Racism has been plaguing humanity for centuries. The notion that one group of people is superior, or inferior, to others, based on inherent collective ethnic, religious or biological characteristics has cost the lives of millions and the humiliation and degradation of many more.
The Jewish people understand the issues and the terrible consequences of discrimination, racism and xenophobia all too well.
This week we mark 74 years since Kristallnacht, the infamous night in 1938 during which 300 synagogues and hundreds of Jewish business and homes were destroyed by the Nazis. Many people still walk the earth carrying the living memory of the Holocaust. Six million Jewish men, women and children as well as thousands of homosexuals, gypsies and others, were murdered in the twentieth century’s greatest genocide.
Only through education, remembrance, and constant vigilance can we ensure that the tragedies of the past serve as clear lessons for the future.
And vigilance is, still of the essence. In the last few months we have witnessed antisemitism, one of the oldest forms of racism, again raising its ugly head.. In Europe, Jews were attacked – and murdered – for the sole reason that they were Jewish. Those relevant governments in Europe reacted swiftly and decisively against the perpetrators, and we should commend them for that.
In many places in the Middle East inflammatory antisemitic cartoons, articles and movies are being published and broadcast on a regular basis. They use classic anti-Semitic motifs and yet these movies, cartoons and articles are not published only in fringe publications, but also in the mainstream media, much of it government controlled. Unfortunately this phenomenon does not yet get the attention that it requires.
A new challenge in the struggle and fight against racism is emerging. There are attempts today by some states, organizations and sometimes even groups affiliated with the UN, to abuse some of the most basic terms and concepts of the fight against racism in order to further their own political goals. Terms such as "Racism", "apartheid", "Discrimination", and others are being cynically distorted to promote narrow political interests.
Such attempts not only hamper political processes, but, first and foremost, lead to a degradation of the fight against racism. By injecting an incendiary and often misleading context when using these terms, they undermine the efforts to educate humanity against racism and they work against preserving mankind's collective memory of the evils of racism.
Countering racism is a universal interest. In the long run, no state can benefit from undermining it. Therefore, it is the duty of all those who acknowledge the importance of fighting racism, to thwart attempts to politicize it and remain faithful to its true meaning and essence.
The State of Israel and the Jewish people have a proud history in the struggle against racism. In early biblical times we were commanded to, " not abuse the stranger for you were strangers in Egypt", our declaration of independence declares that, "The State of Israel will…ensure complete equality of social and political rights for all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture…
Within the State of Israel, my Government takes decisive action to promote tolerance and understanding. We view the promotion of tolerance as a primary aim of our educational system. The Israeli school curricula teach and emphasize the importance of the values of pluralism and preventing racism and xenophobia. The State Education Law lists among the objectives of our education system, “acquaintance with the language, culture, history, legacy and unique traditions of Israel’s minority groups, and acknowledgment of the equal rights of all Israeli citizens.”
Racism is broadly defined in Israel's Penal Law, and racial motivation is recognized as an aggravating circumstance in crimes. The law states that “any person committing an offence motivated by racism…or who poses hostility towards someone owing to their religion, religious group, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or due to their status as a foreign worker, is liable to receive double the sentence set for the same offence…”
Israeli police receive extensive training to ensure that they understand, and are sensitive to, all groups that make up Israeli society. And while Israel, like all other countries, is certainly not free from racism, a significant, active effort is being made to educate and to enforce tolerance in our multi-ethnic society.
Racism, in its various forms, has not ceased to exist. Racism still constitutes a challenge to those who pursue justice and fairness and believe in the equality of all people.
The international community must speak clearly, loudly and with one voice against the perils of racism and hatred. We must foil the attempts to distort the struggle against them. With a strong sense of history, the State of Israel remains at the forefront of this important cause. All members of the international community who are genuinely dedicated to combating racism will continue to find a deeply committed partner in the State of Israel.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.