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Passage of Holocaust Resolution Seen As Sign of Changed U.N. Mood

November 2, 2005
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Sixty years after the United Nations was founded on the Holocaust’s ashes, Jewish leaders are hailing passage of a Holocaust commemoration resolution in the General Assembly as an important step forward. The document, called “Holocaust Remembrance,” was passed by consensus Tuesday following speeches by representatives of more than 20 states, including Israel, the United States, Germany and Poland.

Co-sponsored by 104 member nations, the measure is the first Israeli-initiated resolution the General Assembly has ever passed.

It establishes Jan. 27 — the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp — as Holocaust Remembrance Day at the United Nations.

It also calls on member states to include the Holocaust in their educational curriculums and condemn manifestations of Holocaust denial. In addition, it calls on the secretary-general to create programs under the rubric of “The U.N. and the Holocaust” and report to the General Assembly on the programs’ progress.

“It’s a good day for the Jewish people at the United Nations,” said Amy Goldstein, director of U.N. affairs at B’nai B’rith International. “It demonstrates that it is possible for the United Nations to seriously address the basic human rights of the Jewish people.”

In introducing the resolution, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Dan Gillerman — who in June became a General Assembly vice president, Israel’s first in more than 50 years — said the resolution was particularly significant because it represents the first time the United Nations has adopted a Holocaust-related resolution.

“The U.N. bears a special responsibility to ensure that the Holocaust and its lessons are never forgotten and that this tragedy will forever stand as a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice,” he said.

The move is the latest in a series of steps that observers say indicate a new U.N. openness to Israel and Jewish concerns.

In September, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon addressed a summit of world leaders in the General Assembly shortly after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Insiders said Sharon received a much warmer reception in New York than anyone could have imagined just two years ago, when the intifada was at its height.

Over the past year, the United Nations has convened a daylong conference on anti-Semitism and the General Assembly held a special session to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan attended the opening of the new Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem, the first time a U.N. head traveled to Israel.

Deliberations on the Holocaust resolution stretched over two days, as Monday’s meeting ended at dusk in recognition of Ramadan.

The deliberations came at the same time as Syria suffered a significant diplomatic setback at the United Nations, with the Security Council on Monday threatening “further action” if Syria doesn’t cooperate with a U.N. investigation into the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Yad Vashem and American Jewish groups welcomed the Holocaust resolution’s passage.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that two or three years ago he would have considered it unlikely that a Holocaust resolution could pass the General Assembly.

Tuesday’s move grows out of several developments, he said, including broad support for Israel’s Gaza withdrawal and backing from Annan.

The “overwhelming support” with which the document passed sends “an important message,” Hoenlein said.

“It’s the last days of the survivors, and this will help ensure that their voices will be heard,” he said.

John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the resolution doesn’t mean Israel has gained full acceptance at the United Nations.

“While the Holocaust occurred 60 years ago, its lessons are no less relevant today,” he said.

Just last week, for example, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”

“When a president or a member state can brazenly and hatefully call for a second Holocaust by suggesting that Israel, the Jewish homeland, should be wiped off the map, it is clear that not all have learned the lessons of the Holocaust and that much work remains to be done,” he said on the U.N. floor.

“And when some member states shamefully hesitate to decisively condemn such remarks,” he added, “it is clear that much work remains to be done.”

The resolution was co-authored by countries including the United States, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union nations.

“With today’s General Assembly action, a majority of U.N. member states has affirmed the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

This “can only help to deepen worldwide understanding of this horrific chapter in world history, as well as embolden all within the U.N. system who strive daily to combat the hatred that can lead to genocide anywhere in the globe,” he said.

An effort two years ago for a General Assembly resolution on anti-Semitism hit a wall. A diplomatic source told JTA that Tuesday’s resolution is not meant to replace the one on anti-Semitism that failed.

“The resolution on the Holocaust has its own merits; it’s not any sort of fall back position,” the source said.

Indeed, the Holocaust resolution passed Tuesday does not mention the word “anti-Semitism.”

“We would have hoped that a reference to anti-Semitism would be included in that, but we were aware that this was going to make our lives extremely difficult and we did not want to compromise the sanctity of the 6 million who were murdered in the Holocaust just for the sake of having everything we wanted in the resolution,” the source said.

Poland’s U.N. ambassador, Andrzej Towpik, said the resolution “is particularly important” to Poland, which “lost millions” in the Holocaust, including over 90 percent of the country’s Jews, he told the General Assembly.

Poland is committed to commemorating the Holocaust by building a Jewish history museum in Warsaw and preserving Nazi concentration camps in Poland, Towpik said.

Speaking of the Holocaust as “the very darkest chapter” of German history, Gunter Pleuger, Germany’s U.N. ambassador, said the resolution will help “keep the fate of the victims alive in the memory of the world.”

“It is our responsibility to keep continual guard against anti-Semitism, racism” and other forms of hatred and intolerance, he said.

For Shai Franklin, director of international organizations for the World Jewish Congress, the Holocaust resolution is “bigger for the U.N. than it is for the Jews.”

“We see this as another step in the effort to bring the United Nations into conformity with its origins and with its charter,” he said. “This is not an Israeli resolution. This is not a Jewish resolution. It’s a resolution by the member states of the U.N. taking responsibility for the memory of the Holocaust, and it’s a very big day for the U.N.”

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