Sunday, April 01, 2007

The UN and the Jews

I have rarely said kind things about (former) UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. I was calling for his ouster in 2004, noted his complacency in the UN's appalling anti-Israel bias, and I mocked him when he seemed to seriously believe that Syria would stop arms shipments to Hezbollah along the Syria-Lebanon border.

In short, I have not been a fan.

But this speech he gave, in tribute to UN Watch founder and diplomat Morris Abram, nearly made me cry.
I know that to some of you in this audience, and in the Jewish community at large, it has sometimes seemed as if the United Nations serves all the world's peoples but one: the Jews.

The exclusion of Israel from the system of regional groupings; the intense focus given to some of Israel's actions, while other situations sometimes fail to elicit the similar outrage; these and other circumstances have given a regrettable impression of bias and one-sidedness.

As you know, the General Assembly some years ago rescinded its resolution equating Zionism with racism. Even so, deep and painful scars remain -- for the United Nations, I should stress, as much as for you. One of my priorities as Secretary-General has been to try to heal these wounds and find our way to mutual understanding and partnership.

Building lives of security and dignity for all requires the full participation of all -- of each and every individual and nation. I am glad to say that the Jewish community has been a significant presence at the United Nations from the beginning. Leaders of the American Jewish Committee were in San Francisco when the Organization was founded, and helped to infuse the Charter with concern for justice and human rights. Earlier this year, the American Jewish Committee donated $200,000 to the United Nations refugee agency for the reconstruction of schools in Kosovo, showing a humanitarian impulse that recognizes neither borders nor creed, but only fellow human beings in need.
The new century is upon us, and the shape of the challenges ahead is clear. Some are as old as civilization itself: war, hunger, intolerance and inequality. Others are newer, such as the AIDS epidemic, climate change and the opportunities and risks associated with globalization. Some threats are conspicuous, such as drug-trafficking and terrorism. Others are more subtle, like corruption and money- laundering.

All these challenges share a crucial aspect: they transcend borders. They demand of us that we think less about what divides us, and more about what holds us together. They demand of us that we continue building an international community: a humane community with rules, with shared values and aspirations and, most of all, with a conscience.

It is unthinkable that your voices would not be part of this quest. Jews know the burden of bigotry. They know the longing for sovereignty. They know the pride and peril of nation-building. They know the push and pull between tradition and the modern; between individual needs and those of the community; between multiculturalism and more narrow visions of society. These are issues and questions that resonate for all people. As we search for answers, your participation can enrich the United Nations.

Friends, Jews around the world have just finished the annual celebration of Hanukkah -- the last "festival of lights" in a dark and tumultuous century. Tragically, genocide is very much a word of our time, blighting humanity's path and casting long shadows over genuine progress in the human condition. Indeed, the United Nations will never forget its origins in the fight against fascism, and that its Charter was drafted as the world was learning the full horror of the Holocaust. This history makes it especially sad that such a gulf arose between us.
Together, we have an opportunity -- and an obligation -- to bring more light into the world. Jews have been engaged in just such a mission since the far reaches of antiquity. For the past fifty-four years -- certainly not as long, although it has felt that way at times -- this has also been the mission of the United Nations. Neither of us has always succeeded. But neither have we stopped trying. Let us join forces and build a better world together. Thank you very much.

It isn't perfect. I wished that Annan had conceded that the allegations of one-sidedness were not just an "impression" but a fact, one that Annan should apologize for and demand to remedy.

But even the acknowledgment that we have a legitimate grievance, noticing that we feel the UN simply did not care about our plight and was utterly indifferent to our suffering, is something that I had never heard from the highest elites in the international system.

It's a start. Now let's build a better world out of it.


The probligo said...

"But even the acknowledgment that we [the Jews] have a legitimate grievance..."

Is it likely that Israel will acknowledge that the non-Jewish people of Palestine have legitimate grievance?

I am not holding my breath!

Anonymous said...

"But even the acknowledgement that we [the Jews] have a legitimate grievance..."

Actually, the inclusion of the word "legitimate" is editorialising and distorts Annan's comments.