UN Secretary-General warns of rise in anti-Semitism, other forms of hatred

Nov 5, 2018

“We have to condemn. We have to speak up.” — UN Secretary-General warns of rise in anti-Semitism, other forms of hatred

I am here to express horror and solidarity — horror following the most abject act of anti-Semitism that has happened in the history of the United States. But also solidarity — solidarity with the victims, solidarity with the families, solidarity with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and worldwide. And solidarity also with the people of the United States of America who overwhelmingly reject this horrendous act.

Since I became Secretary-General, I have been raising my voice against what I believe is the rise of anti-Semitism in many of our societies and namely my part of the world in Europe, but also unfortunately here in North America.

It is not only anti-Semitism that we are witnessing rising. We see other forms of anti-religious hatred — be it against Muslims, or Christians or Yazidis being persecuted in the Middle East. We have seen so many situations where migrants and refugees have become the scapegoat of the problems of societies.

We see xenophobia and racism developing in many parts of the world. But it is true that anti-Semitism is the oldest and most permanent form of hatred against a people in the history of humankind. Jews are discriminated and persecuted for the simple reason that they are Jews.

Secretary-General António Guterres addressing inter-faith gathering in NYC | Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

With the climate of persecution and discrimination in the Roman empire, with everything that happened in the Middle Ages, I will never forget the history of my country — the discrimination and persecution of Jews in the Middle Ages and then culminating with the most stupid crime of Portuguese history, the expulsion of the Jews in the beginning of the 16th century.

[It was] criminal because of the suffering endured by the Jewish people, stupid because it had a very negative perspective in the prosperity of my own country. Then, as centuries went on with different manifestations in different parts of the world with more violence, culminating in the horror of the Nazi Holocaust.

I must say, probably with a naïve approach, that I always felt the Holocaust had been so horrible that rejection of what happened would be so universal that it would really make us feel so angry — with total abjection — that anti-Semitism would tend to disappear in modern societies. It was with a certain amount of surprise that I have seen that progressively, anti-Semitism is again on the rise. It’s on the rise especially in the developed world in ways that I find particularly intolerable.

Jews [are] again being persecuted or discriminated against or attacked for the simple reason that they are who they are. We see it on the Internet, in hate speech; we see it in the way cemeteries are desecrated. We now see it in this horrendous attack on a synagogue.

Religious, political and civic leaders listening to Secretary-General’s address | Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

I believe it is important not only to denounce, not only to condemn these acts as any other act of xenophobia or racism, but it’s also necessary to try to understand why this is happening.

Indeed, if one looks at our societies, we see seeds of division. We see people worried, afraid, insecure. Some because they were left behind by technological progress. Some because they don’t understand the movement of people and they don’t understand the richness of diversity. Some because they are the victims of the negative impacts of globalization.

I believe that it is important to recognize that diversity is a richness, not a threat. Diversity will not necessarily be spontaneously harmonious. To make diversity harmonious we need to have a strong investment in the social cohesion of societies, in making sure that people not only tolerate each other […]. The question is not that we tolerate each other, it’s that we respect each other and that we love each other.

This requires a huge investment in the social cohesion of our societies. So, I believe there is an enormous responsibility for leaders — leaders of international organizations like mine, political leaders, leaders of religious communities, leaders in civil society — to be able to address the root causes that are undermining the cohesion of our societies and that are creating conditions for these forms of hatred to become more and more frequent and more and more negative in the way they are expressed.

We need to make sure that there is a massive investment in education. We need to make sure there are safety nets allowing those that are the ones left behind by technical progress or globalization not to feel desperate in relation to the future.

Youth attendees at inter-faith gathering | Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

We need to provide hope for our youth that sometimes also feel that there is not a clear perspective for the way to develop their lives in our societies. We need to make a huge investment in bringing people together, in making people feel that at the same time their very identity is respected, but that they belong to the community as a whole.

Let’s be clear. We also need to be very firm in speaking up and combating these new forms that are not only anti-Semitism, I even see the roots of neo-Nazism growing. I was amazed a few months ago when in a demonstration there were people shouting, “blood and soil.” Now for many common citizens, some of these expressions that are used have no special meaning. They look like not-so-adequate forms of expression of patriotism.

But now more and more words, more and more concepts, more and more ideas that we see on the Internet, in many demonstrations in the expression of people, are deeply rooted in Nazi thinking. They have a special meaning in the Nazi ideology.

This is something we need to be very attentive to in our societies, because one of the logics of extremist organizations is to, in a subtle way, try to penetrate the mainstream and make some of their idiot ideas accepted as a new normal in our societies.

We have to condemn. We have to speak up. We have to be very firm in denouncing horrendous acts like the one in Pittsburgh, but we also need to assume our responsibilities as leaders to prevent these things from happening and to address the root causes that help them to develop.

Related information

31 October 2018 Secretary-General’s remarks at Interfaith Gathering: “United Against Hate”

Related Story: UN chief and religious leaders honour victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

UN Holocaust Remembrance Programme

UNESCO Holocaust and Genocide Education Programme

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