Annan Presses UN On Anti-Semitism

In wake of secretary-general’s ‘sea change’ remarks, racism envoy pushing report on worldwide hatred.

One day after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan delivered what was seen as an historic speech in which he called upon UN bodies to develop ways to more effectively combat anti-Semitism, the UN’s special representative on contemporary racism and intolerance said he planned to press for a separate report on worldwide anti-Semitism. The official, Doudou Dien, said by phone from Geneva that he would seek the approval of the High Commission on Human Rights in Geneva to write such a report “in light of what the secretary general has said.”

“I need a specific resolution, but given what the secretary general said, I think it now would be easier to get such authorization,” Dien said. He added that he plans to issue a report on anti-Semitism – either as a separate study or as part of a larger report – and that it would explore whether the increase in anti-Semitism is “due to the historic European anti-Semitism, the Middle East conflict, and linkage between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.”

In his address before a daylong conference on anti-Semitism at the UN, the first such conference ever held at the international body, Annan said that just 60 years after the Holocaust “we are witnessing an alarming resurgence of this phenomenon in new forms and manifestations.” “This time, the world cannot be silent,” he said.

Although he did not label attacks on Israel as what some are now calling the “new anti-Semitism,” Annan did say: “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.” And he called on the UN to endorse the Berlin Declaration recently adopted by the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which he said “declared unambiguously that international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism.”

But Anne Bayefsky, a professor at Toronto’s York University who spoke during one of three panel discussions held during the day, pointed out that the conference was being held at a time when the UN has itself “become the leading purveyor of anti-Semitism, intolerance and inequity against the Jewish people and its state.” She pointed out that six of the 10 emergency sessions ever held by the General Assembly were devoted to Israel, while no emergency session was convened about the genocide that killed an estimated 1 million people in Rwanda or about the ethnic cleansing that killed tens of thousands in the former Yugoslavia or the millions in the Sudan. “That’s discrimination,” Bayefsky said, adding that more than one-quarter of all resolutions condemning human rights violations adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights were directed at Israel.

“As Israelis are demonized at the UN, so Palestinians and their cause are deified,” she pointed out. Bayefsky also lashed into Annan, who by then had left the conference, for constantly criticizing Israel but “refusing” to name those responsible for the suicide bombings that kill indiscriminately those on Israel’s streets – a practice she said that sends a “green light to strike again.”

Felice Gaer, director of international relations at the American Jewish Committee, said Annan’s comments were a “sea change” from those he made six years ago to mark Israel’s 50th birthday. “I think he went very far,” she said. “You can’t find a secretary-general who has said this kind of stuff before.” Gaer said that six years ago, Annan said he was aware that “for many Israelis the image of the United Nations has not lived up to its founding spirit.” And he spoke of “your concerns” when pledging to usher in a new era of relations between Israel and the UN.

But in his remarks Monday, she said, Annan acknowledged “that the United Nations’ record on anti-Semitism has at times fallen short of our ideals.” And he said to the applause of the 600 primarily Jewish leaders and a group of students from the North Shore Hebrew Academy on Long Island: “Jews everywhere must feel that the United Nations is their home too. We must make this vision a reality while we still have survivors of the Holocaust amongst us. …”

There were some Jewish leaders who had hoped that Annan would go even further and call for a permanent exhibit on the Holocaust at the UN, pledge to issue an annual statement or hold annual conferences on anti-Semitism, or appoint someone at the UN to deal with this issue. But Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, insisted that there should be no “litmus test of how many points he covered that the American Jewish community would have liked him to say.”

“The tone, the content, the direction he indicated he would lead the UN is very significant and we should applaud it, embrace it and watch to see how it is implemented,” he said. “He committed publicly that he would use his moral suasion to put the issue on the front burner. To me, what else do you want?” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he hopes Annan would translate his words into “a concrete, aggressive action plan. For Jews to feel that ‘the UN is their home, too,’ there must be a willingness to make fundamental changes.”

The conference, the first in a series titled “Unlearning Intolerance,” featured a keynote address by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who pointed out that anti-Semitism is the “oldest collective bigotry in recorded history” and that it is senseless. “The anti-Semite doesn’t know me, but he hates me,” he said. “Actually, he hated me even before I was born. … A young Israeli visiting Berlin was assaulted in the street in broad daylight yesterday. Last week, a young Jewish student was stabbed in Paris. A number of European Jews told me they live in fear.”

“Under the pretext of blaming Israel’s policies, which they outrageously exaggerate and demonize, their Western allies and supporters encourage hatred towards the entire Jewish people,” Wiesel said. “I never thought I will have to fight anti-Semitism. Naively, I was convinced that it died in Auschwitz. Now I realize my mistake; it didn’t. Only the Jews perished there. … Thus my plea to you, Mr. Secretary General: Help us fight it; help us disarm it.”

Dien, the special racism representative, said that even as he prepares his report on racism he plans to continue visiting with Jewish leaders in every country he visits. He pointed out that within the last year he has visited Jewish leaders in Canada and France. “There is an increase of anti-Semitism,” Dien said. “The issue has to be dealt with directly.”