As Europe Shows Backbone, U.N. Condemns Anti-semitism

A United Nations resolution on anti-Semitism proves the axiom that Europe is the fulcrum about which action, or inaction, takes place at the world body. In this case it was the former. Jewish officials praised Europeans for standing firm against pressure from the Organization of the Islamic Conference to remove a reference to anti-Semitism in a resolution condemning religious intolerance.

The resolution calling for the “elimination of all forms of religious intolerance” unanimously passed the Third Committee of the U.N. General Assembly on Monday and is expected to pass the entire General Assembly in a few weeks.

It’s not the first time a U.N. committee has condemned anti-Semitism — it has been included in condemnations of religious intolerance in the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, where only 53 countries are members — but it was the first time anti-Semitism was included in the annual resolution on religious intolerance in the General Assembly’s much larger Third Committee.

The committee is the assembly’s social and humanitarian body, with jurisdiction over human rights issues

This also was one of the few times European countries have stood up to the pressure of the OIC on a Jewish issue, observers said.

Attempts to obtain comment from representatives of the Netherlands, which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, were unsuccessful.

Israeli officials called the resolution a breakthrough.

Last year, Israel abstained from voting on the religious intolerance resolution at the General Assembly because it didn’t mention anti-Semitism, despite a spike in anti-Semitic acts around the world.

“This is a milestone vote for Jewish issues at the United Nations General Assembly,” said Amy Goldstein, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International. “It proves that if the Europeans have the will to pass something on Jewish causes, that they have the ability to do so.”

Many Jewish officials had sought a stand-alone resolution condemning anti-Semitism this year. Ireland offered a resolution singling out anti-Semitism for condemnation last year, but withdrew it due to lack of support.

The Europeans didn’t think they could pass a stand-alone resolution on anti-Semitism this year either, so offered this as a compromise, Goldstein said.

The resolution that passed Monday “recognizes with deep concern the overall rise in instances of intolerance and violence directed against members of many religious communities in various parts of the world, including cases motivated by Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and Christianophobia.”

It comes after several conferences on anti-Semitism in the past year, including an April 2004 meeting of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe that concluded that international developments — an oblique reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — never justify anti-Semitism.

The resolution also comes after the United Nations hosted its first day-long conference on anti-Semitism in June. In his opening remarks to that gathering, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “Let us acknowledge that the United Nations’ record on anti-Semitism has at times fallen short of our ideals. The General Assembly resolution of 1975, equating Zionism with racism, was an especially unfortunate decision.”

For many, Monday’s resolution was a step toward righting that history. But others called the step minuscule.

Anne Bayefsky, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and visiting professor at Touro College and Metropolitan College, said the United Nations has only come “about a millimeter” from its summer conference acknowledging a biased history.

“It’s one word in one paragraph in one general resolution on religious intolerance. It’s a very far cry from a resolution dedicated to anti-Semitism,” she said. “A resolution which focuses on the phenomenon of anti-Semitism would be able to deal with all forms of anti-Semitism, including the demonization of the State of Israel, and this does not do anything like that.”

Others saw more significance in the European move.

Last week, the OIC tried to replace the term anti-Semitism with Judeaphobia, Goldstein said, which was seen as an attempt to remove Jews from the context of the Middle East and deny Jewish history.

In Monday’s committee meeting, the OIC offered an amendment to change the order of the language to Christianophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. But the amendment was defeated.

“The goal was to diminish anti-Semitism by somehow putting it at the end of a string of words, as they did in the Commission on Human Rights for many years in the racism resolution,” said Felice Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Human Rights at the American Jewish Committee.

According to Gaer, the European steadfastness was due to several factors: The OSCE already had condemned anti-Semitism; there has been a palpable rise in anti-Semitism in Europe; and the U.S. government and Jewish communities have forced Europe to focus on the issue.

“When the European countries take leadership, things can change in the U.N.” Gaer said, adding that such initiative is rare.

“The pattern in the U.N. is often when controversial issues come up or when people challenge the Europeans that they stand silent or reach a compromise rather than standing fast.”

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