In a moving ceremony on Jan. 27, 2006, The UN General Assembly commemorated the victims of the holocaust. The date, chosen for its historical significance – the liberation of the survivors of Auschwitz death camp – was also significant as a change in the UN’s functioning. This event, to be repeated annually, was supported by 104 co-sponsors from the Assembly.
The resolution for the commemoration was offered by Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman. In Gillerman’s words, “This is the first time the General Assembly has approved a resolution by Israel.” Such a resolution would have been inconceivable years ago.
Israel has had a difficult history at the UN. Ironically, as the world body shows increasing acceptance for Israel, the President of Iran, Mahmood Ahmadinejad, denies the holocaust, and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map. Democratic elections by Palestinians have produced a victory for Hamas, also in principle dedicated to the destruction of the Israeli state.
Over the years, Israel’s difficulties at the UN have resulted from the power of Arab nations, who have sidelined Israel from membership in many committees. In 1975, they engineered the Zionism is Racism resolution in the General Assembly. Through Kofi Annan’s efforts, this resolution was rescinded in 1991. At a unique series of conferences on intolerance, the first on the topic of anti-Semitism, Elie Wiesel thanked the Secretary General for his work.
In the recent UN Summit, Israel’s ambassador was elected Vice-President of the Assembly. Recently, Israeli professionals have been included in many UN special agencies, such as WHO and UNESCO, long particularly hostile to Israel.
The day-long remembrance for the holocaust victims at the UN joined the voices of senior UN officials with some survivors. They paid a moving tribute to those who perished and pledged to work to prevent future genocide and crimes against humanity
Kofi Annan, traveling with his wife Nane, niece of Raoul Wallenberg, marked Remembrance Day in Zurich, Switzerland, where they met with Auschwitz survivors. Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from Nazi persecution. After meeting with Auschwitz survivors, the Secretary General invoked his wife’s uncle. “How come there were so few Wallenbergs, where were the others?” A profound and disturbing question.
At another presentation, Judea Pearl, the father of Daniel Pearl, the journalist murdered in Pakistan, said his son had given voice to millions of voiceless Muslims from Iran, Sudan, and Pakistan. His goal was to identify and bring into public understanding the people behind the news.
Judea Pearl told the assembled audience, “My grandparents perished in Auschwitz, in 1942. 60 years later, before his murder, my son was forced to appear before his captors’ video camera. He said, “My name is Daniel Pearl. I am a Jewish American from Encino, California. My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, and I am Jewish.”
For Judea Pearl, his son’s statement comes “from a place where one’s heritage is a source of strength, and one’s strength is measured by one’s capacity to accommodate diversity, because it is only through the acceptance of diversity that we recognize our common humanity.” In this spirit, Judea Pearl founded the Daniel Pearl Foundation to promote cross-cultural understanding by bringing together different cultural groups.
The interconnectedness of the world in which we live may serve to split people apart as well as bring them together. But whether or not we as individuals choose rootedness in a particular tradition as our moral source, as humanists, we can work to promote the goal of Judea Pearl, and his son Daniel.
– Phyllis Ehrenfeld, AEU’s National Service Conference Representative to the UN;
– Sylvain Ehrenfeld, IHEU Representative to the UN