United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday vowed to stand up against anti-Israel bias at the world organization and said the Jewish state must be treated like any other member state.
Speaking to delegates at the World Jewish Congress’s plenary assembly in New York, while Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, the UN chief said that as secretary-general, he would be “on the front lines in the fight against anti-Semitism,” which he warned was on the rise in Europe and America, and called “absolutely unacceptable.”
He promised to “make sure that the United Nations is able to conduct all possible actions for anti-Semitism to be condemned, and if possible eradicated from the face of the earth.”
Guterres said “anti-Semitism never died despite the shock of the Holocaust,” adding that it was “alive and well today,” citing online hate speech, attacks against Jews, and the destruction of Jewish monuments and cemeteries.
Guterres said he would “guarantee” that those working under him would abide by principles that he considers right.
“As secretary general of the United Nations I consider that the state of Israel needs to be treated as any other state,” he said to applause.
He stressed that Israel has an “undeniable right to exist and to live in peace and security with its neighbors,” and that “the modern form of anti-Semitism is the denial of the existence of the State of Israel.”
“I have already had the opportunity to show that I’m ready to abide by that principle even when that forces me to take some decisions that create some uncomfortable situations,” he added, in reference to a deepening row over bias within the UN, exacerbated last month when a UN rights expert issued a blistering criticism of Israel’s policies.
Former UN official and Jordanian national Rima Khalaf last month said Guterres asked her to withdraw a report in which she accused Israel of being an “apartheid state” and subsequently resigned.
The UN chief nonetheless qualified: “That does not mean that I will always be in agreement with all the decisions that are taken at any moment by any government that exists in Israel.”
His 15-minute speech was interrupted by applause at least 11 times. The former Portuguese prime minister was also given a standing ovation.
It was the first time that a UN secretary general has addressed an international gathering of Jewish leaders.
Israel last month announced a $2 million cut in its contribution to the UN budget because of constant criticism by the UN Human Rights Council of its policies towards the Palestinians.
Israel had already cut $6 million from its $11.7 million contribution after a Security Council resolution passed in December condemned Israel’s settlement building
On Monday, UN Security Council ambassadors are scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump and US lawmakers for talks likely to include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and US cuts to UN funding.