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Can the UN learn the lesson of the Shoah?

When I ask people from our community who attended the UN General Assembly’s first ever commemoration of the liberation of the Nazis death camps what stands out as the highlight, they all have the same answer.
Although all very important, they say it was not listening to the speakers, or that this was a historical event, or even the reception attended by many dignitaries marking the opening of the exhibit, Auschwitz-the Depth of the Abyss.
The highlight? Standing in the General Assembly Visitor’s Lobby when Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom and Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman got on stage and led everyone in an impromptu and rousing rendition of HaTikvah.
“It was a spine-tingling moment … marvellous to be there and sing HaTikvah on this significant and historical day,” says Ottawa resident Berel Rodal.
For Mitchel Bellman, executive director of Ottawa Vaad Ha’Ir, it was “quite an experience to be singing HaTikvah with a large crowd of people in the first and probably only time that the Israel National anthem will be sung in this venue.”
It was without a doubt a significant and historical day. The UN, which had passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism in the 70s and whose members continuously attack Israel in the General Assembly, had finally, after 60 years, remembered the victims of the Shoah.
During his speech, Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel noted, “If the world had listened to those of us who tried to speak, we might have prevented Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia and, naturally, Rwanda.”
As I write this, Western politicians are all saying the right things - expressing their sorrow over what had happened, promising to work to eradicate Antisemitism, pledging support to Israel and working to prevent and halt genocide.
All fine words, including those from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who reprimanded UN members for failing to learn the lesson of the Holocaust.
Words are not enough.
As Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon noted during an address to the Knesset, the world did nothing to help the Jews during the Holocaust. Recently, the world refused to intervene and stop the genocide in Rwanda, and the Western world and the UN do not seem interested in stopping the slaughter in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Antisemitism is at an all time high. A recent report by Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Natan Sharansky and the Jewish Agency’s Global Forum Against Antisemitism noted that in the UK Antisemitic incidents have almost doubled, and in Russia and Ukraine Antisemitism has soared.
Despite the election of Mahmoud Abbas and the lessening of tensions, a report co-authored by Ottawa’s Barbara Crook and Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli-based organization that monitors the Palestinian media, accuses the Palestinian leadership of still promoting genocide against Jews.
The report, Kill a Jew-Go to Heaven, outlines how “the Palestinian Authority (PA) teaches an ideology of virulent hatred of Jews and Israel that mandates the killing of Jews solely because they are Jews. The murder of Jews is presented not only as beneficial to Muslims and Arabs, but as necessary for all humankind.”
Yet there are hopeful signs. In a recent speech, Ariel Sharon was upbeat about the possibility of peace in the Middle East and even uncharacteristically went as far as saying, “I believe the conditions have been created which will enable us and the Palestinians to reach a historic breakthrough in relations between us, a breakthrough which would lead us towards quiet and security and - in the future - even the hoped-for peace.”
The 34 UN member countries (out of 191) that took part in the commemoration seemed sincere when they spoke of learning from the Holocaust.
Only time will tell if this is a watershed moment for the UN or simply another clever public relations gesture.
Rabbi Reuven Bulka attended the event and noted that the commemoration is nothing more than a token gesture, unless the UN finally begins to act to help those in the world threatened by genocide and hatred.
“If they are going to use this as the vehicle to finally do what they are suppose to do, mainly to become the agency for removing hatred from the world and to tackle it using international muscle to stop brutal murders, then it will be fine. I hope and pray that years from now we can look back and say this event was the catalyst for it.”
The greatest gift the UN can give to the survivors of the Shoah is to work for the elimination of hate throughout the world. Only then, will the world body, founded on the ashes of the Holocaust, have learned the lesson of the Shoah.
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