- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

NEW YORK — The U.N. General Assembly commemorated the end of the Holocaust yesterday in an unprecedented session described by Jewish advocates and U.N. officials as a turning point in traditionally abrasive relations between Israel and the world body.

Senior ministers and diplomats from nearly three dozen nations reflected with sadness and anger on the circumstances that allowed the Nazis to exterminate 6 million European Jews, as well as large numbers of Gypsies, homosexuals and others.

“We feel this is a very, very significant step, especially in this hall, the General Assembly hall where Israel is being vilified time and time again, to have this very solemn, universal occasion presided over by the secretary general and attended by foreign ministers from all over the world,” said Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman.

“This was everything we expected, and more,” he said. “We could not have wished for more than that.”

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who lost members of his own family in the Nazi camps, placed the Holocaust in a larger context of humanitarian intervention.

“We’re here to reflect on the magnitude of the occasion how totalitarian evil claimed millions of precious lives,” he said in an address to the assembly.

“But just as important, the member nations attending today are affirming their rejection of such evil, and making a statement of hope for a more civilized future, a hope that never again will the world look the other way in the face of such evil,” he said.

The daylong special session came nearly 30 years after the same body approved a 1975 resolution declaring that Zionism equals racism, which was overturned in 1991.

The same body has, in recent years, observed an international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people, and included special language in resolutions and conventions explicitly supporting the creation of a Palestinian state.

Israel remains the only U.N. member that is excluded from participating in a regional grouping with its neighbors for such purposes as nominating its nationals to head U.N. bodies.

“This is a turning point, a step in the right direction,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric. “It shows the increasing engagement of Israel in the United Nations. Remember, this is the same body, the same hall, that declared Zionism equals racism.”

Even so, Israel’s role in requesting the commemoration was deliberately downplayed to make it easier for Arab and Islamic nations to accept the session — if not participate.

The session initially was requested by the United States, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the European Union, and quickly won the endorsement of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

When it was put to a vote by Mr. Annan, 150 nations out of 191 agreed to hold the special session, including many Arab and Islamic states. However, the only Arab nation speaking yesterday was Jordan, which has long had diplomatic relations with Israel.

Other majority Islamic states to participate were Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

Speakers also tailored their remarks to reflect on World War II, and rarely mentioned modern-day anti-Semitism, frigid relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, or even the ongoing ethnic bloodletting in Sudan.

“Despite our fervent promises never to forget, we know that there have been far too many occasions in the six decades since the liberation of the concentration camps, when the world ignored inconvenient truths so that it would not have to act, or acted too late,” Mr. Wolfowitz told the assembly.

“We have agreed today to set aside contemporary political issues in order to reflect on those events of 60 years ago in a spirit of unanimity,” he added. “But let us do so with a unanimous resolve to give real meaning to those words ‘never forget.’

“And with a resolve that even when we may find it too difficult to act, we at least have an obligation to at least face the truth,” he said.

Several Jewish groups were on hand yesterday to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — perhaps the most notorious of the Nazi camps — on Jan. 27, 1945. They attended a breakfast with Holocaust survivors and liberators, and mounted an art exhibit in the visitors area of the General Assembly building.

“This is definitely a positive step, especially since many of the [150] countries that supported this special session were from the Middle East and Islamic world,” said Amy Goldstein, the director of U.N. relations for B’nai B’rith International.

“But the United Nations has a long way to go, and we hope this will not be a singular event, but the beginning of a trend toward recognizing and combating anti-Semitism.”

She singled out an upcoming session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, in which Israel regularly is censured for its treatment of the Palestinians, as an area that the organization or its members still have to reform.

The history of Israel and the United Nations are entwined permanently: The United Nations was created by victors in the aftermath of World War II; almost immediately, the General Assembly passed a resolution partitioning what was then Palestine into Israeli and Arab states.

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