In the wake of a rise in deadly attacks against Jews, the international community must rally to stamp out anti-Semitic violence and discrimination worldwide, speakers from some 60 countries told the General Assembly today as it held its first-ever informal meeting on the subject.
Anti-Semitism was thriving in European capitals and was present in countries where Jews had never lived. Even if Israel’s conduct was exemplary and the Palestinians were granted an independent State, as was their right, such enmity and hatred would not dissipate, French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy said in a keynote address.
“Faulting the Jews is once again becoming a rallying cry of a new order of assassins,” he said, in the form of “lost souls of radical Islam that has become the most toxic opium, invading the lost territories of our republic.” But for anti-Semitism to exist on a large-scale, a vile portrait of modern Jews must be perpetuated: Jews must be detested for their support for what was perceived to be an illegitimate State, Israel; the Holocaust must be denied; and there must be a sense of competitive victimhood, in which the deaths and suffering of Jews were overshadowed by that of other people, particularly the Palestinians.
“Since the Dreyfus affair, Vichy had slept with only one open eye, and was not incompatible at all with the Jihadist beast,” he said, in reference to Alfred Dreyfus, the French Jewish officer targeted because of his faith and falsely accused of treason in 1894 by the French Government, and the Vichy regime, which immediately following the Second World War had enacted laws that discriminated against Jews.
Mr. Lévy asked the meeting’s participants to imagine an Assembly in which Israel had its “due place”, and called for a second meeting, held in another location next year, to reveal the truth of the past decades — of the horror of the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Palestine and elsewhere.
Noting that anti-Semitism was among the oldest forms of prejudice known to mankind, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the United Nations had a duty to speak out against it, as efforts to build a world of mutual understanding were being tested today by rising extremism and barbaric acts. The poison of hatred was loose in too many places. Jews remained targets, as did Muslims and many others.
“Our responses must avoid perpetuating the cycles of demonization and playing into the hands of those who seek to divide,” the Secretary-General said. Grievances over Israeli actions must never be used as an excuse to attack Jews. Likewise, criticism of Israeli action should not be dismissed as anti-Semitism. The fight against the scourge was a “fight for all of us”, he said, as anti-Semitism was “inseparable from the wider quest for peaceful coexistence and human rights”.
Ron Prosor, Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said years after the Holocaust had seen the murder of 6 million Jews, violent anti-Semitism was “casting a shadow” over Europe, including attacks, hate-mongering and killings. Anti-Semitism also existed at the United Nations, including last autumn when delegations accused his country of behaving like the Nazis and creating a Holocaust in Gaza. As Europe was being tested, if its Governments succeeded in defending its Jewish communities, then they would succeed in defending liberty and democracy. However, action was needed, not statues or commemorations, he said, emphasizing that the days when Jews were the world’s victims were over and that the State of Israel was standing guard. As such, he called on all nations to stand beside Israel in preventing evil from taking root and refusing to submit to indifference.
In view of anti-Semitism “rearing its ugly head” in Europe, Thomas Mayr-Harting, Head of the European Union Delegation, said the world community needed to find ways to tackle growing online hate speech while being vigilant to safeguard the freedom of expression, including the right to criticize religions and all other institutions. The Union was committed to stepping up its fight against anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia through legislation, financial support and the fostering of dialogue. “This is the time to act together,” he concluded. “We need to remain united and react in a calm but firm manner to combat anti-Semitism and any other form of racism and xenophobia and related intolerance.”
Condemning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, all discrimination and hate-crimes, Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, speaking for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said dialogue was needed to fight xenophobia and the global community must counter extremist doctrines that fuelled the alarming increase in hate crimes worldwide. Islam could never condone such terrorist attacks, including those in Nigeria and Pakistan, he said, and his organization was fighting against racism and hatred, including through the Arab Peace Initiative.
A number of speakers lamented the spread of anti-Jewish sentiment in their countries, pledging to act to stamp out discrimination and hate crimes. Weighing in on the new forms of anti-Semitism seen in recent incidents, Harlem Désir, State Secretary for European Affairs of France, said each attack on a Jewish person was an attack on the international community. “Our responsibility today is for the international community to mobilize,” he said. Blocking hate sites on the Internet and ensuring education that promoted tolerance were among the necessary tools. Referring to the 9 January targeted killing of Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris, he said the shopkeeper, who was from Mali, had saved the lives of many Jewish people by hiding them. “He is an example for all of us.”
Michael Roth, Germany’s Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office, expressing alarm over the rise in attacks and the use of anti-Semitic slogans in demonstrations, including in his own country, called for a zero-tolerance policy against anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination against minorities. Because of its historic responsibility for the Holocaust, Germany fought all forms of anti-Semitism. The 2004 Berlin Declaration of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was a milestone in that fight. He and his French counterpart had joined today’s meeting to show strong commitment to safeguard their respective nations’ common values and promote tolerant, open and democratic societies. Together with European Union partners and the United Nations, the two countries were working to ensure perpetrators of anti-Semitism were brought to justice, and embarking on educational programmes to promote tolerance, understanding and social cohesion. In addition, his Office had appointed a Special Representative for Relations with Jewish Organizations and Issues Relating to Anti-Semitism.
Even with legislation and efforts in place to stamp out anti-Semitism, some speakers said hate crimes were disproportionately targeted at the Jewish community. Samantha Power, the United States’ Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said it continued to be a problem in her country. According to a 2012 report of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, nearly two thirds of religious hate crimes in the United States had targeted Jews. Holocaust denial remained commonplace in the Middle East and North Africa. Defending faiths and cultures was fundamental to pluralistic societies. When the rights of Jews were repressed, repression of the rights of other groups was not far behind. Hailing today’s first-ever Assembly meeting on anti-Semitism, she urged everyone in the room to turn words into action. Governments could not handle the problem alone; civil society involvement was also vital, she said, stressing the need to scale up the fight against the scourge. “Our common security demands that we do much, much more.”
Steven Blaney, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said while Jews constituted less than 1 per cent of his country’s population, they were among the most likely religious group to be targeted for hate crimes. Recent proponents of anti-Semitism had fixated on Israel as a State rather than on its religious or racial identity. Criticism of Israel was not necessarily anti-Semitic, but condemning the Jewish State and denying its right to exist and defend itself was. For its part, Canada worked nationally and internationally to fight against discrimination.
Acting Assembly President Alvaro Mendonça e Moura said recent events and violence based on race, ethnic origin or religious belief demonstrated that all stakeholders must be involved in fighting prejudice while promoting dialogue and mutual respect and education. Opportunities for bolstering those efforts to prevent incidents of hate included next week’s international commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust and the Assembly’s High-Level Thematic Debate on Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation, to be held in April.
Summing up a common sentiment, Mr. Lévy said: “a world in which once again Jews would become scapegoats for all people’s fears, would be a world in which the free could not breathe easy and in which the enslaved would be even more enslaved.” By uniting in the fight against anti-Semitism the Assembly would know that “your mobilization was not in vain and the beast can be kept at bay”.
In the afternoon, the Assembly held a panel discussion featuring remarks by Theodore E. Deutch, Representative in the United States House of Representatives; Irwin Cotler, Member of Parliament, House of Commons of Canada; Wade Henderson, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund; Elisa Massimino, President and Chief Executive Officer of Human Rights First; and Robert S. Wistrich, Director of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the Study of Anti-Semitism.