UN has ‘duty to speak out’ against anti-Semitism, Ban tells General Assembly

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (on monitors) addresses the General Assembly meeting on the rise in anti-Semitic violence via video. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

22 January 2015 – During an informal meeting of the General Assembly this morning to address concerns of a rise in anti-Semitic violence worldwide, top United Nations officials echoed the view of keynote speaker, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who lamented the ‘renewed advance of this radical inhumanity.’

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the meeting via video message, expressing solidarity in the worldwide fight against anti-Semitism and noting that Jews have experienced “insidious bias” and “overt violence” throughout the course of history.

The event was initiatied by the Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN and convened by the President of the General Assembly, at the request of several UN Members delegations, including Israel, the United States and Canada.

“The systematic murder of millions of European Jews in the Holocaust showed anti-Semitism at its most monstrous,” said Mr. Ban. “A United Nations that wants to be true to its founding aims and ideals has a duty to speak out against anti-Semitism.”

Noting that extremism is on the rise worldwide, he said responses to it had to avoid perpetuating cycles of demonization and playing into the hands of those who seek to divide. One particular trap related to the Middle East conflict.

“Grievances about Israeli actions must never be used as an excuse to attack Jews,” he said. “In the same vein, criticisms of Israeli actions should not be summarily dismissed as anti-Semitism.”

Acting President of the General Assembly Alvaro Mendonca e Moura looked ahead to the International Day of Commemoration of the Victims of the Holocaust next week, underlining not only the need to remember the tragedies but to learn from the ‘unspeakable atrocities’ committed. The international community also had an obligation to prevent acts of intolerance and hate from happening again.

Anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance and prejudice were on the rise despite the prohibition of religious and racial discrimination enshrined in many of the international community’s most important foundational documents, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“As we witness the shadow of intolerance permeating so many segments of public and private life, it is of utmost importance that all stakeholders be actively involved in our efforts to fight against prejudice, while also promoting and strengthening tolerance, mutual understanding, dialogue and respect,” added Mr. Mendonca e Moura.

Many tools were available to do so, he said, underlining the importance of education and pointing out that he would convene a high-level thematic debate on 6 April, on ‘Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation.’

Keynote speaker Bernard-Henri Lévy said the General Assembly was given the ‘sacred task’ of preventing the spirits of anti-Semitism from awakening. They had awoken, though, he said, and that was why this meeting was taking place.

He sought to refute modern analysis of anti-Semitism, including the idea that it was just variety of racism, saying that looking the evil ‘squarely in the face’ required better understanding and the abandonment of old clichés about anti-Semitism and how it operates.

Today, he continued, anti-Semitism stemmed from an ‘anti-Zionist delirium’ in those opposing the re-establishment of Jews in their historic homeland, from Holocaust denial and from the perceived use by Jews of the memory of their suffering to ‘overshadow’ other martyrs.

“Anti-Semitism needs those three formulations, which are like the three vital components of a moral atomic bomb,” Mr. Lévy said. “Each alone would be enough to discredit a people but when the three are combined, we can be pretty sure of facing an explosion in which all Jews everywhere in the world will be the designated targets.”


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