One Small Step: Is the U.N. Finally Ready to Get Serious about Antisemitism?

By Bayefsky, Anne | Midstream, November-December 2004 | Go to article overview

One Small Step: Is the U.N. Finally Ready to Get Serious about Antisemitism?


Bayefsky, Anne, Midstream


EDITOR'S NOTE: Professor Anne Bayefsky, leading authority in the field of international human rights law, was probably most instrumental in bringing about the United Nations' first conference on antisemitism that took place on June 21 and 22 in New York. Her article "The U.N. and the Jews" in the February issue COMMENTARY came to the attention of Shashi Tharoor, U.N. Undersecretary General for Communications and Public Information. The article was very frank in describing the antisemitic rhetoric expressed by member states and even by U.N. officials themselves. Consequently, Undersecretary-General Tharoor lobbied to bring the U.N. conference about, to be called "Confronting Anti-Semitism: Educating for Tolerance and Understanding." Some months before all this, Professor Bayefsky had written an Op-Ed piece for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL criticizing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for ignoring requests for his support at the fall's General Assembly session to give public support to resolutions condemning antisemitism and calling for protection of Israeli children from terrorism. This did not deter Shashi Tharoor from pressing for the conference that finally took shape for the very first time.

The, plan included Nobel Peace, laureate Elie Wiesel's opening the conference and significant speeches by Kofi Annan and by Professor Anne Bayefsky. The frankness and impassioned, deeply-felt words uttered by Professor Bayefsky, spoken without fear or favor, made an extraordinary impact on many, if not most, of those in attendance. MIDSTREAM is honored to present the text of Professor Bayefsky's historic speech on that occasion, printed here with her permission.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you at this first U.N. conference on antisemitism, which is being convened six decades after the organization's creation. My thanks to the U.N. organizers and in particular Shashi Tharoor [the Undersecretary-General for Communications and Public Information] for their initiative mad to the Secretary-General for his willingness to engage.

This meeting occurs at a point when the relationship between Jews and the United Nations is at an all-time low. The U.N. took root in the ashes of the Jewish people, and according to its charter was to flower on the strength of a commitment to tolerance and equality for all men and women and of nations large and small. Today, however, the U.N. provides a platform for those who cast the victims of the Nazis as the Nazi counterparts of the 21st century. The U.N. has become the leading global purveyor of antisemitism--intolerance and inequality against the Jewish people and its state.

Not only have many of the U.N. members most responsible for this state of affairs rendered their own countries Judenrein, they have succeeded in almost entirely expunging concern about Jew-hatred from the U.N. docket. From 1965, when antisemitism was deliberately excluded from a treaty on racial discrimination, to last fall, when a proposal for a General Assembly resolution on antisemitism was withdrawn after Ireland capitulated to Arab and Muslim opposition, mention of antisemitism has continually ground the wheels of U.N.-led multilateralism to a halt.

There has never been a U.N. resolution specifically on antisemitism or a single report to a U.N. body dedicated to discrimination against Jews, in contrast to annual resolutions and reports focusing on the defamation of Islam and discrimination against Muslims and Arabs. Instead there was Durban--the 2001 U.N. World Conference "Against Racism," which was a breeding ground and global soapbox for antisemites. When it was over, U.N. officials mad member states turned the Durban Declaration into the centerpiece of the U.N.'s antiracism agenda--allowing Durban follow-up resolutions to become a continuing battlefield over U.N. concern with antisemitism.

Not atypical is the public dialogue in the U.N.'s top human rights body--the Commission on Human Rights--where this past April, the Pakistani ambassador, speaking on behalf of the 56 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, unashamedly disputed that antisemitism was about Jews. …

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