Rise in antisemitism during pandemic shows we can never let down our guard: UN chief

25 January 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to rising antisemitism which shows the world must remain vigilant against this persistent form of racism and religious persecution, the UN Secretary-General told an online event on Monday to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. 

António Guterres said although antisemitism found its most horrific expression in the Holocaust, it did not end there and continues to blight the world today. 

“It is sad, but not surprising, that the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered yet another eruption of this poisonous ideology. We can never let down our guard”, he stated. 

Neo-Nazis on the rise 

The ceremony organized by the Park East Synagogue in New York and the UN served to honour the memory of the six million Jews and millions of others who were systematically murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Second World War. 

“Our best tribute to those who died in the Holocaust is the creation of a world of  equality, justice and dignity for all”, the Secretary-General said. 

Mr. Guterres warned of the resurgence of Holocaust denial and distortion, and that after decades in the shadows, neo-Nazis and their ideas are gaining currency. 

“In Europe, the United States and elsewhere, white supremacists are organizing and recruiting across borders, flaunting the symbols and tropes of the Nazis and their murderous ambitions”, he said. 

“We have seen shocking examples in this nation’s capital in recent days. The Anti-Defamation League found that the American Jewish community experienced the highest level of antisemitic incidents in 2019 since tracking began in 1979.” 

Truth under attack 

The pandemic has also opened new fronts for neo-Nazis and white supremacists, who are using social media to disseminate propaganda and sow fear and hatred.   

However, the Secretary-General said their continued rise “must be seen in the context of a global attack on truth that has reduced the role of science and fact-based analysis in public life.” 

He warned that when truth dies, it becomes easier to exploit differences between groups, or to invent scapegoats. Fragmentation of traditional media, and the growth of social media, have also contributed to the situation. 

“When the truth is just one version among many, lying becomes normalized and history can be distorted and rewritten”, he said, referring to Holocaust denial. 

“As the number of Holocaust survivors diminishes every year, we must make ever greater efforts to elevate the truth and ensure that it lives on.” 

Lessons for recovery 

Addressing the commemoration’s theme of recovery and reconstitution after the Holocaust, the Secretary-General noted that this period only marked the beginning of an unimaginably painful and difficult journey for survivors and for the world, as both had been changed forever. 

“Today, as we consider the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we can take important lessons from the Holocaust,” Mr. Guterres said. 

“The recovery must address the fragilities and fissures that have been exposed by the pandemic. It must strengthen our mutual bonds, based on our common humanity.” 

Calling for 2021 to be a year of healing, Mr. Guterres urged political, religious and community leaders to work to build consensus “if we are to emerge safely from these dangerous times.”  

No vaccine for antisemitism 

He underlined the need for coordinated global action to counter the growth and spread of neo-Nazism and white supremacy, and to fight propaganda and disinformation. 

“History shows that those who undermine truth ultimately undermine themselves,” he said. 

“The only way out of the COVID-19 pandemic is through science and fact-based analysis. The production of vaccines in record time is testimony to the effectiveness of this approach. There is no vaccine for antisemitism and xenophobia. But our best weapon remains the truth.” 

 

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