NEW YORK – Antonio Guterres, the new United Nations secretary-general, told worshipers at Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue he would be on the front lines of denouncing antisemitism and condemning all forms of expressions of it.
Guterres spoke at a Saturday morning service in commemoration of the upcoming International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.
The Park East Synagogue, led by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, hold the special Shabbat service, to which it invites the UN secretary-general and members of the UN diplomatic corps, annually.
The Holocaust, Guterres told the congregation, was not simply “due to the insanity of a group of Nazis, but the culmination of two millennials of continued hatred and discrimination against Jews.”
“Antisemitism is not a quest about religion, but a manifestation of racism,” the secretary-general stated at what was his very first appearance in New York, outside of the United Nations headquarters.
He added that he is troubled by the “new forms and expressions” of hatred against Jews, which show that “antisemitism is alive and well.”
Guterres, who has served as prime minister of Portugal, spoke with regret about his home country’s past actions against Jews, which he said Portugal is working to repair. He also paid tribute to the late Elie Wiesel, who he called a “voice for mutual respect and acceptance.”
In concluding his speech, the secretary- general pledged to work so “the Holocaust will never be forgotten,” a statement for which he was loudly applauded. He did not mention Israel in his remarks.
“May the UN be a place where nations of the world come together and restrain from their self-interests,” Schneier, a Holocaust survivor himself, said on the pulpit as he introduced Guterres. “May God give you strength and the wisdom you have to unite your constituents for shalom – peace.”
Dozens of UN ambassadors were in attendance, including Israel’s representative Danny Danon, as well as UNESCO officials. The service was followed by a special luncheon for the diplomats.
Guterres, who took office on January 1, held the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from June 2005 to December 2015, one of the world’s foremost humanitarian organizations with nearly 10,000 staff working in 125 countries.
Danon had welcomed Guterres’s nomination in the fall, saying he hoped the change in leadership “will bring an end to the organization’s hostility towards the Jewish state” and encouraged Guterres to appoint a special envoy to combat antisemitism.
The United Nations will mark the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp on January 27, the annual international Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.