NEW YORK – Speaking at a UN ceremony on Wednesday marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Reuven Rivlin said: “On this day, we once again remember the essence of the mission of this institution: all-out war against genocide.”
“‘Never again’ is not just a pledge by the survivors,” the president said. “It is, first and foremost, the very essence of this United Nations Organization.”
Rivlin urged the UN to consider whether its actions today are effective enough in upholding its charter, and said he feared the 1951 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was “merely a symbolic document.”
“To our great regret, since the UN was established, this rationale for its existence, its very raison d’être, has become ever more acute,” he continued. “Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan, Cambodia, Syria, Nigeria. These are just a few of the places where nations and communities have been slaughtered in a way that reminded the world that the Holocaust of the Jews was not the final chapter in the brutal scheme of man against his fellow man.
“The slaughter of nations and of communities was not born in Nazi Germany and did not cease with the opening of the gates of Auschwitz- Birkenau, Majdanek and Buchenwald,” he added.
“Now, in our own time, when the fundamentalist viper is raising its ugly head, we must remember that evil is not the property of any specific religion, just as it is not the attribute of any specific country or ethnic group. It is evil that, by its very nature, seeks to differentiate and discriminate between one life and another, between one human being and another, while the only real difference is between good and bad; between humanity and darkness.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for international unity and vigilance to combat rising extremism.
“Even today, after all we have witnessed, all that we know, all that we have pledged, and all we have done, we face widespread challenges to our common humanity,” Ban said at the event. “Anti-Semitism remains a violent reality.
Jews continue to be killed solely because they are Jews.
In Europe and elsewhere, Muslims are under attack, the victims of bigotry at the hands of political opportunists and ultra-nationalists.
“We have not yet found the antidote to the poison that led to genocide 70 years ago,” Ban concluded. “As we remember what was lost in the past, and as we recognize the perils of the present, we know what we must do, and we know that we must do it together.”
Rivlin arrived in New York City on Sunday ahead of winter storm Juno, and spent Sunday, Monday and Tuesday meeting with municipal and religious leaders, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Reverend Dr. A.R. Bernard of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn. He also met with former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and discussed, among other things, their shared love of soccer and the various options to initiate a renewal of the peace process.
Rivlin traveled to the US Military Academy at West Point, 80 km. north of New York City, to lay a memorial wreath at the grave of David Daniel “Mickey” Marcus, a US Army colonel who served as an adviser to the Hagana and then as the IDF’s first general, or aluf (then the equivalent of a brigadier- general), in the War of Independence. Marcus was killed a few hours before the first cease-fire, by an IDF sentry who mistook him for an Arab infiltrator in Abu Ghosh, west of Jerusalem.
On Tuesday, Rivlin held a working meeting with Ban in which they discussed cooperation between Israel and the UN, the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, and the various investigations being held around the events of Operation Protective Edge last summer. On Tuesday, The Jerusalem Post reported that the secretary-general would be appointing a special team to look into how Hamas uses the concrete it receives.
The president announced just before the UN event started that he would be returning to Israel a day earlier than planned following the attacks from Hezbollah in the North of Israel.
Rabbi Marc Schneier, the president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, an interreligious organization that strives to promote dialogue between Muslims and Jews, told the Post that Rivlin’s speech was a call for Jews to “reach out to the Muslim community and invite their participation...
in combating Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.
We must recognize that Jews and Muslims share a common faith and a common fate.”
The rhetoric that world leaders are using today, Schneier said, is not very welcoming to Muslims who may want to fight against racism.
“There’s this chorus of voices calling on European leaders to protect and defend [ Jewish communities],” he said. “With all due respect to my colleagues, that’s not the sole responsibility of European leaders. They are doing their best. What I find lacking is an appeal to the Muslim world and to the Muslim community to join us. We need to be appealing to leaders in the Muslim world.”
If attacks by Muslims against Jews are ever to cease, Schneier said, “ultimately the response must come from within the Muslim world.”