New York, 29 October 2009
Mr. Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director,
Mr. Glen S. Lewy, ADL National Chair,
Distinguished members of the Anti-Defamation League,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honor to be here. I am delighted to see so many familiar faces.
Mr. Foxman, Mr. Lewy, you and your colleagues are frequent visitors to UN Headquarters.
I want you to know that the Anti-Defamation League is always welcome.
We at the United Nations applaud your commitment to religious freedom and interfaith dialogue … your strong stand against intolerance and extremism… your fight against racism, in general, and more particularly against anti-Semitism.
We share your commitment to justice and human rights …your focus on young people …your faith that bias lies not in the genes but in the mind.
I am pleased to join you in celebrating this evening’s honorees for their outstanding contributions.
Their efforts are very much in keeping with the UN’s mission and with what I want to talk to you about tonight: the role of the United Nations at this critical moment in world affairs.
Let me begin with the big picture.
As humankind, we have faced many crises over the decades.
Seldom, however, have so many come at once.
The financial meltdown. The growing flu pandemic. The spread of weapons of mass destruction. The threat of catastrophic climate change. The one billion people who now go to bed hungry. Conflict and instability from Africa and Asia to the Middle East.
These are difficult times. Just yesterday in Afghanistan, five United Nations staff were killed in an attack by Taliban militants in Kabul.
Yesterday, a peacekeeper in Cyprus was killed by a landmine.
Three weeks ago, eleven peacekeepers died in a helicopter accident in Haiti.
Days before that, five food aid workers perished in Pakistan.
These are men and women from all nations, committed to peace and human dignity, who dare to go to some of the most dangerous places on earth. This is your United Nations.
In this dangerous world, we must stand together. We must be united. United in purpose, united in action.
We are making some headway.
We have put climate change at the top of the international agenda. Yet … we are still not doing what science requires.
At the UN conference in Copenhagen, six weeks from now, we must push for an agreement that all nations can embrace … an agreement that will carry us forward in the fight against climate change.
We are getting nuclear disarmament on track.
Last month the Security Council, chaired by President Obama, pointed the way toward action to curb proliferation and the misuse of civilian nuclear technology. A consensus is emerging: countries that fail to respect these principles should face greater pressure.
Everywhere, we see people losing jobs amid economic uncertainty.
Markets may be bouncing back, but incomes and people are not.
An additional 100 million people may fall into poverty this year alone, in addition to the billion already living on less than $1 a day. In a growing number of countries, hunger and economic hardship threaten social stability and have led to intolerance and xenophobia.
Such problems spill over borders. They therefore require global approaches – global solutions and global solidarity.
That is why, more and more, people are looking to the United Nations for answers.
We have more peacekeepers in the field … more human rights offices … more humanitarian relief efforts — more of just about everything we do.
People want results. They look to the United Nations to bridge the gaps that trouble our world – the gap between rich and poor … the gap between those getting ahead and those being left behind … most of all the gap between promises and progress.
This is what we at the UN do everyday. This is what I do every day …try to bridge the gap between problems and solutions.
This is the same spirit that I bring to the search for peace in the Middle East.
I am with you, this evening, as a good friend.
Some of you may remember that I visited Israel in my earliest days as Secretary-General.
I was there earlier this year, as well, toward the end of hostilities.
I am acutely aware of Israel’s unique security needs; I know how fully its people yearn to live in peace.
When I hear unfair criticism, I speak out. When Israel is victimized by terrorism, I condemn it.
With those who deny the Holocaust or threaten the existence of Israel, I am adamant.
The Holocaust is a fact. I told this to Iran’s President, most recently at the General Assembly.
Let me state the obvious. Those who speak at the United Nations do not always speak for the United Nations.
The Assembly itself condemned Holocaust denial. That resolution warns that “ignoring the historical fact increases the risk they will be repeated”.
Our Holocaust Outreach program takes this risk to heart. I am pleased to say the ADL is working with us to ensure that people everywhere understand the universal lessons of the Holocaust. Our Alliance of Civilizations is working to counter extremism.
This year, the General Assembly adopted another landmark resolution – this one aimed at preventing genocide and other grave crimes. I speak, here, of the Responsibility to Protect — the idea that sovereignty does not shield a government that cannot or will not protect its people.
Let us be clear: the world’s collective conscience has awakened …and I will do my utmost to ensure that there will be no sliding back.
I will also do everything in my power to advance the prospects for peace between Arabs and Israelis. This is of paramount importance.
This effort goes to the heart of all that we, together, stand for.
Palestinians see an occupation without end … a life defined by settlements, barriers, checkpoints … border closures and personal indignities ….the seemingly indefinite deferral of their aspirations for self-determination.
Israelis have spoken to me about the trauma of suicide bombings and rockets… about the threat of another war… about their struggle for acceptance in a region that is their home, too.
Neither side should have to live in perpetual bitterness. Yet these feelings have, for the moment, overwhelmed the impulse to peace.
I know there are great concerns about the Goldstone report.
However, I think you will agree: when human rights and international humanitarian law are violated, in the Middle East or anywhere else, there should be accountability. I have called on both sides to carry out credible domestic investigations into the conduct of the conflict without delay.
Now more than ever, we need peace. We need a peace process in which both sides make genuine sacrifices. We need a credible political horizon, based on commitments made, monitored and kept.
Otherwise, the forces of violence and extremism will prevail. Moderation, too, seems to be under siege.
Israel has often expressed doubt that it has a credible partner for peace. Yet… the Palestinian Authority has undertaken more reforms, more quickly, than any government in the region. Its leadership is genuinely committed to ending the conflict. Its security services are implementing Roadmap commitments in the West Bank.
Israel’s response will be crucial. Building more settlements is not the path to peace. It is inconsistent with Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution.
Isolating Gaza is no solution, either. Borders remain closed. Ordinary people – people like you and me – cannot rebuild their homes, clinics and schools. Surely, this cannot be the road to peace.
There is simply no alternative but negotiation. There is no future, save for a final status agreement on all issues, an end to occupation, and the creation of an independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure and recognized Israel.
This must be our overarching priority. That is the only way. One side’s aspirations and rights will not be realized without the other’s.
The Obama Administration is deeply engaged. So is the Quartet. So are we at the United Nations.
Let us all seize this opportunity. Let us work comprehensively on other tracks, too – Lebanon, Syria, Iran. Israel’s security depends on regional solutions and normalization of relations.
The United Nations can help. We have been pressing Iran to provide answers to all outstanding questions on its nuclear programme. In September, I pressed President Ahmadinejad to open Iran’s new, and previously undisclosed, facility in Qom. There has been positive movement this week. It is not yet enough, and we don’t know how negotiations will go. But we will keep pressing.
The United Nations will use everything in its arsenal -- peacekeeping, diplomacy, development and emergency aid -- to work for peace. Our record over six decades is not perfect, but there are significant achievements to build on. We must all be wise enough and brave enough to do what needs to be done.
In this, the ADL has an important contribution to make.
If, at times, I have been blunt tonight, it is as a friend. It is as someone who wants to see peace – who works every day for a world of prosperity, harmony and mutual respect.
In this, I am sure we stand in solidarity.
In closing, let me remind you of an important event at UN Headquarters earlier this year in which the ADL played such a vital role.
This was our seminar on cyberhate—hate speech on the Internet—part of our campaign to “unlearn intolerance”.
It occurred just days after the horrible shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. We soon learned that the shooter was well known for the racist venom he spread through the Internet.
The ADL representative noted that young people are the major users of so much of today’s information technologies. He then warned that “the impact of information posted on-line may persist for generations to come”.
We are here to write a different story for future generations. Not one based on myths and caricatures, but one based on mutual understanding and respect.
I look forward to working with you, at the United Nations, in the Middle East and beyond, to foster a sense of unity – as an end in itself, and as a means for resolving our world’s many problems.
Thank you again for inviting me to join you tonight. Most of all, thank you for your engagement and support.