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Annan targets anti-Semitism

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UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday urged the U.N. member nations to take action to combat the "alarming resurgence" of Jewish hatred and adopt a resolution condemning anti-Semitism.

"This time, the world must not, cannot be silent," he told the first-ever U.N. seminar devoted entirely to confronting anti-Semitism.

Annan called for the U.N. General Assembly to adopt a resolution condemning all anti-Semitic acts and attacks and declaring that political developments, in Israel or elsewhere, can never justify anti-Semitism.

He also challenged U.N. human rights bodies to step up efforts to combat anti-Semitism, noting that the Commission on Human Rights recently adopted a resolution calling for an investigation of attacks on Muslims and Arabs.

"Are not Jews entitled to the same degree of concern and protection?" Annan asked.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom "expressed his hope that we will now see a new era in the relationship between the United Nations and the Jewish people," Israel's deputy ambassador Arye Mekel said.

Mekel said Israel plans to press for the resolution's passage and push human rights investigators to examine acts of anti-Semitism.

While the secretary-general's initiative in organizing the day-long seminar and his support for a U.N. resolution were widely applauded, the U.N.'s record on combating anti-Semitism — and Annan's own actions — were strongly criticized.

Anne Bayefsky, an adjunct professor at Columbia University Law School, got a standing ovation and shouts of "Bravo! Bravo!" after she charged that the United Nations had failed to tackle anti-Semitism.

"The United Nations has become the leading global purveyor of anti-Semitism, intolerance and inequality against the Jewish people and its state," said Bayefsky, a well-known U.S. commentator on Jewish affairs. "Today the U.N. provides a platform for those who cast the victims of the Nazis, as the Nazi counterparts of the 21st century."

The United Nations was created in the wake of the Holocaust, when Europe's Jews were nearly wiped out by Nazi Germany in World War II. It voted soon after, in 1947, to carve out two countries in Palestine, one Jewish, the other Arab, but the Palestinians' share was lost in the 1948 Mideast war with parts divvied up among Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

But Israel started coming under concerted attack after the 1967 and 1973 Mideast wars from a coalition of developing countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

In 1975, the General Assembly voted to equate Zionism with racism, a move that was repealed in the 1990s. But Annan has said "deep and painful scars remain" for both sides.

Bayefsky argued that relations between the United Nations and Jews "are at an all-time low." She also complained of U.N. resolutions that "demonize" Israel and "lionize" Palestinians.

Felice Gaer, director of the American Jewish Committee's Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, added that "the U.N. human rights machinery has been AWOL on the issue of anti-Semitism."

While other participants took issue with Bayefsky's characterization of U.N.-Jewish relations, none took issue with the importance of the United Nations acting now to combat anti-Semitism.

"Anti-Semitic acts around the world are occurring at a rate unseen since the end of the Second World War," said Edgar Bronfman Sr., president of the World Jewish Congress, speaking on behalf of Jewish communities in nearly 100 countries.

"The French Jewish community now reports to us that they are experiencing more than one anti-Semitic act a day," he said. "The Canadian Jewish community has just endured one of the longest sustained periods of anti-Semitic acts in its history."

Bayefsky lashed out at those she called the perpetrators of anti-Semitism. "They are the authors of Palestinian textbooks that teach a new generation to hate Jews and admire their killers. They are the television producers ... in authoritarian regimes like Syria and Egypt who manufacture and distribute programming that depicts Jews as blood-thirsty world conspirators."

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, appealed to world leaders to fulfill the U.N.'s mission of protecting the values and ideals of humanity.

"We ask the leadership of the world to ... use its political and moral authority to outlaw the plague, which anti-Semitism is," Wiesel said.