UN adopts Int'l Holocaust Day

Israel: Unanimous decision "comes very late, but better late than never."

gillerman UN 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
gillerman UN 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
It took 56 years, but the UN General Assembly on Tuesday finally passed an Israeli-initiated resolution. After 10-months of preparatory work, two days of discussion and an impassioned speech by Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman, the General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution declaring January 27 - the day in 1945 when Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated - as a worldwide day to commemorate the Holocaust. "I feel moved and privileged to present this historic resolution today, as an Israeli, a Jew, a human being and a child of a family of Holocaust victims," Gillerman said Monday when presenting the resolution. "The United Nations was founded on the ashes of the Holocaust," he said. "The UN bears a special responsibility to ensure that the Holocaust and its lessons are never forgotten and that this tragedy will forever stand as a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice." The resolution urges individual countries to develop educational programs to try to prevent future acts of genocide. It also rejects any denial of the Holocaust, condemns discrimination and violence based on religion or ethnicity, and calls for the UN to establish an outreach program to encourage the public to engage in Holocaust remembrance activities. Roni Leshno Ya'ar, the Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for the UN and international organizations, said the UN will budget some $350,000 for this purpose over the next two years. This was the first time an Israeli-initiated resolution ever even made it to the floor of the General Assembly for a vote, let alone won resounding approval. The vote came less than a week after the Security Council, in an unprecedented censuring of a Muslim country for statements against Israel, condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's call to wipe Israel off the map. US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton made reference to Ahmadinejad's comments in his speech on Monday. "When a president or a member state can brazenly and hatefully call for a second Holocaust by suggesting that Israel, the Jewish homeland, should be wiped off the map, it is clear that not all have learned the lessons of the Holocaust and that much work remains to be done," he said. The resolution was sponsored initially by Israel, the US, Australia, Canada and Russia. Gillerman said Tuesday it had 104 garnered co-sponsors. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom termed the vote "historic." "For the first time since the establishment of Israel, the UN General Assembly has adopted an unprecedented Israeli resolution. This is a very significant step, both in the war against anti-Semitism and for the commemoration of the Holocaust, and in promoting Israel's international position," he said. Shalom said the vote showed that the UN, after 60 years, finally realized the importance of acknowledging the lessons of the Holocaust, and finally treated Israel as an equal member in the international community. Leshno Ya'ar said the challenge now facing the ministry would be to implement the resolution within the UN framework and in each country. After the vote, Gillerman thanked the 191 members of the General Assembly "at this unique and historic moment... for adopting this unprecedented resolution." More than a dozen countries spoke during the debate on the resolution which began Monday and ended Tuesday morning. While all speakers backed the general thrust of the draft, there were calls for its scope to be expanded beyond the Holocaust to incorporate other war crimes, acts of genocide or ethnic cleansing. Egyptian Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz complained that the day should commemorate all victims of genocide and not be limited just to victims of the Holocaust. Why should there be a remembrance day for the Jews and not for Christians and Muslims, he asked, stating that "no one had a monopoly on suffering." Indonesia's ambassador said it would be preferable if the intention to institute Holocaust remembrance within the UN system also gave simultaneous attention to other tragedies. Jordanian Ambassador Prince Zeid al-Hussein, meanwhile, called the Holocaust "a crime of the most colossal proportions." But, in a clear allusion to Israel and the Palestinians, he said that, unfortunately and by contrast, "never again‚ was also sometimes used as a form of moral justification for the implementation of some policies, the effect of which was the continued domination of one people by another." Despite these sentiments, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden banged the gavel signifying consensus after asking whether there were any objections and hearing none. The UN was "erected from the ashes of the Second World War," he said, and part of its original mission was to make sure such an "unspeakable atrocity" as the Holocaust never occurred again. The Holocaust "must, therefore, be a unifying historic warning around which we must rally," he said. "We can't continue to repeat saying never again." Michael Melchior, the deputy minister responsible for Israel's response to anti-Semitism, said: "This important declaration by the UN comes very late, but better late than never. By declaring this day, the United Nations is recognizing the importance of dealing with anti-Semitism, which gave birth to the most terrible crime in the history of humanity." Melchior said that the effectiveness of this decision would be tested by its implementation, "first and foremost in the educational curriculums around the world and particularly in those countries where anti-Semitism is growing." Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev issued a statement welcoming the resolution, saying that by adopting the resolution the UN had "expressed its recognition of the importance of Holocaust remembrance as well as the role that Holocaust education plays in safeguarding basic human values." AP contributed to this report.