Irwin Cotler delivered the hand-written note from the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin that began the peace process between the two countries.

The former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada had been studying in Egypt when he was called to meet with the president.

“He asked me two questions,” Cotler recalls on this week’s episode of Wine with Adam with Adam Bellos. The first was, “Can I make peace with the [Israeli] government? I said yes, and it can carry the rest of Israel. And then he asked, ‘Can I make peace with Menachem Begin?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know Prime Minister Begin, but he’s known to me as being a principled leader… I believe he would make peace with the most important and significant Arab country.”

Then, the president handed Cotler the note.

Cotler had never met Begin and recommended Sadat go through “official channels,” but the Egyptian leader refused. “I’d rather give the note to somebody the Israelis will trust,” said Sadat.

“And so, what happens then is a matter of fortune,” Cotler recalls. “Ends up a day later, I was sitting in [Begin’s] office.”

Irwin Cotler in 2012. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

‘Pursue justice, combat injustice’

As Cotler and Bellos enjoy a bottle of 2018 Tulip Black, they discuss Cotler’s decades-long fight for justice and human rights around the world. Cotler was at the forefront of the battle to release Natan Sharansky and worked to free Nelson Mandela, who became a personal friend.

“Sharansky and Mandela were fighting for the same thing,” Cotler contends. “They were both fighting for freedom. They were both fighting for democracy. They were both fighting for equality.”

He recalls a meeting with Pik Botha, South Africa’s foreign minister under apartheid, in which he told the leader that “South Africa is the only post-World War II country that has institutionalized racism…. I said that apartheid is … a racist legal regime, and for so long as it takes, from wherever I am, I’m going to fight this racist legal regime until it is dismantled.”

His battle for South Africa and Mandela’s freedom is one of the reasons he believes it is “absurd” to accuse Israel of being an apartheid state.

“It demeans the real heroism of those who fought against the real apartheid,” says Cotler.

Who is the greatest violator of human rights today?

Xi Jinping, the president of China, says Cotler.

And what is his message for the next generation?

“Pursue justice, combat injustice.”


Jewish News Syndicate

With geographic, political and social divides growing wider, high-quality reporting and informed analysis are more important than ever to keep people connected.

Our ability to cover the most important issues in Israel and throughout the Jewish world—without the standard media bias—depends on the support of committed readers.

If you appreciate the value of our news service and recognize how JNS stands out among the competition, please click on the link and make a one-time or monthly contribution.

We appreciate your support.