June 12, 2005

Annan backs call by US Congress for UN to fight anti-Semitism


The office of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday that Annan welcomes Tuesday's resolution by the US House of Representatives calling on the UN to be more vigilant in the fight against anti-Semitism.

The resolution also called on the United Nations to challenge discrimination against Israel.

"The message that they're sending about discouraging anti-Semitism is one that is very close to his own heart," said Farhan Haq, a spokesman for Annan. "Certainly, he has been encouraging the UN members to deal with the issue of anti-Semitism. He welcomes it when anyone tries to push forward messages of understanding and tolerance."

As far as resolutions against Israel, Haq said, "that's really a question that is up to the member states themselves."

The congressional resolution, approved by an overwhelming 409 to 2 vote, demands that UN officials do more to call to account members who make anti-Semitic statements and actively work to end one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the UN. The resolution comes as Congress considers linking future US contributions to the world body with reform of the UN.

"For far too long, the United Nations has permitted itself to be used as a battleground for political warfare against Israel led by Arab states and others," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said in a speech to Congress before the resolution was passed. "The viciousness with which Israel continues to be attacked at the UN, and the reluctance of many member states to defend Israel or to accord it the same treatment as to other states, suggests that there is a considerable anti-Semitic component behind the policies pursued in UN forums-policies that remain unchallenged or censured."

There must be "renewed vigilance against purveyors of anti-Semitism, and the United Nations must be an integral component on any comprehensive strategy," she said.

Because the resolution is in no way binding on the world body, the significance of the congressional vote was to send a signal to the UN about US concern on anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias, and to demonstrate to congressional constituents-namely, US Jewish voters-that their representatives in Washington are looking out for their interests. One of the primary sponsors of the resolution was Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), Congress' only Holocaust survivor.

The resolution actually follows several months of improved relations between the UN and the Jews. Over the last few months the UN has held a special General Assembly session marking the 60th anniversary liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, hosted a conference for world Jewry under the auspices of the UN Foundation and seen Secretary-General Kofi Annan travel to Jerusalem for the opening of the new wing of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

Last week, Gabon's Jean Ping, who holds the one-year rotating presidency of the UN General Assembly, held a reception in his New York home for Jewish leaders.

"We thought that it would be a good occasion to strengthen the cooperation between Africa and the Jewish community, and the Jewish community and the UN," Ping said in an interview. "Things are changing fast. There are windows of opportunity on the questions of peace, security and cooperation in general. We should seize this opportunity."

There also has been a dearth of UN resolutions condemning Israel this year, owing partly to the relative quiet in recent months between Israel and Palestinians.

After that quiet broke this week with Palestinian mortar attacks aimed at Israeli towns and settlements, claiming three lives, Israel filed an official complaint with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"Hamas, and other Palestinian terrorist organizations, continue to perpetrate attacks against Israeli civilians unimpeded and unchecked by the Palestinian Authority," Israel's deputy permanent representative to the UN, Danny Carmon, wrote in a letter to Annan on Tuesday.

"Moreover, there have unfortunately not been any significant moves by the Palestinian Authority to freeze terrorist organizations' assets, prosecute their members, or police them in any way. This is in direct contradiction to the obligations that the Palestinian Authority assumed under the guidelines of the 'Road Map' and the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit understandings," Carmon wrote.

At the same time, Carmon indirectly praised the UN in remarks to The Jerusalem Post about Tuesday's congressional resolution.

"Israel is making progress these days with the UN regarding anti-Israel rhetoric, and every step forward is welcome," Carmon said through a spokeswoman.

House Resolution 282 demands that the UN "officially and publicly condemn anti-Semitic statements in all UN meetings, and hold accountable member states who make such statements;" that UNESCO develop and implement Holocaust education programs to combat a rising worldwide tide of anti-Semitism; and that the US ambassador to the UN "continue working toward further reduction of anti-Semitic language and anti-Israel resolutions."

The Anti-Defamation League welcomed the resolution.

"Though the United Nations was founded as a beacon for human rights and freedom for all, it has too frequently become a forum for the proliferation and perpetuation of hate and anti-Semitism," ADL national director Abraham Foxman said. He called for "a new era of active efforts by the UN to confront this millennia-old menace of anti-Semitism."