DPI Seminar on Anti-Semitism (UNHQ, 21 June 2004) – SecGen opening remarks – Press release (excerpts)



Following are Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s opening remarks at the Department of Public Information (DPI) Seminar on Anti-Semitism, in New York, 21 June:

Welcome to United Nations Headquarters.

In holding this series of seminars, the United Nations is true to one of the most sacred purposes of the world’s peoples in whose name the Organization was founded:  “to practise tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours”. 

No Muslim, no Jew, no Christian, no Hindu, no Buddhist — no one who is true to the principles of any of the world’s faiths, no one who claims a cultural, national or religious identity based on values such as truth, decency and justice — can be neutral in the fight against intolerance. 

Clearly, our success in this struggle depends on the effort we make to educate ourselves and our children.  Intolerance can be unlearnt.  Tolerance and mutual respect have to be learnt.

Future seminars will deal with other specific groups against whom intolerance is directed in many parts of the world, notably Muslims and migrants — groups which overlap, but each of which, sadly, encounters prejudice in its own right.

Yet anti-Semitism is certainly a good place to start because, throughout history, it has been a unique manifestation of hatred, intolerance and persecution.  Anti-Semitism has flourished even in communities where Jews have never lived, and it has been a harbinger of discrimination against others.  The rise of anti-Semitism anywhere is a threat to people everywhere.  Thus, in fighting anti-Semitism we fight for the future of all humanity.


When we seek justice for the Palestinians — as we must — let us firmly disavow anyone who tries to use that cause to incite hatred against Jews, in Israel or elsewhere.


Let me conclude by quoting something Elie wrote, which could make a wonderful mission statement for this series on “Unlearning Intolerance”:

“There is divine beauty in learning, just as there is human beauty in tolerance.  To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth.  Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps.  The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples.  I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests.  And so are you.”


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