Why the United Nations is Holding a Meeting on Anti-Semitism

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There is a rather unusual meeting underway at the United Nations today. One after one, diplomats are taking to the dais of the General Assembly to deliver remarks for a special session about the global rise of anti-semitism.

The meeting is pegged to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which occurred yesterday, and the UN’s annual Holocaust memorial commemoration next week. It was scheduled two months before the attacks in Paris, which included the murder of Jews at a kosher supermarket. Even before that attack there was serious concerns about rising anti-semitism, particularly in Europe. Six months ago, BBC put together this list of recent incidents. 


This kind of meeting at the United Nations is the first of its kind. But the United Nations is undoubtedly an appropriate venue for this sort of meeting. The United Nations was built out of the ashes of World War Two. Many of the international human rights treaties and obligations adopted by the United Nations and its member states were directly informed by the Holocaust.

These days, one of the most important functions of the United Nations–and the General Assembly in particular–is norm setting. Over the last ten years or so, the UN and its various organs have held meetings to demonstrate global solidarity for vulnerable or discriminated against populations around the world: indigenous people; people living with HIV/AIDS; the LGBT community have all been the focus of a similar kind of summit. These meetings are largely symbolic. But symbolism has value. It can help nudge people, institutions and governments to becoming more inclusive.

I’m under no illusion that the United Nations can solve anti-semitism. But a meeting like this is a powerful demonstration of solidarity with a minority population that is facing renewed hostility. You can follow along here.