Magazine article UN Chronicle

Anti-Semitism Has Been a Harbinger of Discrimination against Others

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Anti-Semitism Has Been a Harbinger of Discrimination against Others

Article excerpt

Opening remarks by Kofi Annan at the Seminar on "Confronting anti-Semitism: Education for Tolerance and Understanding" organized by the UN Department of Public Information, 21 June 2004, New York

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.

The Shoah, or Holocaust, was the epitome of this evil. Germany in the 1930s was a modern society, at the cutting edge of human technical advance and cultural achievement. Yet the Nazi regime that took power set out to exterminate Jews from the face of the earth.

We know--and yet we still cannot really comprehend--that six million innocent Jewish men, women and children were murdered, just because they were Jews. That is a crime against humanity which defies imagination.

The name "United Nations" was coined to describe the alliance fighting to end that barbarous regime, and our Organization came into being when the world had just learnt the full horror of the concentration and extermination camps. It is therefore rightly said that the United Nations emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust. And a human rights agenda that fails to address anti-Semitism denies its own history.

Worldwide revulsion at this terrible genocide was the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As the Preamble to the Declaration says, "disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind". And it was no coincidence that on the day before it adopted the Declaration in 1948, the General Assembly had adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

It is hard to believe that sixty years after the tragedy of the Holocaust anti-Semitism is once again rearing its head. But it is clear that we are witnessing an alarming resurgence of this phenomenon in new forms and manifestations. This time, the world must not, cannot be silent.

We owe it to ourselves, as well as to our Jewish brothers and sisters, to stand firmly against the particular tide of hatred that anti-Semitism represents. And that means we must be prepared to examine the nature of today's manifestations of anti-Semitism more closely, which is the purpose of your seminar.

Let us acknowledge that the United Nations record on anti-Semitism has at times fallen short of our ideals. The General Assembly resolution of 1975, equating Zionism with racism, was an especially unfortunate decision. I am glad that it has since been rescinded.

But there remains a need for constant vigilance. …

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