Mr. Miguel Moratinos
The High-Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
Lessons of the Holocaust: A UN Perspective on Global Anti-Semitism
27 January 2021
Dear Ms. Magid, thank you for the introduction. It’s good to see you again
Dear Mr. Dan Mariaschin, thank you for inviting me to address this event
I am very pleased to be addressing this important and timely topic.
Today we commemorate the 76th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In order to take stock of the lessons of the Holocaust, we should never forget the unimaginable horrors that more than 6 million Jews went through. Their stories told by the resilient survivors inspire us with their strength and solidarity.
Seventy-six years seem like something of the past, but the resurgence in anti-Semitic attacks here in the United States and in Europe is a stark reminder that hate against Jews or anti-Semitism that was manifested in the Holocaust, is still present in our communities today.
As the world battled a deadly pandemic, we also witnessed a sharp rise in neo-Nazism and far-right extremism ideologies spreading like wildfire in mainstream media and the dark web. Their toxic hate targeted Jews as well as other communities.
The figures speak for themselves:
An FBI report on hate crimes in the United States released in November 2020 recorded 953 hate crimes were committed against Jews in 2019, a 14-percent increase from the 835 recorded in 2019. The deadliest anti-Semitic attacks on Jews in the US in Pittsburg and Poway were committed by white supremacists.
In 2019, hate crimes against Jews constituted 60.2 percent of all hate crimes based on religion, a slight increase from the 58 percent recorded in 2017 and 2018. For the sake of comparison, Muslims were the next most-targeted group at 13.2 percent.
The 2020 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Intolerance and a study by the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights state that there has been an 18% increase in antisemitism globally alone. Such incidents were not limited to antisemitic rhetoric but also attacks on Jewish religious and sacred sites. Such incidents were fueled by conspiracy theories that COVID19 virus had been manufactured and spread by Jews. Terrorist attacks, like on the synagogue in Halle in 2019 and on the kosher supermarket in Paris in 2015 and in Graz, Austria last August show us that, anti-Semitism has not been eliminated in Europe despite earnest efforts by many European member states.
What is worrying here is that these evil forces continue to spread their menace and twisted ideologies. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned yesterday of “the certainty that neo-Nazi activities are taking place elsewhere, undetected and unchallenged”.
Such atrocities are an affront to the right of everyone to freedom of religion and belief and the freedom of practicing their right without fear. This right is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In this context, I was very encouraged by the substantive steps that many European countries have taken in combatting anti-Semitism such as the growing number of countries endorsing the IHRA definition and the growing number of envoys and coordinators tasked with overseeing efforts in combatting anti-Semitism. I also followed with much interest the initiatives and strategies that were either launched or are still in the pipeline by the European Commission such as the comprehensive strategy on combatting anti-Semitism and fostering Jewish Life. The OSCE has also been doing well in addressing the security needs of the Jewish community and countering anti-Semitism through education.
So What is the role of the United Nations?
1. Combatting hate speech, upholding the right of all to exercise their religion or belief freely and safely is also a priority for the United Nations. To this end, the UN Secretary-General launched in 2019 the Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech and the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites. Both plans complement each other and aim at countering all forms of discrimination and racism, including anti-Semitism. Prevention is key in combatting all forms of hate including anti-Semitism
2. The United Nations General Assembly has adopted resolution 60/7 which rejects any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event, either in full or in part, Resolution 61/255 condemns any denial of the Holocaust and urges all Member States unreservedly to reject any denial of the Holocaust. The “Holocaust Remembrance” resolution also designated 27 January as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust – observed with ceremonies and activities at United Nations Headquarters in New York and at UN offices around the world. I have reinforced this resolution by writing to all member states encouraging them to nationally observe or organize activities on that day. I will continue to follow-up on that.
3. Following the important report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Secretary-General has designated me since February 2020 as the UN Focal Point to monitor anti-Semitism and to enhance a system-wide response to anti-Semitism. Since June 2020, I have been reaching out to and engaging with major Jewish Organizations, Envoys and Coordinators of combatting anti-Semitism and UN relevant entities and bodies. I have been also monitoring closely trends in anti-Semitic incidents around the globe and reacting strongly against them. Being vocal about anti-Semitism at the highest level is very important.
4. Moreover on anti-Semitism, Successive United Nations Secretaries-General have been vocal in their criticism of antisemitism and Holocaust denial, calling for exerting more efforts in combating antisemitism in a highly visible way. In January 2015, the UNGA held its first-ever special session on the rise of anti-Semitic violence worldwide. The event was co-sponsored by the US, Israel, the 28 EU members, and other countries, and featured statements and speeches by UN Secretary-General and a number of government officials.
5. Just 2 days ago, the UN Secretary-General Mr. Antonio Guterres emphasized at the Holocaust Remembrance Service at Park East Synagogue that “The United Nations will continue to stand with you, and against lies, bigotry, and hatred of all kinds.”
6. In June 2019, the UN General Assembly held an informal session on combating anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. The meeting was organized at the initiative of the Israeli UN Mission, was over 90 countries participated, including representatives from Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, and Morocco. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the session, saying “I guarantee you that I will continue to call out Anti-Semitic racism and other forms of hatred loudly and unapologetically.”
7. For the past 15 years, the UN Outreach Program of the department of Global Communications continues to remind the world of the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide and encourage the development by United Nations Member States of educational curricula on the subject of the Holocaust, and to mobilize civil society for education and awareness.
Meanwhile, as I carry out the role designated to me by the UN Secretary-General, I plan to convene soon a meeting with major Jewish Organizations, Envoys on combatting anti-Semitism and relevant UN bodies to create synergies between relevant stakeholders and enhance a system-wide response based on a human rights approach.
I find many areas that we can tap into and strengthen together:
1. Enforcing mechanisms for monitoring and reporting anti-Semistm. I see that one of the challenges here is the absence of an internationally agreeable definition of antisemitism, which hinders the identification and reporting of the acts verbal or physical that are considered as antisemitic. I plan to work on having an agreeable definition of anti-Semitism within the UN. The IHRA definition could constitute a basis to start from.
2. Education is key. Peer-to-peer education to teachers, children, young people, pollical parties, and civil society. Those groups when equipped with knowledge, political will be better enabled to undertake their responsibilities in combating and curbing such crimes.
3. Developing global citizenship education programs with focus on anti-Semitism and educating about the Holocaust and all other forms of discrimination based on race, religion, belief, ethnicity.
4. Continue to engage and collaborate with social media companies including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.so as identify the red lines within the framework of international human rights law.
5. Governments, which have the primary responsibility to protect their citizens, are encouraged to take a “robust approach” to combat hate speech, but within the framework of international human rights law, which calls on governments to prohibit speech where it amounts to “advocacy of…religious hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence”
6. Mainstreaming combating anti-Semitism within the UN system,
7. UNAOC will start mainstreaming awareness and education about anti-Semitism in the new iterations of our programs targeting youth.
Last but not least, anti-Semitism must be understood in the broader context of racism and other forms of hatred and related intolerance towards other faith communities.
I would like to conclude, by quoting the late Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Jonathan Sachs who has famously said: “The hate that begins with Jews never ends there”.
I echo Rabbi Sachs’s words and add that “hate is hate, be it directed against Jews, Muslims, Christians or any other individuals based on their religion, belief, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.