‘JEWS EVERYWHERE MUST FEEL THAT THE UNITED NATIONS IS THEIR HOME, TOO,’ SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS SEMINAR ON ANTI-SEMITISM
‘JEWS EVERYWHERE MUST FEEL THAT THE UNITED NATIONS IS THEIR HOME, TOO,’ SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS SEMINAR ON ANTI-SEMITISM
|Press ReleaseHR/4773 PI/1589|
‘jews everywhere must feel that the United Nations is their home, too,’
Secretary-General tells seminar on anti-semitism
Daylong Programme Is First in Series on ‘Unlearning Intolerance’
“The fight against anti-Semitism must be our fight, and Jews everywhere must feel that the United Nations is their home, too”, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today told a seminar entitled “Confronting Anti-Semitism: Education for Tolerance and Understanding”.
The daylong programme, moderated by the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Shashi Tharoor and Raymond Sommereyns, Director of the Outreach Division, Department of Public Information (DPI), is the first in a DPI series entitled “Unlearning Intolerance”. Open to members of Permanent Missions, Secretariat staff, representatives of non-governmental organizations and the media, today’s three panel discussions were: “Perspectives on Anti-Semitism Today” (Panel I); “Education for Tolerance and Understanding” (Panel II); and “Confronting Anti-Semitism” (Panel III).
Explaining that future seminars would deal with other specific groups against whom intolerance was directed in many parts of the world, Mr. Annan said that anti-Semitism was a good place to start because, throughout history, that had been a unique manifestation of hatred, intolerance and persecution. The rise of anti-Semitism everywhere was a threat to people everywhere. In fighting it, the world was fighting for the future of all humanity.
It had been rightly said that the United Nations had emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust, he said. Acknowledging that the United Nations’ record on anti-Semitism had, at times, fallen short of its ideals, he urged that, this time, the world must not, could not, be silent. Everyone must be prepared to examine the nature of today’s anti-Semitism more closely, which was the purpose of the seminar. There was no more fitting time for Member States to take action on the need to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms, in action comparable perhaps to the resolution on apartheid or the admirable recent resolution of the Commission on Human Rights concerning the protection of Arabs and Muslims.
Holocaust survivor and Nobel peace laureate, Elie Wiesel, said that anti-Semitism was the oldest collective bigotry in recorded history. Anti-Semitism had even managed to penetrate the United Nations’ atmosphere. Speaking about that at the United Nations had made him wonder whether the world body and its moral and intellectual leadership had perhaps forgotten the consequences of anti-Semitism. Some in the audience had endured the consequences, and knew what that had meant. “We were there. We saw our parents, we saw our friends die because of anti-Semitism”, he said.
Had it not been for Mr. Annan’s courageous intervention, the infamous resolution comparing Zionism to racism would still be in effect, he said. At the 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism, the Secretary-General’s efforts had been less successful, however. Instead of being a conference against hatred, it had become a conference of hatred -- for Israel, the State and the people.
He turned to the United Nations, together with the Secretary-General, to ask the world’s leadership to fulfil its mission and use its political and moral authority to outlaw the plague of anti-Semitism.
In the ensuing discussion, panellist and Professor at Toronto’s YorkUniversity, Anne Bayefsky, said the Durban Conference had been a breeding ground and global soapbox for anti-Semitism. The relationship between Jews and the United Nations was at an all-time low, with the Organization the leading global purveyor of anti-Semitism. The Secretary-General’s criticism of Israel’s construction of a security barrier on the West Bank and its assassination of Hamas leaders had made no mention of Israeli victims of terrorism. The United Nations led the demonization of Jews while deifying the Palestinians. The Seminar could be a turning point if the General Assembly adopted a resolution on anti-Semitism and the Secretary-General appointed a special rapporteur on anti-Semitism.
Rabbi and Executive Vice-President of the New York Board of Rabbis, Joseph Potasnik, said that some in the audience used to protest, chain themselves to the fence, and get arrested outside the United Nations. He was thankful today for the opportunity to say inside what used to be said only on the outside. The United Nations, born after the Holocaust, had a responsibility to make noise on behalf of those for whom very little noise had been made. He wanted to believe that anti-Semitism was also anti-Islam. Yet, when countries like Libya and Syria sat on the Human Rights Commission, “you have a sequel to ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, and the inmates are running the asylum”, he said.
In closing, Mr. Tharoor said that, in fighting racism and other forms of discrimination, anti-Semitism was the right place to start, as that was a blot on the record of humanity. Rising anti-Semitism was a threat to all and fighting it was everyone’s responsibility. The United Nations had not always lived up to its ideals in facing up squarely to anti-Semitism, but it should also be understood that political action was required by the Member States.
He said that the Organization was not in any way trying to shirk its responsibilities, but participants should realize that the process was a slow one. The seminar was only a first step, but a new chapter, nevertheless. Many suggestions had been made during the conference, and the United Nations had an obligation to move the discussion to the next level. The Department would compile the suggestions made at the meeting and convey those to the Secretary-General.
The other panellists were as follows.
Panel I -- James H. Charlesworth, George L. Collard Professor of New Testament, Languages and Literature, Princeton Theological Seminary; Jacob Levy, Founder, Gallup, Israel and Co-Chairman, Trendum, Israel; Melvyn I. Weiss, Israel Policy Forum, founding partner, Milberg Weiss; Mark Weitzman, Director, Task Force against Hate, Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Panel II -- Swami Adiswarananda, Minister and Spiritual Leader, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York; Edgar Bronfman, President, World Jewish Congress; Abraham Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League; Sister Ruth Lautt, O.P. Sisters of Saint Dominic of Amityville; and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, President, American Sufi Muslim Association.
Panel III -- and Stephen P. Cohen, President, Institute for Middle East Peace and Development; Felice Gaer, Director, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights of the American Jewish Committee; Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice-Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; and Ephraim Isaac, Director, Institute of Semitic Studies, Princeton.
The first seminar of the Department of Public Information (DPI) series “Unlearning Intolerance” opened this morning on the topic “Confronting Anti-Semitism: Education for Tolerance and Understanding”. The daylong programme will include statements and panel discussions and is open to members of United Nations permanent missions, Secretariat staff, representatives of non-governmental organizations and the media.
SHASHI THAROOR, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, welcomed participants to the first of a series of seminars by the Department of Public Information (DPI) entitled “Unlearning Intolerance”. Its realization was a result of the reform of the United Nations, which the Secretary-General had authorized and for which he had provided a specific mandate for educational research. Then, Mr. Tharoor introduced two Nobel peace laureates -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Eli Wiesel.
KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General, said that, in holding the series, the United Nations was true to one of its most sacred purposes of the world’s people, in whose name the Organization was founded to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another. No Muslim, no Jew, no Christian, no Hindu or Buddhist -- no one true to the principles of any of the world’s faiths, no one who claimed a cultural, national or religious identity based on truth, decency or justice could be neutral in the fight against intolerance. Clearly, success in that struggle depended on the effort to educate. Intolerance could be unlearned. Tolerance and mutual respect had to be learned. Future seminars would deal with other specific groups against whom intolerance was directed in many parts of the world. The groups overlapped, but each sadly encountered prejudice in their own right.
He said that anti-Semitism was a good place to start because, throughout history, that had been a unique manifestation of hatred, intolerance and persecution. Anti-Semitism had flourished even in communities where Jews had never lived and had been a harbinger of discrimination against others. The rise of anti-Semitism everywhere was a threat to people everywhere. In fighting anti-Semitism, the world was fighting for the future of all humanity. The Holocaust had been the epitome. Germany in the 1930s was a modern society on the cutting edge of human technological advance and cultural achievement, yet it was that society that had sought to exterminate Jews from the face of earth. He knew, and yet still could not really comprehend, that 6 million innocent Jewish men, women and children had been murdered just because those were Jews. That had been a crime against humanity, which defied imagination.
The United Nations had come into being when the world had first learned of the full horror of the concentration and extermination camps, he said. It had been rightly said that the United Nations had emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust. A human rights agenda that failed to address anti-Semitism denied its history. Indeed, worldwide revulsion at that terrible genocide had been the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The day before its adoption in 1948, the General Assembly had adopted a convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide. Sixty years later, anti-Semitism, once again, was rearing its head. The world was witnessing an alarming resurgence of that phenomenon in new forms and manifestation.
This time, the world must not, could not, be silent, he said. Everyone owed it to themselves and his or her Jewish brothers and sisters to stand firmly against a particular tide of hatred that anti-Semitism represented. Everyone must be prepared to examine the nature of today’s anti-Semitism more closely, which was the purpose of the seminar. The United Nations’ record on anti-Semitism had, at times, fallen short of its ideals. The General Assembly resolution of 1975, which equated Zionism with racism, had been an especially unfortunate decision. He was glad it had since been rescinded. But, there remained a need for constant vigilance. He urged everyone to actively and uncompromisingly refute those who sought to deny the fact of the Holocaust or its uniqueness, or who continued to spread lies and stereotypical views about Jews and Judaism or who tried to use the Palestinian cause to incite hatred against Jews in Israel and elsewhere. The human rights machinery of the United Nations had been mobilized in that battle and must continue.
He said there was no more fitting time for Member States to take action on the need to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms, in action comparable perhaps to the resolution on apartheid or the admirable recent resolution of the Commission on Human Rights concerning the protection of Arabs and Muslims, particularly attacks on their religious and culture sites. Were not Jews entitled to the same degree of concern and protection? Member States could follow the excellent lead of the Berlin declaration, recently adopted by the member States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Those 55 governments condemned, without reservation, all manifestations of anti-Semitism and all other acts of intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occurred. They also condemned all attacks motivated by anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred or religious intolerance and it had also declared unambiguously that international development or political events, including in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justified anti-Semitism.
The OSCE had proclaimed those principles, which he hoped the broader United Nations membership would adopt, he said. Even more important, it must make sure those principles were put in practice and carefully monitored. The fight against anti-Semitism “must be our fight, and Jews everywhere must feel that the United Nations is their home, too”. That vision must be made a reality “while there were still survivors of the Holocaust among us -- we owe them no less”.
ELIE WIESEL, Holocaust survivor and Nobel peace laureate, said he had thought that the virus of anti-Semitism had disappeared, but he had been wrong. He was here today to plead to the Secretary-General, on behalf of his people, who, in some quarters continued to be vilified, threatened, offended and physically marked for humiliation, if not worse. Call that anti-Semitism, a term coined at the end of nineteenth century, or simply Jew hating. Anti-Semitism was the oldest collective bigotry in recorded history. Of all group hatreds in antiquity, anti-Semitism alone had survived. That was no longer political, social, religious or ethnic -- that was existential, metaphysical. Other people, traditions, religious communities and cultures had been persecuted for a variety of reasons, but anti-Semitism combined them all. The anti-Semites did not know him, but they hated him. Actually, they hated him even before he was born. The anti-Semite hated the dead, not only the living.
He said that not a week or even a day went by without an anti-Semitic incident. Several European Jews had told him that they lived in fear. Who would have thought that 60 years after the worst tragedy in human history, the incitement to hatred and violence would continue to fill the pages of newspapers and occupy the televisions in too many Muslim countries encouraging hatred towards the entire Jewish people? Anti-Semitism had even managed to penetrate the United Nations’ atmosphere. Had it not been for the Secretary-General’s courageous intervention, the infamous resolution comparing Zionism to racism would still be in effect. The Secretary-General, behind the scenes, had done everything possible and had succeeded. In the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, his efforts had been less successful, and instead of being a conference against hatred it had become a conference of hatred for Israel -- the State and the people.
The United Nations had been created, not only to end aggression and war, but also to protect values, the ideals of humanity, and to shield innocent victims from fascism and Nazism. So, today, he turned to the United Nations, together with the Secretary-General, to ask the world’s leadership to fulfil its mission and use its political and moral authority to outlaw the plague of anti-Semitism. He had devoted most of his adult life to combat society’s evils, but he had never thought he would have to fight anti-Semitism 60 years after the war, 60 years after the inauguration of the United Nations; yet, “here we are”, he said. Naively, he had been convinced that anti-Semitism had died in Auschwitz, but it had not; only the Jews had perished there. Anti-Semitism was alive and well in too many lands, as it had always been.
Speaking of anti-Semitism in this setting, one wondered if the world body and its moral and intellectual leadership had not remembered the consequences of anti-Semitism, he said. Some in the audience had endured the consequences, knew what it meant, and knew where it led. “We were there. We saw our parents, we saw our friends die because of anti-Semitism.” So, that was his plea to the United Nations -- help us fight it; help us disarm it. To do so would be in the interest of the United Nations, for that would serve the cause of humanity at large, for hatred was dangerous and contagious -- a cancer that grew from limb to limb, from person to person, group to group. He or she who hated Jews hated all minorities and all those who were different. He or she would end up hating everybody, and then himself or herself. He urged the United Nations to fight anti-Semitism with vigour, talent, imagination and devotion.
Panel Discussion I
The conference then held a panel discussion on the theme “Perspectives of Anti-Semitism Today” with the following participants: Melvyn Weiss of the Israel Policy Forum; Anne Bayefsky of Toronto’s York University; James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary; and Jacob Levy, founder of Gallup, Israel, and co-Chairman of Trendum.
Mr. Weiss recalled the attacks against the Israeli embassy and cultural centre in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The attack had resulted in casualties that were comparable to those of the Oklahoma City bombing in the United States. The international community must join in proclaiming that no international developments or political actions in the Middle East could justify attacks against Jews.
Ms. Bayefsky, saying that the seminar was taking place at a time when the relationship between Jews and the United Nations were at an all-time low, described the Organization as today’s leading global purveyor of anti-Semitism. The 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism had been a breeding ground and global soapbox for anti-Semitism. The Secretary-General’s criticism of Israel’s construction of a security barrier on the West Bank and its assassination of Hamas leaders had made no mention of Israeli victims of terrorism. The United Nations led the demonization of Jews while deifying the Palestinians. The seminar could reach a turning point if the General Assembly adopted a resolution against anti-Semitism and the Secretary-General appointed a special rapporteur on anti-Semitism.
Mr. Charlesworth said that the evolution of humankind had been marked by a lack of moral advances and a distinct propensity for demonizing those who were different. What was needed was a celebration of difference. The origins of anti-Semitism were complex and not well understood. They could sometimes be traced to the perception that Jews held themselves separately from other communities and claimed that they alone were God’s chosen people. A more sensitive translation of biblical texts was needed. Anti-Semitism was the greatest Christian heresy as almost all the books in the Christian Bible were composed by Jews or by their ancestors and all the Christian beliefs were based on Jewish beliefs. Resurrection of the dead was a peculiarly Jewish concept. Jews stressed love, and Jesus Christ stood out in history for his unique emphasis on it, including love for enemies.
Mr. Levy said that with the development of the Internet, with its reach beyond national borders, group hatred was becoming a world problem instead of one for the attention of governments. Analysis of some 2 million messages had tried to measure anti-American, anti-Jewish and anti-Islam messages on the Internet. The United Nations needed to adopt an anti-hatred index.
MARK WEITZMAN, Director, Task Force against Hate and Terrorism, and Associate Director of Education, SimonWiesenthalCenter, said that to speak of anti-Semitism at the United Nations, where so much anti-Semitism had occurred, gave rise to the hope that that body might condemn and even outlaw anti-Semitism. The distinction between the old anti-Semitism and new anti-Semitism had collapsed. Now, they were linked together in an evolving relationship. Anti-Semitism today might appear to be a new language, but much of that was old and being resuscitated. Earlier forms of anti-Semitism had been essentially repudiated and only flourished in certain parts of the world, although they had lingered in western society. But today, a resurgent anti-Semitism, in its new politicized form, had become acceptable, not only to the masses, but to the elites.
Recalling a statement of the Secretary-General’s, he said that opposition to Israeli actions had been used as a mask for anti-Semitism. The attempt to turn history around and to distort it, and to turn Jews into Nazis was a hallmark of today’s anti-Semitism. It had become an ardent belief that the Jews were implementing a campaign of genocide against the Palestinians. In one newspaper in Geneva, for example, it had been suggested that, instead of taking students to Auschwitz, those should be taken to Bethlehem to see the site of the new holocaust.
In the ensuing discussion, one speaker said she had been puzzled to hear that the relationship between Jews and the United Nations was at an all-time low, and that the United Nations had never held a conference on anti-Semitism, although one was under way today. She wondered how it was possible to say that relationship was at a low point when, for the first time at the United Nations, Jews had been invited to talk among the international community about anti-Semitism. It behoved everyone to recognize that today was a beginning.
Another speaker asked if referring to the Israeli presence in Gaza and the West Bank as occupation was really helpful.
Another speaker asked whether, despite some optimism at the United Nations today, that body was really capable of handling the anti-Semitism issue. Was that the place for action, given the United Nations’ record and the fact that there were two committees devoted to Palestinian causes, but none dealing with the atrocities committed against Israelis? Moreover, in the United Nations, there had been no history of helping Israelis defend themselves against the onslaught of terrorism.
A number of other points were raised in the discussion. Reversing oppression might reverse hatred and anti-Semitism, one participant said. Others suggested: a review of textbooks currently in use in the schools of the 191 Member States and establishment of educational guidelines, since the schools were, more often than not, a source of many problems related to intolerance and Member States must be held accountable for what they are teaching; an examination of the possibility of linking efforts to combat anti-Semitism with the struggle against racism; and a review of the “double standards” suffered by Jewish and Zionist human rights and social services organizations with consultative status in the United Nations.
Dr. Ruth Westheimer stood up and said that, as an orphan of the Holocaust, she would not have thought that she would have to sit and discuss that issue 60 years later. Coming out of Nazi Germany, she had learned to stand up and be counted. She commended participants for discussing the problem and offered her services to any future endeavour in that regard.
Mr. Weitzman, in response to some of the comments and questions, said it was imperative to find out what governments were doing and teaching, and permitting to be taught in their societies. That was a very important part of the mission.
Mr. Levy agreed with one speaker that tying the hatred against Jews and Zionists with other groups would lead to more objectivity in examining anti-Semitism and ways to combat it.
Mr. Charlesworth said that no one with whom he had worked in the late 1980s and early 1990s had had the slightest idea how anti-Semitism would rear its ugly face again throughout the world. A panellist had referred to a Swedish newspaper encouraging teachers to take the children to Bethlehem to see the new holocaust. He said that the Christians living in Bethlehem would stress that it was the Israeli soldiers who were protecting them. He reminded participants that Israel was the only democracy in the Middle East.
Ms. Bayefsky recalled that her first United Nations General Assembly delegation had been with the Canadian Government in 1984. In the 20 years hence, she found that other people were not really interested in anti-Semitism. That had forced her to remember the words of one of her teachers –- if I’m not for myself, then who would be for me? Jews struggled to be part of world history, but they could not make common cause with the members of the United Nations and its Secretariat. That was the real tragedy. The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action said that Palestinians were the victims of Israeli racism -- that was “Zionism is racism” by any other name, and the United Nations, including the Secretary-General, sadly, had turned that into centrepiece of the existing United Nations anti-racism agenda.
She said she hoped that today was a new beginning, but she was not yet sure. For one thing, she awaited the appointment of the Secretary-General’s focal point on anti-Semitism, but reminded participants that the United Nations was an Organization with no definition of terrorism. When terrorists had no name, it would not be possible to move forward on combating anti-Semitism. She needed to hear directly from the United Nations that anti-Semitism meant discrimination against the State of Israel and its occupants.
Mr. Tharoor replied that, as far as the United Nations was concerned, he was aware that words were not enough, but they were part of consciousness-raising and education, and that process never stopped. He thanked the first panel for its contributions and introduced the second.
Panel Discussion II
A second panel discussion, entitled “Education for Tolerance and Understanding”, featured Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League; Edgar Bronfman, President of the World Jewish Congress; Swami Adiswarananda, Minister and Spiritual Leader of New York’s Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center; Sister Ruth Lautt of O.P. Sisters of Saint Dominic of Amityville; and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, President of the American Sufi Muslim Association.
Mr. Foxman said it was appropriate to appreciate the present leadership of the Secretariat and the Secretary-General’s clear denunciation of anti-Semitism, which had broken a taboo, as well as defying the wishes and votes of the Member States constituting the Organization of which he was the head. Words certainly mattered, although it was said that they did not mean much. The crematoria at Auschwitz had begun not with bricks and mortar, but with words. How long would it take for the General Assembly to follow the Secretary-General’s lead and for the United Nations to stop demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish people?
The Secretary-General’s words amounted to a plan of action, he said. While education was an antidote for racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism there was another: in the midst of hate, the most important lesson had been given by the few individuals who had the strength, passion and compassion to stand up and say no to hate. The lesson of Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler had been that people could make a difference, but they had first to stop denying the existence of hate.
Mr. Bronfman said the Seminar was taking place less than 10 years after a meeting in Stockholm where world leaders had stood up to denounce the anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. European anti-Semitism was today reinforced by that of Islamic extremists, which used the presence of the State of Israel as an excuse. While criticism of Israeli policies was permissible, demonization of the entire Jewish people was reprehensible. There had been great progress around the world in combating anti-Semitism, including the efforts of the former West German and present German Governments to institute education laws with strong teachings against anti-Semitism. However, at a time when incidents of anti-Semitism were rising throughout the world, no United Nations official had the responsibility of combating that trend. The Secretary-General should appoint a special representative for that task and issue an annual report on that subject.
Sister Ruth Lautt, of the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Amityville, and a law partner at a Long Island-based law firm, said she was deeply concerned about the worldwide rise in anti-Semitism, particularly how that was taking new and insidious forms, specifically the “demonization” of Israel. Make no mistake about it –- that was anti-Semitism; just the same old sin wrapped in a new politically correct wrapper by a world that was all too willing to believe the worst about the Jewish State. Everyone knew all too well what could happen when that got out of hand, so something should be done about that now. Tragically, for most of 2,000 years of shared salvation history, Christians had not been a blessing to Jews, which had led to Jewish isolation and discrimination.
She said it was time to very aggressively “unteach” the sin of anti-Semitism. She was working on a programme in her Brooklyn diocese, which brought together Jews and Catholics to learn the truths about each other’s religions and unlearn the negative and false stereotypes. The world was collectively faced with a very grave responsibility. Everyone was obliged to work towards the eradication, not only of anti-Semitism, but of hatred and intolerance in every form. When it came to the ancient sin of anti-Semitism, the world had a particular responsibility because it knew all too well how dire the consequences could be. The answer lay, in part, in an honest, thorough, and very aggressive approach to educating people in the truth.
SWAMI ADISWARANANDA, Minister and Spiritual Leader, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre of New York, said that the world was changing. That had become a global village, yet intolerance still separated and divided. Intolerance had many faces -- social, political, psychological and religious. It was intolerance that had prompted peaceful loving human beings to act like brutes, promoted riots, cold wars and anti-Semitism. Intolerance had been the cause of broken homes, broken friendships and broken communities. The basis of tolerance, or the oneness of existence, was the basis of compassion. No one could be at peace while keeping others unhappy, or enjoy prosperity when surrounded by a world of poverty.
He said that tolerance was a message of the great prophets of all traditions, while intolerance was like a tumour. No world was free of all problems and there was no world where diversity could be abolished. Few people in each generation rose above narrowness and intolerance, but that would make the world completely different. There would be no success in our lifetime, but there could be education and heightened awareness at the individual level. The cost of intolerance was very heavy. It was not possible to live together unless a way was found to unlearn, beginning with the individual.
IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, President, American Sufi Muslim Association, said he had been born of Egyptian Arab parents. He loved his Arab inheritance, and he was committed to the right and dignity of all human beings. His religion taught him to believe in one God and taught, like Jews were taught, about that fundamental defining principle. He also believed in the rights of Jews to a homeland, and to live in security and in respect in Israel and around the world. He also believed in the right of all Arabs, Palestinians and non-Palestinians, to live in their ancestral lands and in their right to a life of dignity and economic well-being. Practicing his religion without addressing the fundamental human diseases was insufficient. Among the most important of those were egoism, greed, envy, and selfishness. Anti-Semitism was one manifestation of a pernicious human disease –- racism. That persistent fundamental evil was not in the teaching of any religious traditions.
He said that, since “9/11”, he had been forced to address many issues, not only of the Muslim world and the West, but also of all different religious traditions. He agreed with other panellists that society’s evils had to be pointed out and those wrongs had to be righted. The language of condemnation, however, was insufficient. In fact, the paradigm of condemnation was often a means by which the problem was fuelled. So, the paradigm of the language of condemnation should be shifted to a language of mutual honouring and respect, via a multi-track approach that targeted a number of issues simultaneously -- political, economic, and educational. No single issue would do more to cure anti-Semitism than the resolution of the political conflict.
One speaker, a chief rabbi and professor, said he would be happy to bring together Israeli religious leaders with other religious leaders at the United Nations to promote the dialogue on tolerance among cardinals and rabbis.
Another speaker asked whether the seduction and lure of the resurgence of anti-Semitism could be based on anti-American sentiment, the rise of nationalism in Europe, and a desire to throw off the yoke of responsibility for the Holocaust.
It was suggested by another speaker that, to repent for the past, it was essential to review it and see what went wrong.
Another speaker appealed for the United Nations Secretariat staff to respond to some of the panellists’ suggestions.
A question to Sister Lautt was what she would say to the Latin patriarchs of Jerusalem who taught that Zionism was evil. To Mr. Rauf, how did the Sufi tradition align itself with the Islamic apocalyptic vision, which envisaged Islam as the faith for the entire world and the destruction of the Jewish people?
Another speaker recognized the “good works” of Mr. Tharoor today and for his literary contributions. She also suggested that, with the upcoming General Assembly session, the Secretary-General present the statement he delivered today to the opening of Assembly session.
Mr. Foxman, responding to questions and comments from the floor, said the Secretary-General’s statement this morning represented a course of action in the struggle against anti-Semitism.
Sister RUTH, referring to a question about the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, said that she had made clear her own feelings about anti-Zionism as a manifestation of anti-Semitism and that she knew many other people who also felt that way. The only hope for biblical religion was living together in peace, justice and harmony. That, in turn, could not happen without acknowledgement of the past as the Pope had done by apologizing to the Jewish people during his visit to Israel.
SWAMI ADISWARANANDA, noting the continuing existence of hatred and intolerance, said they would not go away unless people worked to eliminate them. However, good people, unlike bad ones, were not aggressive and were unwilling to take a stand.
IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF said he looked forward to an opportunity to mediate in talks involving Islamic, Jewish and Christian clerics in the United States and around the world. Any attempt to ignore the importance of the religious voice would be doomed to fail. There was a tendency to believe that Islam was against other faiths, but that perception had been created by the fundamentalist militant tradition using a misrepresentation of the separation of Church and State.
Introducing the third panel entitled “Confronting Anti-Semitism”, RAYMOND SOMMEREYNS, Director of the Outreach Division, DPI, also drew attention to a survey of the Secretariat requesting the views of participants on the current seminar.
MALCOLM HOENLEIN, Executive Vice-Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that the stirring remarks of the Secretary-General and Mr. Wiesel this morning had set an appropriate agenda by calling on the United Nations to engage in the fight against anti-Semitism and noting that the United Nations had fallen short of its goals in that regard. For Jews to feel that the United Nations was their home, too, as the Secretary-General had said, there must be a willingness to make fundamental changes. He welcomed convening of the seminar, but that must not be an end in itself. As had been said recently, anti-Semitism was not just a fact of history, but a current event. Those crimes must not be permitted to be shrugged off as inevitable side effects of political conflicts or disagreements. There was no justification for anti-Semitism. As Germany’s Foreign Minister said, what began as prejudice ended in murder.
He called for a clear determination matched by public concerted actions at all levels of society to counter all of the manifestations of anti-Semitism. There could be no excuses, no compromise, no appeasement of those who sought to suppress the Jewish people or their national aspirations. That was a shared responsibility to proactively seek out the sources of anti-Semitism, isolate them, ensure an end to their actions and bring them to justice. The seriousness of the intent of convening the seminar must be demonstrated in this very building and at United Nations agencies. Denial of the Holocaust by representatives to the United Nations, especially at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, must cease, and agencies like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) must be held to account for giving safe haven to those who attacked Jews.
Calling “disgraceful” the proceedings ongoing at the International Court of Justice and the meeting against Israel of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, he said that Israel must not be held to an impossible standard against which no other nation was held. The United Nations must aspire to lead. The steps to be taken as a result of today’s seminar would be the true test of its significance. A United Nations agenda that did not guarantee the fight against anti-Semitism undermined its history. Israel deserved to be treated in the same manner as every other MemberState of the United Nations. No Arab individual was to blame, of course, especially when those individuals were fed a constant diet of venomous hate from the earliest ages. Personally, he was tired of Jews being described as canaries in the mine; it was not natural for them to be victimized.
STEPHEN COHEN, President of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development, said that anti-Zionists could be distinguished from those who saw the world through the lens of anti-Semitism, but both groups shared two major ideas. First, both put an enormous emphasis on the fear and perception of Jews as having a disproportionate amount of power and wealth, including a disproportionate and self-serving control of the American media. While there was a need for clear and open analysis of the structure of American decision-making, that could begin by removing the distorted perception of a Jewish conspiracy theory.
He said that a second aspect was the twisting of the concept of the Holocaust. Rather than evoking the memory of the Holocaust as a horrific and paradigmatic example of evil, and acquiring a basic empathy with the Jewish memory, anti-Semites and anti-Zionists used it to claim that Jews used the Holocaust as an excuse for disregarding the suffering of everyone else during the Second World War and since. Anti-Zionists liked to refer to Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians as Nazi-like without expressing any empathy for the pain of the Jewish experience. They expressed a dangerous refusal to acknowledge Jewish suffering, focusing on one culprit to be condemned and blamed for the conflict rather than moving it to its logical conclusion.
Invoking ant-Semitic arguments and ideas, he said, was one of the best means to distance Jews from the idea of compromise and to make them more afraid, angry, belligerent and increasingly willing to use military force. It was critical that the victimization not be permitted to be owned solely by the victims. When the world community started to redress the victimization and analysed the hatred and the haters, it would free the victims and reduce their need to strike back reflexively. The United Nations must help the victim to feel less alone and to prevent the conviction that anti-Semitism was a permanent condition for Jews. They must be enabled to feel free to be part of a wider world experience politically, as well as culturally and religiously. Making Jews feel confident in the full respect of their rights was the best contribution that the world, especially the United Nations, could make.
FELICE GAER, Director, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights of the American Jewish Committee, said that anti-Semitism was a human rights violation, and must be addressed as such in the United Nations context. It had been agreed at the time of the body’s creation that human rights would be one of the four purposes of the new world body. Non-governmental organizations had pressed hard to ensure that the United Nations would differ from its predecessor, the League of Nations. Non-discrimination had been affirmed and the word went forth that human rights were universal. Those words took hold and transformed the global moral climate, but implementing them fairly and universally had had a chequered history.
She said that anti-Semitism was an abuse with historic dimensions. The United Nations had been founded to look forward and not backward. Intolerance had no place in that institution. In fact, the fight against anti-Semitism had given wings to the modern international human rights movement; yet intolerance had grown and spread, and so had anti-Semitism. Sadly, that had been shunted to the margins of the United Nations’ human rights programmes. Throughout the ages, anti-Semitic policies had tried to push Jews to the margins of society, and tragically, there had been a steady stream of expulsions and even murder. Anti-Semitism had taken many forms; what had persisted were its exclusionary, and often illusory, elements.
The spike in international incidents of anti-Semitism had been dangerous and dramatic, and she applauded the Secretary-General for acknowledging that today. But even as that was happening, it was common for leaders to deny them as anti-Semitic at all; those incidents were not hooliganism; they were human rights abuses. It was not easy to unlearn the anti-Semitism pounded into the hearts and minds of the young for generations. It was time for the United Nations to address anti-Semitism seriously. States did not need to wait for consensus to make their positions known. Their representatives could come to this meeting and express their views on the subject. Political events had taken the United Nations in a different direction, however. The cold war and the politics of the Arab-Israeli dispute had resulted in pushing Jews to the margins, isolating them and robbing them from the same respect applied to all others. Such political events turned human rights instruments on their heads.
She said that the “Zionism is racism” resolution had been a wilful distortion of reality, branding the national aspirations of a single people as illegitimate. It labelled as racist the nationalist aspirations of the one people more victimized by racism than any other. Although that text had been revoked in 1991, 25 States had still opposed the reversal. The Durban Conference on Racism had descended even more deeply into name calling and defamation and had even redefined the term anti-Semitism. Zionism was not racism –- it was the national self-determination movement of the Jewish people and was about the human rights of Jews to live their lives without discrimination, persecution or anti-Semitism. The institutional response of the United Nations to anti-Semitism had been inadequate. The commitment made today by the Secretary-General, however, had led her to believe that the seminar could be a turning point on that issue.
EPHRAIM ISAAC, Director of the Institute of Semitic Studies at Princeton, said many speakers had given statistics and defined anti-Semitism in various ways, he noted, adding that he himself had experienced discrimination as an African, an Arab, a Jew and even -– mistakenly -– as a Muslim. Travelling to Boston 10 days ago, he had learned that a couple on the same trip had discussed whether to call the police because they suspected him of being an Islamic terrorist due to his attire. As a student in early-1970s Baltimore, he and his friends had been thrown out of a coffee shop because they were Africans. Later, while teaching at Harvard, he had learned that some fellow professors claimed he was not really a black man, but a black Jew.
He said his first experience of discrimination had come during the fascist occupation of Ethiopia when the Italian invaders had transferred Jews into camps. His father was an Arab Jew from Yemen, where both Arabs and Muslims respected the Yemenite Jews due to their strict observance of their respective religious faiths and although their relationship was not perfect, Arabs and Jews had lived together harmoniously in that country for centuries. Jews and Arabs were brothers and must fight against anti-Semitism together because their fates had been tied together for centuries.
Calling upon Arabs to confront anti-Semitism, he said that form of hatred had originally discriminated against Arabs, calling them primitive, irrational, emotional and anti-democratic. The animosity between them was only 100 years old. Africans must also confront anti-Semitism because they had experienced the most dehumanizing forms of slavery, colonialism and genocide. If any two peoples could be witness to the bitterness of colonialism and slavery, as well as the odium of genocide, it was the Africans and the Jews. While combating new hatreds, they must not lower their guard in the fight against anti-Semitism.
JOSEPH POTASNIK, Rabbi and Executive Vice-President, New York Board of Rabbis, said that some in the audience used to protest, chain themselves to the fence, and get arrested outside the United Nations. He was thankful today for the opportunity to say inside what used to be said only on the outside. The United Nations, born after the Holocaust, had a responsibility to make noise for those for whom very little noise had been made. That had a responsibility for the children who died, and for the Daniel Pearls and the millions of others in so many places who had been slaughtered in this sickness known as “Islamism”. He wished to believe that anti-Semitism was also anti-Islam. When responsibility for the destruction of the TwinTowers was blamed on Islam, all moderate Muslims should confront that by saying, “we are the faithful and we will not tolerate evil”.
He said he had heard it said today that once the Palestinian-Israeli issue was resolved, there would be no more anti-Semitism. Thanks to the Internet, all one had to do, however, was to download the Hamas Charter. When recently riding past the United Nations with his son, the child had asked if the police car out front was there to protect the United Nations from them or to protect them from the United Nations. When countries like Libya and Syria sat on the Human Rights Commission, “you have a sequel to ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, and the inmates are running the asylum”. There would soon be a conference on “Islamophobia”. That could be dealt with seriously when “Jewaphobia” was dealt with more seriously. The Jewish community had waited 16 years for a repeal of the “Zionism is racism” resolution at the United Nations.
He asked someone in the room to make a motion for a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and for not faulting Israel for that. When his request was met with an enthusiastic response, he called for a roll-call vote, and then asked the General Assembly to ratify what had taken place in the room.
A participant asked about allegations that UNRWA allowed the teaching of hatred in Palestinian schools and harboured wanted suspects. He said he had met Martin Luther King, Jr., and had been impressed by his tolerance and commitment to human rights. His writings equating anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism, and describing Zionism as the inalienable right of the Jewish people to their own homeland and culture, should be circulated for educational purposes.
Expressing regret that nobody had mentioned State anti-Semitism occurring in Belarus, another participant described the demolition of synagogues and the destruction of Jewish cemeteries and monuments to Holocaust victims in that country.
Another participant deplored the fact that it was dangerous to be Jewish in many parts of the world. Zionism could never be equated to racism, as it meant the survival of the Jewish people and their self-determination. Jews wished to be involved in events happening in the United Nations.
Following up on Rabbi Potasnik’s proposed General Assembly resolution, another participant suggested another resolution on the fact that out of 191 Member States, Israel was the only one that was not eligible to sit on the Security Council while countries like Syria could do so.
Mr. Tharoor explained that the position had changed since Israel had joined the Group of Western and Other States some years ago. Previously, Israel had belonged to no regional grouping, which was the only way to be elected to the Council.
Another participant said that most lethal conflicts had something to do with religion, and many today had to do with Islam versus other religions, whether Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism. Yet the United Nations studiously avoided discussing Muslim atrocities, expansionism and willingness to commit murder.
However, a participant from Germany said the task was not only for the United Nations. Expressing anxiety about the fate of Jews in that country, she added that Germans would never accept other peoples as members of the nation and Jews wanted to know what to do about it.
Another participant demanded that the United Nations fight anti-Semitism and make serious efforts to eliminate it or face another catastrophe.
Responses by Panellists
Mr. Hoenlein said the purpose of the conference was to create an antidote to what had happened in the past. Regarding Mr. Brahimi’s comments, discrimination remained, and it was institutionalized in part. One solution was not just to bemoan Islamic extremism, but also to build up moderate elements among the Muslim community.
Regarding State anti-Semitism, he said the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in Belarus was being addressed. Such leadership belonged to a bygone era, and the United Nations must get involved in combating such situations.
Ms. Gaer said she had been to Belarus and had seen the oppression. The way to respond was to approach the United Nations Special Rapporteur and other mechanisms and officials of agencies represented in the room, as well as the conclusions of the meeting. The conference reflected the anxieties of those who may not have been terrorized, but who were living in fear, such as the participant from Germany.
Mr. Isaac said Jews should confront hate because they were participating in the conference to promote the concept of tolerance. The idea of love was a Jewish concept. It was simplistic to think, as was widely done, that it was a Christian idea. It was important for Jews to say they were also for love and peace, as in the prophet Isaiah’s admonition to the Jewish people to be the light of the world.
Rabbi Potasnik, juxtaposing education against morality, pointed out that educated people had built the most sophisticated death machines ever known.
Mr. Tharoor said in his closing remarks that the conference would help participants to strategize on how to combat anti-Semitism. The proceedings would be online at www.un.org/webcast and the Secretary-General’s statement was already online at www.un.org/chronicle.
He said that in fighting racism and other forms of discrimination, anti-Semitism was the right place to start, as it was a blot on the record of humanity. Rising anti-Semitism was a threat to all and fighting it was everyone’s responsibility. The United Nations had not always lived up to its ideals in facing up squarely to anti-Semitism, but it should also be understood that political action was taken by the Member States.
The Organization was not in any way trying to shirk its responsibilities, but participants should realize that the process was a slow one, he said. The conference was only a first step, but a new chapter nevertheless. Many suggestions had been made, and the United Nations had an obligation to move the discussion to the next level. The Department of Public Information would compile the suggestions made at the meeting to be conveyed to the Secretary-General.
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