Statement by Rabbi Michael Melchior
Deputy Foreign Minister of the State of Israel
Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
September 3, 2001
Madame Chairperson. Distinguished
Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I have the honour to represent
Israel at this important gathering, and I am proud to deliver this statement,
which was to have been presented by Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael
Melchior. Rabbi Melchior is not participating in this conference because: of
the negative developments which appear to be materializing.
Why, when the world was
created, did God create just one man, Adam, and one Avoman, Eve? The Rabbis
answered: so that all humankind would come from a single union, to teach us
that we are all brothers and sisters.
This Conference was dedicated
to that simple proposition. We, all of us, have a common lineage, and are all,
irrespective of race, religion or gender, created in the divine; image. Indeed,
this single idea, unknown to all other ancient civilizations, may be the greatest
gift that the Jewish people has given to the world, the recognition of the equality
and dignity of every human being.
The foremost right that
follows from this principle is the right to be free, not to be a slave. It is
imperative that international community address and duly acknowledge, already
far too late, the magnitude of the tragedy of slavery.
The horror of slavery is
profoundly engraved in the experience of the Jewish people - a people formed
in slavery. For hundreds of years the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt
until, as the Book of Exodus recounts, the call: `Let my people go' heralded
the first national liberation movement in history, and the model for every liberation
which was to follow.
The Jewish response to
slavery was remarkable. Rather than forget or sublimate the :suffering of slavery,
Jewish tradition insisted that every Jew must remember and relive it. And to
this day, on Passover, every Jewish family reenacts the experience of slavery,
eats the bread of affliction, and appreciates once again the taste of freedom.
Through the ages of our exile this psychodrama has had a profound impact on
the Jewish psyche: making sure that every child born into comfort knows the
pains of oppression, and every child born into oppression knows the hope of
But remembrance of our
suffering as slaves has a more important function - to remind ourselves of our
moral obligations. The experience of oppression brings no privilege, but rather
responsibility. We have a responsibility to protect the weak, the widow and
the orphan and the stranger, because as the Bible says: "You yourselves
were strangers in the land of Egypt." Even God, in the first and most fundamental
of the 10 commandments, :identifies Himself not as 'Creator of the World' or
'Splitter of the Red Sea'. but as 'the One who freed you from slavery.
And indeed in every country
in which they have lived, Jews have been in the forefront of the battle for
human rights and freedom from oppression. The same urge for national liberation,
that led to the Exodus, and that led to the Zionist dream that Jews could live
in freedom in their land, was intrinsically bound up with the belief that not
just one people, but all peoples must be free. It was this conviction that Theodor
Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, expressed in his book Allneuland,
as early as 1902:
There is still one problem of racial misfortune unsolved. The depths of that problem only a Jew can comprehend. I refer to the problem of the Blacks. Just
call to mind all those terrible episodes of the slave trade. of human beings who merely because they were black were stolen like cattle. taken prisoners. captured and sold. Their children grew up in strange lands, the ob.jects of contempt and hostility because their complexions were different. I am not ashamed to say, though I may expose myself to ridicule for saying so, that one(,. I have witnessed the redemption of Israel, my people, I wish to assist the redemption of the Black people.
As Herzl understood, remembrance of slavery is integral to the Jewish experience. A Jew cannot be truly free if he or she does not have compassion on those who are enslaved.
If slavery is one form
of racist atrocity, antisemitism is another. And by antisemitisml, let us be
clear, we mean the hatred of Jews. The word 'antisemitism' was deliberately
coined in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr, an anti-Jewish racist in Germany, to replace
the term judenhass, Jewhatred, which had gone out of favor. It has always, and
only, been used to describe hatred and discrimination directed at Jews. Attempts
to eradicate the plain meaning of the word are not only antisemitic, indeed
they ate anti-semantic.
Those uncomfortable recognizing
the existence of antisemitism not only try to redefine the term, they try to
deny that it is different from any other form of discrimination. But it is a
unique form of hatred. It is directed at those of particular birth, irrespective
of their faith, and those of particular faith, irrespective of their birth.
It is the oldest and most persistent form of group hatred; in our century this ultimate hatred has led to the ultimate crime, the Holocaust.
But antisemitism goes far
beyond hatred of Jews. It has arisen where Jews have never lived, and survived
where only Jewish cemeteries remain. And while Jews may be the first to suffer
from its influence, they have rarely been the last.
Antisemitism reveals the
inner corruption of a society, because at its root it is fueled by a rejection
of the humane and moral values the Jewish people bequeathed to the world. As
Anne Frank, the Jewish schoolgirl in hiding from the Nazis in occupied Amsterdam,
wrote in her Diary:
If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left, when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed, will be held up as an example. Who knows, it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good., and for that reason only do we now suffer.
Anne Frank was murdered
by the Nazis in Bergen-Belsen for being a Jew, just one of over one million
Jewish children to be killed in the Holocaust.
Those who cannot bring
themselves to recognize the unique evil of antisemitism, similarly cannot accept
the stark fact of the Holocaust, the first systematic attempt to destroy an
entire people. The past decade has witnessed an alarming increase in attempts
to deny the simple fact of this atrocity, at the very time that the Holocaust
is passing from living memory to history. After wiping out 6 million Jewish
lives, there are those who would wipe out their deaths. At this Conference too,
we are witnessing a vile attempt to generalize and ;pluralize the word `Holocaust',
and to empty it of its meaning as a reference to a specific historic event with
a clear and vital message for all humanity.
Could there be anything
worse than to brutally, systematically annihilate a people; to take the proud
Jews of Vilna, Warsaw, Minsk, Lodz: to burn their holy books. to steal their
dignity, their freedom, their hair, their teeth: to turn them into numbers,
to slaves. to the ashes of Auschwitz, Treblinka. Majdanek and Dachau`? Could
anything be worse that this? And the answer is yes, there is something even
worse: to do such a thing, and then to deny it. to trivialize it, to take from
the mourners, the children and the grandchildren, the legitimacy of their grief,
and from all humanity the urgent lesson that might stop it happening again.
The 20th century which
witnessed the atrocities of the Holocaust also witnessed the fulfillment of
the Zionist dream, the reestablishment of a Jewish state in Israel's historic
land. For Zionism is quite simply that - the national movement of the Jewish
people, based on an unbroken connection, going back some 4000 years, between
the People of the Book: and the Land of the Bible. It is like the liberation
movements of Africa and Asia, the national liberation movement of the Jewish
And it is a movement of
which other national liberation movements can be justly proud. It has strived
continually to establish a society which reflects highest ideals of democracy
and justice for all its inhabitants, in which Jew and Arab can live together,
in which women and men have equal rights, in which there is freedom of thought
of expression, and in which all have access to the judicial process to ensure
these rights are protected.
The aspiration to build
such a society was enshrined from the outset in Israel's Declaration of Independence:
The State of Israel... will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitant: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of creed, race or gender; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.
It is a tall task. It is
a constant struggle. And we do not always succeed. But, even in. the face of
the open hostility of its neighbors and continued threats to its existence.
there are few countries that have made such efforts to realize such a vision.
Few countries of Israel's age and size have welcomed immigrants from over one
hundred countries, of all colors and tongues, sent medical aid and disaster
relief to alleviate human tragedy wherever it strikes, maintained a free press,
including the freest Arabic press anywhere in the Middle East.
And yet those who cannot
bring themselves to say the words `the Holocaust'. or to recognize antisemitism
for the evil that it is. would have us condemn the 'racist practices of Zionism'.
Did any one of those Arab states which conceived this obscenity stop for one
moment to consider their own record? Or to think, for that matter, of the situation
of the Jews and other minorities their own countries?
These states would have
us believe that they are anti-Zionist, not antisemitic, but again and again
this lie is disproved. What are the despicable caricatures of Jews that fill
the Arab press, and are being circulated at this conference. What are the vicious
libels so freely invented and disseminated by our enemies - about the use of
poison gas, or depleted uranium, or injecting babies with the Aids virus - if
not the reincarnation of age-old antisemiitic canards?
To criticize policies of
the Government of Israel - or of any country - is legitimate, even vital: indeed
as a democratic state many Israelis do just that. But there is profound difference
between criticizing a country, and denying it's right to exist. Anti-Zionism,
the denial of Jews the basic right to a home, is nothing but antisemitism, pure
and simple. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:
You declare. my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely 'antiZionist'. And I say. let the truth ring forth from the high mountaintops. Let it echo through the valleys of God's green earth: When people criticize Zionism they mean Jews... Zionism is nothing less than the dream and ideal of the Jewish people returning to live in their own land...and what is anti-Zionism? 1t is the denial to the Jew of the fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord to all other nations of the globe. It is discrimination against Jews because they are Jews. In short it is antisemitism.
The venal hatred of Jews
that has taken the form of anti-Zionism, and which has surfaced at this Conference
is, however, different in one crucial way from the antisemitism of the past.
Today it is being deliberately propagated and manipulated for political ends.
Children are not born as racists, racism is a result of lack of education and
political manipulation. And today generations of Palestinian children are being
deliberately and systematically indoctrinated, with textbooks stained with blood
libels, and children's television programs dripping with hatred. This high-risk
strategy is bound to fail, but it will exact a heavy price.
The conflict between us
and our Palestinian neighbors is not a racial, and has no place at this Conference.
It is political and territorial, and as such can and should be resolved to end
the suffering and bring peace and security to the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
The path towards such a resolution is clear: an immediate cessation of violence
and terror and a return to negotiations as recommended by the Mitchell Committee
Report which both parties have accepted. The outrageous and manic accusations
we have heard here are attempts to turn a political issue into a racial one,
with almost no hope of resolution.
I will not refer here,
Madam Chairperson, to the disappointing and hate filled statements we have heard
from the Head of the Palestinian Authority. Rather than to utilize this vital
forum to inspire his own people, and the people of the world to seek peace,
honour and harmony, he chose this podium to incite bitterness and hatred. Another
missed opportunity by the leader of the Palestinian people.
Barely a year ago, at Camp
David, the Israeli Government demonstrated its deep commitment to peace by offering
our Palestinian neighbours far-reaching compromises. These compromises, you
will recall, were applauded by the entire international community. But the Palestinians
did not accept these proposals, nor did they put forward any compromise proposals
of their own. To our deep dismay they responded with a wave of violence. Over
the past year this violence escalated into protracted and inhuman attacks on
the Israeli civilian population forcing Israel to assume a role which we abhor,
defending our citizens militan, means, which we had hoped and prayed would be
relegated to the past.
Deputy Foreign Minister
Rabbi Melchior's own cousins, two little girls and their brother, lost their
legs only a few weeks ago in a terrorist attack on a bus carrying children to
school. Many Palestinian children have likewise been wounded for life. The vicious
libels, the delegitimization and dehumanization we have heard at this Conference
will do nothing to prevent more Israeli and Palestinian mothers and fathers
bringing their young ones to their graves.
But here today, something
greater even than peace in the Middle East is being sacrificed - the highest
values of humanity. Racism, in all its forms, is one of the most widespread
and pernicious evils, depriving millions of hope and fundamental rights. It
might have been hoped that this first Conference of the 21st century would have
taken up the challenge of, if not eradicating racism, at least disarming it:
But instead humanity is being sacrificed to a political agenda. Barely a decade
after the UN repealed the infamous `Zionism is Racism' resolution, which Secretary-General
Kofi Annan described, with characteristic understatement. as a "lov, point"
in the historv of the United Nations, a group of states for whom the terms 'racism'.
'discrimination', and even 'human rights' simply do not appear in their domestic
lexicon. have hijacked this Conference and plunged us to even greater depths.
Can there be a greater
irony than the fact that a conference convened to combat the scourge of racism
should give rise to the most racist declaration in a major international organization
since the Second World War?
Despite the vicious anti-Semitism
we have heard here, I do not fear for the Jewish people, which has learned to
be resilient and to hold fast to its faith.
Despite the virulent incitement
against my country, I do not fear for Israel, which has the strength not just
of courage, but also of conviction.
But I do fear, deeply,
for the victims of racism. For the slaves, the disenfranchised, the oppressed,
the inexplicably hated, the impoverished, the despised, the millions who turn
their eves to this hall, in the frail hope that it may address their suffering.
Who see instead that a blind and venal hatred of the Jews has turned their hopes
into a farce. For them I fear.
We are here as representatives
of states, and states of their nature have political interests and agendas.
But we are also human beings, all of us brothers and sisters created in the
divine image. And in those quiet moments when Ave recognize our common humanity,
and look into our soul, let us consider what Ave came here to do - and what
we have in fact done:
We came to learn from our
history, but we find it being buried to hide its lessons. We came to communicate
in the language of humanity, but we hear its vocabulary twisted beyond all comprehension.
We came out of respect for the sacred values entrusted to us, but see them here
perverted for political ends.
And ultimately, we came to serve the victims of racism, but have witnessed yet another atrocitv, committed in their name.