A commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp was held on 21 January 2015 at UN Headquarters in New York, organized by the Permanent Mission of Poland to the UN. The permanent representatives to the UN of the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Rwanda, Israel and Germany were among those who spoke.
Today we commemorate 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who survived Auschwitz wrote, "I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man."
The Holocaust was an age of atrocity and an age of impunity. In the years that followed, people believed that we grew more civilized and sensitized – that atrocities would not befall us again. Well, but then there was Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, and Bosnia.
History has shown us that there will always be some people who believe that some lives are worth less than others because their nationality, because of their ethnicity or because of their ancestry. They fail to understand that while we may not be brothers and sisters in faith, we are brother and sisters in fate – bound together by a common humanity.
The Holocaust didn’t begin with ghettos and concentration camps; it began with the Jews being degraded and dehumanized. The Nazis stripped the Jews of their property, their dignity, and eventually their lives. We see this same indifference for Jewish life today.
The terrorist who murdered four Jews in a Paris grocery store two weeks ago didn’t see Yoav Hattab as someone’s brother, or Yoav Cohen as someone’s boyfriend, or Philippe Braham as someone’s husband, or Francois-Michel Saada as someone’s father. He saw them as less than human and killed them in cold blood.
Seventy years after the Holocaust, European Jews are once again living in fear. They are being attacked on the streets for wearing a kippah, their businesses are being vandalized, and firebombs are being thrown at synagogues. Europe is facing an epidemic of antisemitism.
Last summer, there was an outbreak of violent protests following Israel’s conflict with Gaza. In France, Jewish worshipers in a synagogue were surrounded by an angry mob claiming to protest the policies of the Israeli government.
Let me be clear – the demonstrators didn’t choose to protest outside the Israeli embassy or a government office; they aimed their attacks to Jews in a house of worship. This wasn’t an expression of legitimate criticism or freedom of speech – this is the newest incarnation of the world’s oldest hatred.
Here in the United Nations, in this institute, Israel is regularly singled out for attack. These attacks may be masked as criticisms of Israeli policies, but very often they reveal a bias that runs deep within this institution.
Consider the following. There are 20 times more Human Rights Council resolutions passed against Israel as compared with any other countries in the world. This is neither logical or moral. heads of state and ambassadors stood in this institution compare Israel to Hitler and the Nazis. This is not legitimate criticism.
When you walked through the gates this morning, you passed the flags of all 193 member states. There are 25 flags with a cross on them, 15 with a crescent and only one, one with a Jewish Star of David.
For some people and some nations – one Jewish state is one too many. They would like to see the day when Jews are once again scattered, homeless, persecuted, and defenseless.
People speak about Israel’s right to self-defense, but when Jewish lives are threatened and Israel acts to defend them, we are largely denounced. We have been humanity’s canary in the coal mine for too long. Well, no more.
Today we have a strong State of Israel standing guard day and night. Abba Eban, Israel’s former Foreign Minister saw the bias and said, "It’s better to be disliked than pitied." He was right.
Israel is the only real democracy in the Middle East. It is the only country in the region with a free press, with free elections, and free speech. And it is the only nation defending the rights of women and minorities. We will always defend these values. Always. And if we have to be disliked in the process, so be it.
The alternative – to being pitied – is no longer an option. Israel will never relinquish its right to defend the Jewish state and the Jewish people.
A Jewish proverb teaches , from Hebrew:
מָוֶת וְחַיִּים, בְּיַד-לָשׁוֹן
"The instruments of both death and life are in the power of the tongue."
I look around the world and I see political leaders claiming that that there is a "sacred duty" to slaughter the infidels. I see religious leaders declaring that homosexuals are less than human. And I see school teachers encouraging young children to grow up and become martyrs.
In classrooms and houses of worship across the globe, children are being taught violence instead of tolerance and martyrdom instead of mutual understanding.
For too long, too many, have been too silent. Fearful of the need to be politically correct, nations have been reluctant to speak truthfully, clearly, and loudly.
Some people claim to stand for liberal values, but from their ivory towers they can’t see that extremists are using human rights to abuse human beings. They are using free speech to abuse free expression. And they are using the media to abuse journalists.
If you want to prevent the next mass atrocity, then there can be no ambiguities or equivocations – say it like it is. Radical Islamists are the single greatest threat to global peace and security.
I am here to tell you that we have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to fight for the values we all believe in. Extremists are attacking human rights and human dignity and we are not doing enough to stop them.
The danger of indifference and the consequences of inaction are just too high. We must stand together and proclaim that there can be zero, zero, tolerance for prejudice. There can be zero tolerance for teaching children to hate. And there can be zero tolerance for extremism.
The United Nations emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust to stand up for humanity. It is a responsibility that each and every one of us carries every single day. The Holocaust taught us that remembrance without resolve is meaningless. And it showed us that awareness must be matched with action.
We have a duty to ACT – A, C, T. A- We must be attentive and recognize the warning signs. C- We must condemn all those who are motivated by prejudice. And T- we must teach, teach, the next generation tolerance and understanding.
Together we must stand with courage and determination to defend our freedom, protect our values and confront those forces who would take them away. Only then can we say the words "never again" and know that these words have meaning.
Thank you very much.