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The World Jewish Congress (WJC) held its 15th plenary assembly in New York April 22-25, gathering some 600 Jewish community leaders from almost 90 countries worldwide. President of the Congress Amb. Ronald S. Lauder opened the plenary with a call to remember the Six Million—six million Jews, a million and a half of them children, who died from indifference and silence.

“The Jewish people paid the highest price for silence,” said the ambassador. “We will never be silent again.”

“Tonight is a meeting of memory,” he continued, noting that the organization was the first to cry out against the Holocaust, calling the attention of the world to the horrors committed by the Nazis. “The loss was incalculable.”

Secretary general of the United Nations Antonio Guterres addressed the delegates. He began his remarks by acknowledging that the Holocaust was “the culmination of centuries of anti-Jewish behavior stemming from the Romans.” Still, “Jews were one of the reasons Amsterdam became the global economic powerhouse of the medieval world.”

Prior to his appointment at the United Nations, Guterres was prime minister of Portugal. He noted that he had worked with very distinguished Israeli statesmen including Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and President Shimon Peres. Guterres stated that his commitment was “to find peace—a fair peace for both Israel and Palestine.”

The Portuguese diplomat described a visit to the site of the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, a structure completely destroyed by the Nazis. “Anti-Semitism never dies. It is today alive and well—on the internet; through physical aggression, murder, destruction of property and cemeteries.”

In one of his most powerful statements of the evening, the Secretary General labeled anti-Semitism “absolutely unacceptable. It is proof that the worst things that have been done in past centuries can return.”

Waxing philosophical, Guterres questioned the inherent contradiction between anti-Semitism and the Age of Enlightenment. He then said what this audience had come to hear:

“You can be absolutely sure that as secretary general of the United Nations, I will be in the frontline of the struggle against anti-Semitism. The United Nations will condemn anti-Semitism.”

The secretary general went on to acknowledge that bias against Israel clearly exists in the United Nations: “The United Nations is complex. Member states act according to their own interests. It is my role, as secretary general, to guarantee that we abide by the charter….I consider that the state of Israel needs to be treated as any other state.”

He assured the assemblage that he would abide by that principle “even when it is uncomfortable….It is clear that it is the absolutely undeniable right of the state of Israel to exist and live in peace and security with its neighbors.”

“The world would not be the same without the Jews,” concluded Guterres, noting “the extraordinary contribution of the Jewish people to world civilization.”

In a taped message to the plenary, President Donald Trump said, “We must stamp out prejudice and anti Semitism everywhere it is found….We cannot ignore Iran….America stands strong with the state of Israel.”

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a strong supporter of the World Jewish Congress, is a Holocaust survivor. As he prepared to say the haMotzi prayer (blessing over the bread), he emotionally recalled that “today is the opening of a wound from childhood—a scar is reopened. We must tell the painful story….And the world was silent—except for those who had the courage to say, ‘We will not tolerate.’”

Amb. Lauder returned to the podium to offer a warm and personal tribute to Elie Wiesel, calling him the “conscience of the world.” Lauder recalled Wiesel’s penetrating statement, “The opposite of love is not hate, but silence. The silence was Hitler’s advance to continue his horrors.”

“May the memory of Elie Wiesel be a blessing,” said Lauder. “He was, above all, a mensch and my friend.”

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