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Denying #Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitism at its worst

20/03/2018 2 comments

img_1382Yesterday, I addressed the opening of the Sixth Global Forum on Combatting Anti-Semitism. I started by extending greetings from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who was unable to attend this conference and asked me to represent him. Before I began, I expressed my condolences to the families of Adiel Kolman, Ziv Daos and Netanel Kahalani, who were killed by Palestinian perpetrators in the past few days.

There is nothing heroic in killing. Has violence and terror helped any cause, any nation, any country in the region? Those who inspire and praise such attacks do not serve the cause of peace.

The fact we were gathered together yesterday, for the sixth time, in Jerusalem, at the Global Forum for Combatting Antisemitism is a testament. It is a testament to the commitment of nations and peoples around the world to never forget the crimes of the Shoah. It is a testament to never allow hatred, racisms and discrimination and xenophobia to rule the world. But most of all, it is a testament to the resilience of the Jewish people and to their long and painful journey home.

So it is was most appropriate to open this forum with three very clear and simple messages and address them to all who seek to fan the flames of hatred, terror and war:

The State of Israel is here to stay.

It is the home of the Jewish people.

In the modern context,

denying Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitism at its worst.

The modern state of Israel was born out of the ashes of the Second World War. It was built and defended by Jews who came home from across the world, it was established to be a democracy that respects human rights, protects minorities and extends support to immigrants. It is not a colonial project, but a project of hope.

The Shoah did not occur in a vacuum. It was a culmination of thousands of years of persecution from the exile of ancient Babylon, through the pogroms in Tsarist Russia, to the systematic extermination in the Nazi death camps.

The United Nations believes that we have an obligation not only to remember the boundless evil that led to the attempt to systematically eliminate the Jewish people, but to stand up and confront hatred and xenophobia where we see it.

Today we see incidents of

anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance increasing globally,

triggered by populism and by divisive politics. In Europe, we are seeing the re-emergence of neo-Nazi and other extreme nationalist groups. In America we hear ominous chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”. Online there is a surge in support for racist or supremacist causes. And there are those who continue to call for the destruction of Israel. They sharpen their weapons as we speak.

Looking closer to home, we must recognize and denounce anti-Semitism here in the region. In too many societies across the Middle East, the demonization of Jews continues unabated. Many have often spoken of how a peaceful two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will pave the way towards resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. They are right. Yet at the same time, an enduring peace must be based on the acceptance that Jews, Christians and Muslims all have a historic and religious connection to this land, to this city.

While history has taught us that blind hatred and propaganda need little to turn into violence, it also teaches us that we have a choice. It teaches us that no one is born hating other people. It teaches us that we have a choice whether we give in to xenophobia and hatred or to respect different peoples, faiths and cultures. The Shoah was the result of turning hatred into policy. It became possible because too many people chose to collaborate or looked the other way. This is why

attempts to rewrite the history of the Holocaust and downplay the complicity of those who participated in or enabled genocide are so concerning.

Renowned Israeli writer and Holocaust survivor Aharon Applefeld, who recently passed away, described his memory of confronting indifference: “I noticed that all the doors and windows of our non-Jewish neighbors were suddenly shut, and we walked alone in empty streets. None of our many neighbors, […] was at the window when we dragged along our suitcases.” A sad and tragic picture imprinted in the family history of so many Jews who were lucky to survive the killing grounds of Europe.

Some people however did not look away. They did not keep their doors and windows shut.

In my country, Bulgaria, people came out.

To stand on the train tracks and to not allow the deportations. In a country that was allied to Nazi Germany. While sadly 11,300 Jews living in Bulgarian-administered territories in northern Greece, Eastern Serbia, and Macedonia were deported by the Nazis and their collaborators to be murdered in Treblinka, Bulgaria’s Jewish community of 50,000 people survived the war and has been instrumental in building the modern State of Israel.

We all have a choice to look away from the problems of anti-Semitism, xenophobia and intolerance, or to confront them. We all have a responsibility to educate our children long before their young hearts and minds are poisoned by propaganda. To this end, the United Nations and the Secretary-General are committed to continue working to educate people around the world about the horrors of the past and how we can all contribute to ensuring they are never forgotten and never repeated.

I these words I wished the conference every success.

If you create hope, then take it away, violence usually follows

04/01/2018 Leave a comment

DRbohebXcAAut05.jpg-largeOn December 19th 2017 I spoke at the International Peace Institite (IPI) “Leading for Peace: Voices From the Field” series in New York. The focus was on a decade of deteriorating conditions in Gaza, which has “de-developed” under Hamas,  and the risks of the stalled return of the Palestinian Authority to the Strip.

Since then the PA has decided to increase electricity supply to Gaza, which will ease the humanitarian situation and increase the chances of an agreement that will see the Government enabled in Gaza. Much however remains to be done. There is a growing risk of conflict as rockets fired by militants in Gaza towards Israel continue. One third of all the rockets fired in 2017 came in December of last year. Just yesterday four rockets were fired. This is dangerous and reckless and it only increases the chances of a conflict that no one should want.

Much of the discussion focused on the recent intra-Palestinian Cairo agreement. With that initiative hope was created, but if the agreement fails, that hope will be taken away and probably replaced by violence. The situation remains grim.

Back in December I spoke just days after President Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem. I told told the packed room that we are at a critical crossroads of the Middle East peace process for a number of reasons that include also the situation in Gaza and the political dynamics among Israelis and Palestinians. The international architecture, established for decades, to deal with this conflict is collapsing.

As most of the focus was on Gaza, we went through some shocking figures that illustrate the desperation of life there. If in the year 2000, 98 percent of the water flowing in Gaza’s pipes had been drinkable, today only 10 percent is. The local aquifer is increasingly polluted and the situation would be “irreversible” by 2020. Hospitals are working on UN provided diesel as residents make ends meet with barely three to four hours of electricity per day. Unemployment is now at 45 percent, going up to 67 percent among the youth. 40 percent of the residents of Gaza live in poverty.

By contrast, in the West Bank, in the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority, the past decade has seen progress. As Gaza’s GDP has declined by some 10%, in the West Bank GDP has grown by some 50%. That is why it is imperative to return the legitimate Palestinian Authority back to Gaza and that is why the implementation of the Egyptian brokered deal between Fatah and Hamas is critical.

There is a new climate in the region in which some Arab leaders are realising that they need to strengthen the centres of moderation, where they exist, and resist radicalisation. There is a growing understanding in the Arab world that countries need their own capabilities and capacities to deal with internal threats and outside interference. That is why bring the Palestinian Authority back to Gaza will help strengthen moderate forces and will be in line with this new Arab trend.

Warren Hoge, IPI’s Senior Adviser for External Relations, ably moderated the conversation. You can see IPI’s summary of the event, pictures and video here.

Fighting terrorism in the Middle East includes the need to strengthen the forces of moderation in the region

11/09/2017 Leave a comment

dp1_-_sc_at_icts_17th_world_summit_on_counterterrorism_-_11_sept_2017It was an honour to speak at the 17th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism that was organised by the Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC) in Herzliya. In my remarks I thanked Prof Reichman, President and Founder of the IDC and Prof Ganor, Founder and Executive Director of the IDC for organising the event.

It was quite symbolic that we met on September 11th. I opened by saying that

I was also humbled to speak before an audience in which there are many who sadly remember and have lived through many other terrorist attacks. Israel is a country that has lived with terror for decades. Decades in which most families have been hurt by violence and terror. Decades in which most families have remembered the losses, the sadness, the fear and the trauma that terror causes.

I spoke at the forum also as someone who has sadly lived with that phenomena for most of my life. The first car bomb was at the age of seven. In Iraq I had lost friends and colleagues. My own country has experienced its most recent terror attack in 2012 when Hezbullah killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian in a bus bombing.

In the last couple of years, as the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, I can attest to how vastly destructive the impact of terrorism is, not just on human beings but also on the prospects of peace.

Sadly, in this part of the world, extremists have chosen terrorism as their most prominent tool to destroy political processes, to destroy the prospects of peace. That is why standing up firmly to terror must be an integral part of any peace effort, not just in words but also in deeds.

Just as we often speak of the need to promote peace through sustainable development and economic opportunity, so we must insulate efforts to achieve peace in the region from the risks that terror and violence bring.

In the Middle East of today, we face a reality in which terrorist threats are interconnected. To tackle them we need a broad approach that extends well beyond the borders of any one country and go beyond the region as a whole.

Today’s reality demands a new international approach on how we deal with the new threats that the Middle East and North Africa face. I spoke about three processes that together unfortunately create the perfect storm that we see unfolding right now in the Middle East, before making some suggestions of how to deal with these challenges.

Firstly, we see a process of collapsing states that lack democratic legitimacy, that lack strong institutions, or the ability to deliver services to their people. In Syria a president stood up against his own people. In Iraq, a collapsed state was replaced by ethnic and sectarian divisions.

When such states are unable to meet the legitimate demands of their people for representation, economic and social development, security or human dignity, they create space for radical groups and extremists.

In late 2013, the Iraqi people in the Anbar province and elsewhere took to the streets demanding jobs, dignity and fair economic and social opportunities. They were not met with dialogue but with guns. Soon their protests that had turned into sit-ins that were infiltrated by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and ISIL and by the spring of 2014. Their agenda was hijacked by radical extremists with a destructive agenda.

Had the government reacted differently, perhaps that would not have happened.

At the same time, we see across the Middle East the implosion of marginalized communities. Groups that are impoverished, or have been disenfranchised, or feel marginalized or discriminated against quickly collapse under the pressure of radical extremists; And become breeding grounds for terror, mass atrocities and violence.

Almost two years before Mosul fell to the hands of ISIL, all the signs were there; and the United Nations had been warning the world. For years the people in Mosul lived in fear of the central government. They felt that their dignity was not respected. Their lacked economic opportunities, institutions were corrupt and ineffective. People felt marginalized. In the period before the fall of Mosul to the hands of DAESH, practically every single elected representative was killed, maimed, kidnapped or kicked out by the terror organizations.

Terror struck in waves; first it struck elected officials, then it struck civilians, then it struck religious communities, and last but not least, it struck schools.

In the last couple of months before the fall of Mosul, we had a surge of terror attacks in which suicide bombers attacked schools. This destroyed the social structures of society.

As states collapse, as social structures implode, the international community lacks the tools to deal with the trans-border threats that face the region today. Our instruments were designed to deal primarily with state-to-state conflicts. They would have helped us deal with a war between Iraq and Syria, but how do we deal with a war inside Iraq and inside Syria that risks to spread and engulf everyone around them?

These are some of the challenges that today we need to find the answers to and to deal with at an international, regional and national level.

We in the United Nations, together with our many partners around the world, are investing great attention and resources in trying to fix our own approaches so that we have a better understanding of what needs to be done.

We are investing not just in providing humanitarian relief to suffering communities but also working to help still-functioning states and as-yet-unbroken communities in the region protect themselves from the vulnerabilities of what is happening around us.

It is very important that we take the necessary actions to prevent further conflict.

UN Secretary-General Guterres has been very much focused on developing a new vision for the Organization; one which prioritizes prevention over response. As part of his efforts to focus on preventing violence, conflict and mass atrocities, he has also established a UN Office for Counter-Terrorism.

My colleague, Jehangir Khan later spoke more specifically to these developments.

I focused on five objectives related to how we deal with terror in the international community that warrant some discussion.

Firstly, is the moral foundation for our work — zero tolerance for the justification or legitimization of terror. In Israel, this is particularly pertinent discussion. It is however a very valid discussion well beyond the borders of your state.

We must constantly reaffirm and strengthen the clear international consensus against terror. Let me quote a UN General Assembly Resolution (49/60), adopted in 1994: “Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them”.

So first we need to condemn terror, then secondly we have an obligation to promote inclusive political solutions to conflicts.

Experience in this part of the world has shown us that if you create hope, and then take hope away, most of the time you end up with violence. This is particularly pertinent to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Today, we live in a historical period in which the hope for peace and for a solution to the conflict is well beyond the reach of political leaders on all sides.

Terrorism strives where there is division and suffocates when the core grievances that people have are addressed.

This is one of the reasons why in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is important to create the hope for peace by recreating a political horizon to address the final status issues. Such a political process needs to be accompanied by economic and social measures that improve the lives of Palestinians and a regional framework that insulates the process from those who will seek to destroy it.

The third objective that we must focus on is the need to address the political and socio-economic factors that breed violent extremism. Across the region, this means investing in development, upholding human rights and strengthening the resilience of communities against extremism.

Fourth, we need to focus on the coordinated fight against the drivers and enablers of terrorism at an international level. We need to strengthen the international response to incitement and radical propaganda; focus on illicit weapons smuggling and production; the financial flows to terror groups; the movement of foreign fighters; and the question of accountability for states in upholding their international obligations.

Last but not least, we also have a political objective that I believe is very important and that is to strengthening the forces of moderation in the Middle East. Over the last year or so, we have seen a growing understanding among leaders in some countries of the Arab world of the need to focus on this priority and this a welcome development.

These are just some of the priorities that I suggested we should look at in our international efforts to address the threat of terrorism, particularly here in the Middle East. Much more can be said and certainly much more can be done.

In closing, I reminded everyone that sadly terrorists have a doubly de-humanizing impact on all. On the one hand, they brand entire populations as legitimate targets. On the other, they stigmatize their own ethnic or religious groups as potential terrorists. We should not allow them to win by caving into this bias. The negative action of one terrorist today still resonates widely, while the actions of many individuals who work every day to prevent violence remain unnoticed.

I expressed my hope that this conference will be able to speak to how we challenge this visibility bias and the de-humanizing effect of terror.

But I also encouraged participants not to shy away from the political task that we have before us — how to strengthen the forces of moderation and how do we increase the residence of communities so that we can together stand against violent extremism and terror.