NEW YORK – World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder spoke Wednesday at a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) event held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, on the power of education in preventing racism and discrimination, with a focus on antisemitism.
The event sought to place political leaders’ support behind the need to develop training programs to address antisemitism in and through education, and build the resilience of youth to violent extremist ideologies, on the basis of guidelines for education policy makers published jointly by UNESCO and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
The WJC has announced its support for this new project, by offering seminars to decision-makers to assist in implementation. The implementation of this initiative is the first part of a UNESCO-WJC partnership, which will continue in November with the launch of a Holocaust education website at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
In his address to the audience, Lauder said: “How many Jews have to be murdered, as they have been already in France, Belgium, Sweden, and Israel, before people say something? How dare the world be silent to attacks on Jews seven decades after the gas chambers of Auschwitz were finally shut down? This is our response – we will never be silent again. And you should not be silent either.”
Lauder also spoke of the bias pervading the UN, which “singles out one and only one country for condemnation over and over again… the only Jewish state on Earth, Israel.
“Between 2012 and 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted 97 resolutions criticizing countries – 83 out of those 97, were against Israel,” Lauder said, adding that in UNESCO alone, between 2009 and 2014, 47 resolutions of condemnation were passed – one against Syria, and 46 against Israel.
“Audrey Azoulay, the new head of UNESCO, is making great strides correcting this, and we applaud her for what she’s doing. But after decades of bad behavior at UNESCO, its reputation cannot be cleansed overnight. Especially when this virus of antisemitism still runs throughout the entire body of the United Nations,” Lauder said.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the conference that antisemitism comes under many guises, including calls for the destruction of Israel. “Antisemitism always comes back,” and it is all of our duty to fight back, Guterres said, adding that member states have a primary responsibility to address their citizens’ human rights. The United Nations and UNESCO are doing important work in fighting antisemitism, he said, emphasizing: “I call on all member states to join these crucial efforts."
“Antisemitism has survived across the millenia, but it should have no place in the 21st century,” Guterres added. “Being true to our charter means combating antisemitism and hatred with all of our will.”
In her remarks, UNESCO Director General Azoulay said: “To address antisemitism is to tackle one of the most powerful ideological forces of violent extremism. It is to defend fundamental freedoms and the equal dignity of all human beings. This is why addressing anti-Semitism should not be conducted by Jewish institutions alone.”
“It is crucial that the entire international community mobilize,” Azoulay added, highlighting that education is the most powerful tool for long-term prevention.
Several heads of state, and senior government officials from around the world were also present at the event on Wednesday, with additional statements delivered by the prime minister of Morocco, and ministers representing Argentina, Australia, France, Hungary, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Spain, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom. World-renowned historian Prof. Deborah Lipstadt and Mina Abdelmalak, educator at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Initiative on Holocaust Denial and Antisemitism also addressed the audience.