy Board, would treat the question of Eritrean refugees living in Israel given his dogmatic support for the latter state.
One Eritrean refugee who lives in Canada and asked to remain anonymous said, “You cannot be a defender of abuses for one country while being a defender of rights everywhere else. He should speak out against Israel’s treatment of Eritreans but he will never do that”
Matas’ lack of compassion for Palestinian refugees also raises doubts about his role as a voice for Eritrean refugees. Critical of both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for having endorsed the claimed right of Palestinians to Israel—he has accused them in the past of abandoning their human rights mandates. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both also called on Israel to cease attacks that cause loss of civilian life in violation of the international law, a widely accepted reality that Mr. Matas has in the past dismissed as anti-Israel diatribe and perfectly acceptable under the right of self-defense.
United Nations Secretary General – Ban Ki-moon has condemned recently what he called the outrageous and unjustifiable Israeli shelling of a U.N shelter in Gaza that sheltered displaced Palestinian civilians. The United States also said it was “appalled” by the “disgraceful” behavior of Israel but equally criticized the hiding of weapons at UN facilities in Gaza. The UN Human Rights Council voted recently to launch an inquiry into the ongoing Israeli offensive’s alleged violations of international laws. Navi Pillay, the UN rights chief, likened Israel’s military actions to possible war crimes.
Mr. Matas’ is a member of the Law Society of Manitoba and has been involved extensively in matters relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict such as:
On the issue of child victims during Israeli military operations, Matas has argued that it is impossible to assume on the basis of age that a victim is not a terrorist. Believes the onus is on Hamas and not the responder Israel, who is innocent in these circumstances.
Led the campaign to denounce the existence of a Canadian Palestinian Film Festival.
In 2010 Called for a ban on anti-Israeli apartheid activities on university campuses in Manitoba.
Has likened criticisms of the State of Israel as either anti-Semitic or a defense of terrorism.
Dismissed Amnesty International for its support of the Palestinian right of return.
Supports the legality of disproportionate military response in Gaza.