Antisemitism, intolerance, can be unlearned, Guterres tells New York commemoration

UN/Antonio Ferrari Secretary-General António Guterres delivers a keynote address at the 81st Anniversary Commemoration of Kristallnacht at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in New York.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


Since nobody is born to hate, intolerance can be prevented and unlearned, the UN Secretary-General said on Thursday, in a speech underlining his continued fight to stamp out antisemitism, racism and other forms of hatred.

António Guterres was speaking at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York which was marking the 81st anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom carried out by the Nazi regime.

Scores of Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues were destroyed during “the Night of Broken Glass” on 9-10 November 1938.

For the UN chief, the commemoration was an opportunity not just to look back, but to recognize the need for continued vigilance.

Antisemitism persists decades after Holocaust

“Decades after the Holocaust, the world’s oldest hatred is still with us”, he remarked, before listing recent incidents across the world targeting Jews.

They ranged from the vandalization of Jewish graves and the defacement of a Holocaust memorial, to the mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last year – the worst antisemitic attack in United States history.

At the same time, other forms of intolerance are also taking a deadly toll, Mr. Guterres stated, citing examples such as church bombings, massacres at mosques, and assaults on migrants and refugees.

“Hatred kills,” he said. “But hatred also works in insidious ways to undermine relations between people and the foundations of society.”

Terrorists and neo-Nazis are ramping up recruitment and radicalization, he continued, while the Internet has helped to spread bigotry and violent misogyny.

New UN education conference against hate speech

The Secretary-General called for urgent action by parents, teachers and political leaders “before underground hatred becomes an overt and alarming new normal.”

Mr. Guterres highlighted efforts by the global community to counter these threats, such as UN action plans to address hate speech and to ensure the safety of houses of worship.

“Education must be a key part of this preventive approach, and I am announcing today that I intend to convene a conference on the role of education in addressing and building resilience against hate speech,” he revealed.

“We are also focusing on the protection of religious sites in the wake of deadly attacks on mosques in New Zealand, the Easter church bombings in Sri Lanka and other assaults. Just last month in Germany, a gunman killed two people while trying to storm a synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.”

Next year, the UN marks its 75th anniversary and Mr. Guterres said the focus will be on equality and human dignity.

He underscored the importance of young people in this regard, adding that 100 high school students and their teachers will be at the UN this Friday to attend a workshop on the Holocaust.

“People are not born to hate; intolerance is learned and so can be prevented and unlearned,” he stated. “I will continue to call out antisemitism, racism and other forms of hatred.”

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