Britain's Prince William lays a wreath during a ceremony commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust, in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem.
(photo credit: DEBBIE HILL/REUTERS)
January 28, 2019 marked the beginning of Holocaust Remembrance week at the United Nations. Speakers at the United Nations Holocaust Memorial Ceremony, “Holocaust Remembrance: Demand and Defend Your Human Rights,” all agreed the lessons of the Holocaust must not be forgotten and education is essential. Are their words representative of the deeds of this international body? Sadly, no, but with the repeated call for education, our organization, Reform UNRWA: Stop Teaching Hate, constitutes a call to action.
Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, elegantly made the case for curbing hate and rising antisemitism.
As he correctly pointed out, “Hate is moving into the mainstream, the demonization of others rages on. It is our duty to fight hate speech which leads to hate crimes.” He emphasized that this must happen in the schools. Education is crucial and we must stand up against those who spread hatred.
These same sentiments were spoken by Guterres, the highest official of the United Nations. Yet hate-filled, inciteful education continues to be provided by UNRWA, an agency of the UN, making the UN complicit in this travesty. This disconnect must be corrected! H.E. Ms. Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, president of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, reminded the audience that the UN was born out of the ashes of World War II to stop hatred and demonization of the “other.” She then added that we will never root out all the evils that led to the Holocaust, but we can contain them by our actions. We must “provide education that emphasizes citizenship and respect of the other!” H.E. Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, also made a plea for education. He quoted Elie Weisel’s The Perils of Indifference: “Indifference is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger may be creative but indifference is not; indifference elicits no response.”
Danon declared that “today it is our responsibility to choose the right side of history and to overcome apathy and speak up. The goal of the Holocaust was to erase the Jews. We should not muddy this memory with universalism. From the ashes, Israel arose; now antisemitism continues to work to destroy Israel. We must not be apathetic; when Iran declares it will destroy Israel, a fellow member state of the UN, we must not ignore it.”
Put most simply, Holocaust survivor Inge Aeurbacher said her “wish is for every child to grow up in peace.” She spoke loudly and clearly: “the antidote to hatred is education!” UNRWA has been responsible for the education of many hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children. It is mandated to follow the basic tenets of UNESCO, which adhere to principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Recent translations of the newest textbooks purchased from the Palestinian Authority by UNRWA and supposedly vetted by UNRWA are in blatant violation of these UNESCO standards. Instead of promoting peace, tolerance, and respect of the other, these books are fraught with antisemitism, demonization and calls for violence against “the other” (Jews), and denial of a member- state’s (Israel’s) right to exist.
Mr. Secretary-General, we urge you, in this new year of 2019, to prove that the United Nations is no longer indifferent. You can and must take action against UNRWA’s hatefilled curriculum. As Weisel said, “Indifference makes the human inhuman.”
The proof is there. The books have been translated from Arabic to English, and we can all see that they teach hate. The words spoken at the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust need to be translated from words into deeds!
Dr. Deborah Singer Soffen (pediatrician and child advocate) and Dr. Joan Lurie Goldberg (physicist, representative of the International Council of Jewish Women at the UN in New York, and co-chair of the Informal Caucus of Jewish NGOs at the UN) are founding members of the social action group “Reform UNRWA: Stop Teaching Hate” consisting of members of the Jewish NGO group at the UN and like-minded friends.
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