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un general assembly special session on the rise of anti-semitism

New York Headquarters -  January 22, 2015
Reported by Madeleine Brecher and Fran Butensky

As you are well aware, in recent months there has been an alarming outbreak in anti-Semitic violence around the world. Life for Jews worldwide has become increasingly dangerous and many are afraid of what the future has in store. Israel, with the support of many other countries, has been working to bring this alarming issue to the forefront of the international arena at the United Nations. 

On January 22nd, an historic special session was held: the first ever UN General Assembly special session on the rise of anti-Semitism. The goal of the day was to begin an in-depth dialogue on how to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism and to hear initiatives that are in place in many countries. This event was hosted by the president of the GA, H.E. Mr. Sam Kahambra Kutesa of Uganda.

The morning four hour marathon session included messages from Mr. Kutesa and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. A brilliant keynote address was given by Bernard-Henri Levy, French intellectual, philosopher and writer followed by statements from over 60 member states.

The afternoon session was a panel discussion moderated by the vice president of the GA. Five prominent experts on anti-Semitism and human rights were on the panel which was followed by a discussion from the floor.


Bernard-Henri Levy called the current rallying cry of anti-Semitism a new order. Or, he asked, is it an old nightmare in new terms? The UN was created to stop this infection but the hatred of “the other” is still with us. In France, it is true that radical Islam is a factor but if you add French history of the Dreyfus affair and the Vichy government, the situation is explosive. The State of Israel is only an excuse. The word Jew is a synonym for the devil. If Israel was exemplary and there was a Palestinian state, alas, the old hatred would not have dissipated. Mr. Levy said that old clichés must be abandoned, i.e. we hate the Jews because they killed Christ or the Enlightenment claim that the Jews invented Christ or the Jews are out to rule the world.

The new arguments of anti-Semitism are: the Jews are detestable because they support the evil state of Israel; they are detestable because they exaggerate their suffering during the Holocaust; they are competing with the Palestinians on victimhood. All Jews become targets when these three vital components are combined.

The march in Paris after the recent terrorist attacks was a message of hope. Today’s UN session can provide the momentum to act. Anti-Semitism is the Mother of All Hates and MUST be recognized and fought.

It was an encouraging and positive sign that so many countries were eager to participate in today’s dialogue. Taking into account the present atmosphere at the United Nations, the representatives were forthright with their comments and convictions.

They spoke out against anti-Semitism and reported on how their respective governments are dealing with this ongoing and renewed crisis. Most countries contributed significant and salient points of information.  In the interest of time, we have singled out the following whose comments should be heard:  France, the US, Canada, Great Britain, Spain, Austria, Australia, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Greece, Germany, Israel, Albania, Poland, Hungary and Panama.

The following are some of their thoughts on anti-Semitism:
·         After 70 years, we would like to say anti-Semitism has been eradicated but it hasn’t, i.e. recent attacks in France and Belgium where people were targeted simply because they were Jewish
·         Each time there is an attack on a Jew, it is an attack on humanity
·         A new wave of anti-Semitism is surfacing all over the world
·         This affects not only Jews but society on a whole
·         There is no room for anti-Semitism, not in France, Germany or any country in the world
·         There must be zero tolerance for anti-Semitism, intolerance and discrimination in any form
·         Today, we are witnessing a phenomenon – that this program is happening in the General Assembly to show a commitment to fighting anti-Semitism
·         Some countries are doing everything in their power to bring perpetrators of terrorism to justice
·         In the US, 2/3 of hate crimes are targeted against Jews
·         Violent anti-Semitism is creating a shadow all over Europe
·         Anti-Semitism can be found in the halls of the United Nations, even in this General Assembly where Israel has been accused of behaving like Nazis. Jews will never again be helpless. Israel will never be silent
·         Terrorists believe they are doing God’s work by killing Jews and all minorities
·         We must turn words into actions, we cannot disregard attacks of anti-Semitism. The European community acted quickly after the attacks at Charlie Hebdo, the Jewish super market and museum in Brussels
·         There is common agreement that discrimination and violence against anyone cannot be tolerated
·         The recent attacks in Europe are a painful reminder of how far we still have to go
·         In the United Kingdom in July and August alone, there were 543 anti-Semitic incidents-more than the whole of all of 2013
·         We don’t need commemorative statues of the Holocaust, we need to protect the living;
·         The OIS/Saudi representative said terror attacks are not justified by his religion;
·         Hungary’s new female Ambassador to the UN has fought anti-Semitism for 25 years and will continue to do so.
Many countries have set in place programs to educate their citizens, train their students, hold Holocaust commemorations, implement zero tolerance on discrimination, create permanent memorials, dialogue with other countries, support inter-faith dialogues, implement legislation to punish those guilty of hate crimes, enforce their laws, reform criminal codes, establish educational programs for classroom students and out-reach programs which support freedom of religion, pay tribute to all victims and listen to and learn from the remaining survivors. Some specific initiatives are: 
·         Dialogues are occurring in many countries to foster common values and educate on diversity;
·         A Berlin Conference is set for this coming fall on anti-Semitism and racism;
·         Some countries spoke of newly appointed Ministers to monitor anti-Semitism and combat it;
·         Legislation has been created to investigate and prosecute hate crimes;
·         More must be done to draft and implement legislation on hate speech especially online ;
·         Austria’s learning activities and education programs are exemplary;
·         Spain has appointed a special rapporteur to combat anti-Semitism and created legislation for Sephardic Jews to claim Spanish citizenship;
·         Each year, England funds two kids from every secondary school in England to go to Auschwitz;
We leave you with the opinion of Ambassador Ron Prosor of Israel, “From the halls of the UN to the world, stand up and be heard!” Let us hope the world takes note!