Commemorating Pittsburgh Victims, UN Secretary-General Guterres Denounces ‘Stupid Crime’ of Antisemitism
The secretary-general of the United Nations on Wednesday denounced antisemitism as the “oldest hatred of humankind” during an address at a memorial service in New York for the victims of last weekend’s shooting massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“Since I became Secretary-General, I have been raising my voice against what I believe is the rise of anti-Semitism in many of our societies and namely my part in the world in Europe but also unfortunately, here also in North America,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the packed audience at the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan. “We see xenophobia and racism developing in many parts of the world. But it is true that antisemitism is the oldest and most permanent form of hatred against a people in the history of humankind. Jews are discriminated and persecuted for the simple reason that they are Jews.”
Guterres noted the endurance of anti-Jewish prejudice across several centuries as well as in different parts of the world, including his native Portugal. “I will never forget the history of my country, the discrimination and persecution of Jews in the Middle Ages and then culminating with the most stupid crime of Portuguese history, the expulsion of the Jews in the beginning of the sixteenth century,” he said. “Criminal because of the suffering endured by the Jewish people, stupid because it had a very negative perspective in the prosperity of my own country.”
Guterres went on to observe: “Then, as centuries went on with different manifestations in different parts of the world with more violence and more subtle, culminating in the horror of the Nazi Holocaust.”
The Secretary-General then sounded a deeply personal note, as he paid tribute to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) – the Jewish relief organization whose work assisting refugees was cited on social media by Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh gunman, as one of his reasons for carrying out Saturday’s atrocity.
“In what I read about the criminal that has done these horrendous acts, there is a reference that he was particularly shocked by the action of a humanitarian organization – HIAS,” Guterres said. “I want to give you a testimony. As High Commissioner for Refugees, I worked with HIAS for many years. It is the most fantastic humanitarian organization I have ever met. They are the true expression of humanitarianism, but also humanism and solidarity.”
Said Guterres: “I was particularly shocked that this organization that is the symbol of everything I considered good in the world being used as a pretext to justify this horrendous act.”
Guterres then quoted from the Hebrew Bible. “I think HIAS is the true expression of that sentence…in [The Book of] Leviticus, ‘The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you and you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.'”
The event in New York also heard from Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.