Why Fight Anti-Semitism Only One Day A Year, Israeli Minister Asks

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The United Nations conference on anti-Semitism was a good beginning, but Jewish groups here are waiting to see if words will translate into actions in the world body that regularly condemns Israel, they said on Tuesday. One Israeli minister asked why the struggle should only take place one day a year.

Anti-Semitic incidents have been on the rise worldwide for more than the last three and a half years, since the beginning of Palestinian violence and terrorism in September 2000.

Secretary General Kofi Annan opened the one-day conference "Confronting Anti-Semitism: Educating for Tolerance and Understanding" on Monday condemning anti-Semitism as a "harbinger of discrimination against others" and urging member states to combat rising anti-Semitism.

Israel expressed its satisfaction over the conference and called the secretary's speech a "milestone [that] should be applauded" and hoped that it would be the "new basis" for relations between the U.N. and world Jewry.

"We are pleased with the speech," said Ronny Yaar, deputy director general for the U.N. and International Organizations at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. "This is the first time such an event took place under the secretary general's auspices."

Israel was also pleased with Annan's calls to action, Yaar said.

Annan called for a UN General Assembly resolution against anti-Semitism and called on U.N. human bodies, including the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and his own office to report on and combat the hatred of Jews in Israel and worldwide.

"At least twice in his statement Annan makes reference to the need not to make any linkage between Israel and the territories and attitudes to Jews around the world," said Yaar.

It is a direct reference to what is being called the "new anti-Semitism," which takes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and blames it on Jews around the world and to Islamic anti-Semitism, which has been evident recently in the hostage-taking in Iraq, where Americans were killed because of their Judaism, Yaar said.

Annan differentiated between seeking justice for the Palestinians as a reason to incite hatred against the Jews.

"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," the secretary general said.

Yaar added that it does not mean that all of Israel's difficulties with the U.N. would now end. Still, he said, Israel was hoping that the conference would be a "new basis" for relations between the U.N. and world Jewry.

But Israeli Government Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky said that while it was good to see the world body fighting anti-Semitism for one day that was not enough.

"It's very good to have a one-day struggle against anti-Semitism," Sharansky told CNSNews.com.

"But there are another 364 days a year. The problem is in those days there is a lot of encouragement of anti-Semitism by members of the organization and some of the bodies," Sharansky said.

"The biggest human rights event, the conference [against racism] in Durban [in 2001] turned into the biggest anti-Semitic event in the last 50 years," Sharansky said. And the Commission on Human Rights condemns Israel more than all the dictators of the world together, he added. This is an indication of the anti-Semitism, he said.

Nevertheless, he noted that the U.N.'s repealing of the 1975 Zionism equals racism resolution in the 1990s was "very positive." Zionism refers to the Jewish national movement for a homeland.

"It's a good beginning," Sharansky said of Monday's conference. "The challenge is to turn one day of struggle into one week and one month."

Sharansky was imprisoned for years in the former Soviet Union as a "refusenik" -- a Jewish person persecuted by the former Soviet regime for applying to emigrate to Israel.

While Jewish organizations in Jerusalem welcomed the conference and Annan's statements they were also more adamant about the need for deeds to follow Annan's words.

Israel's main Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem Yad Vashem said it was "pleased that the United Nations has finally recognized the need to address the resurgence of global anti-Semitism."

Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev emphasized the need for change and offered his organization's help at educational efforts.

"While the UN conference on anti-Semitism is certainly a welcome development, real change can only come through concerted efforts," Shalev said in a written statement in response to a query from CNSNews.com .

"It is our hope that yesterday's conference marks the start of sustained UN and international action in combating anti-Semitism, both in the General Assembly and in other UN fora, and we urge the UN to hold similar events on an annual basis," he said.

The key to combating anti-Semitism is education and providing younger generations with the knowledge about the Holocaust and the history of their nations, Shalev said.

"Yad Vashem stands ready to further any serious educational initiatives to combat the forces of hatred so reminiscent of those that led to the Holocaust," he said.

"We think it was excellent of Kofi Annan to use his leadership to bring this to the forefront of the U.N. agenda at least for a day," said Laura Kam-Issacharoff, director of the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL is a leading organization in the fight against anti-Semitism and racism worldwide.

While the conference was "an important first step," Kam-Issacharoff said it was nevertheless not clear what the outcome would be.

"For years the Jewish community asked to put anti-Semitism on the U.N. agenda and they always said 'no,'" she said in a telephone interview.

"While this is special, there is still the institution ongoing to de-legitimize Israel and the Jewish people... So much of what is going on vis-?-vis Israel borders on anti-Semitism. [We] can't pretend it didn't happen," Kam-Issacharoff said.

"[There is] a lot of interest in having a resolution brought that condemns anti-Semitism. It remains to be seen if it happens," she added.

"The question is will it be the beginning of taking action," said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem. The SWC is an international Jewish human rights organization, which aims to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and is involved in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.

According to Zuroff, if the discussion is a requisite to taking action that is good, but if the discussion is merely an excuse for not taking action then it is useless.

"We're waiting to see a U.N. resolution against anti-Semitism. Until then it's a lot of hot air," he said. "I think there is hardly a body of the world with a longer list of anti-Israel resolutions [based in] anti-Semitic resolutions."

Columbia University professor Anne Bayefsky, who spoke at the conference, said the U.N. had become "the leading global purveyor of anti-Semitism - intolerance and inequality against the Jewish people."

Out of the last 10 emergency sessions of the General Assembly, six have been on the Israeli-Arab issues, Bayefsky said. There have been some 25 anti-Israel resolutions in the General Assembly each year for the past 30 years, she said.

In the Security Council from 1948-2003 out of some 1400 resolutions adopted, 120 of them concerned the Arab-Israeli conflict, said Yaar.

In addition, there are numerous U.N. bodies, which attend only to the needs of the Palestinians and promote Palestinian propaganda and their side of the story, he said.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.