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U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
New York, NY
January 22, 2015
In Judaism, the Sabbath is a holy day of rest and spiritual reflection, when Jews remember the miracle of Genesis and the exodus that followed their ancestors’ liberation from slavery. For many Jews, the ritual centers on Shabbat dinner, which begins at sundown on Friday night. Families come together to light the candles and sing the blessings over wine and challah.
January 9, 2015, the day a terrorist attacked a kosher supermarket in Paris, was a Friday. Yoav Hattab, a 21-year-old student from Tunisia, stopped at the market to pick up a bottle of wine to bring to the hosts of his Shabbat dinner. Philippe Braham, age 45, went there after dropping off two of his kids at school; his wife, Valerie, had asked him to pick up some food for Shabbat. Yohan Cohen, age 22, worked at the market, and was saving up for his wedding to his fiancée, Sharon. Yoav, Philippe, and Yohan were all in the market when the terrorist walked in. Francois-Michael Saada, a 64-year-old retiree, arrived after the attack started. He reportedly asked to be let in so he could buy loaves of challah.
Yoav, Philippe, Yohan, and Francois-Michael were all killed in the attack. All four were casualties of violent anti-Semitism – targets because they were Jews. All were killed playing some role in preparation for the celebration of Shabbat – a core practice of their faith.
As you all know, Jews were not the only targets in the Paris attacks; the violent extremists who launched coordinated attacks that week also went after satirical journalists and police. Nor were they the only victims. The families of those killed are victims as well. Thousands of children attending France’s 717 Jewish schools – little kids who now have to walk to class through phalanxes of heavily armed soldiers – are also victims. So too are Jewish worshippers who congregate in synagogues that increasingly feel like fortresses, with blast walls and foot patrols outside. Any Jew in France, in Europe, or anywhere in the world, who fears putting on a kippah before walking out in public, or thinks twice about shopping in a kosher market, or putting a mezuzah outside their door, or living in a Jewish neighborhood, for fear of being attacked – he or she is also a victim.
Yet it would be a big mistake to think that this is just a European problem. This is a global problem. It is a problem in the United States, despite our long and proud history of religious freedom and our thorough efforts to combat anti-Semitism. According to a 2012 report by our Federal Bureau of Investigation, nearly two-thirds of religious-driven hate crimes in the United States target Jews. Two-thirds.
While Jews in Europe may feel increasingly fearful or even threatened, we must not forget there are communities – and even entire countries – where attending a synagogue or Jewish school is impossible, because they do not exist. Or that there are entire nations where once-vibrant Jewish communities have been driven into exile by harassment, threats, and attacks. We cannot forget that, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, Holocaust denial is still commonplace and accusations of “blood libel” are routinely circulated in the press, including by official news services. Or that there are violent extremist groups who preach a radical form of Islam and believe they are doing God’s work by killing Jews.
These attacks are not only deplorable in their own right and not only a threat to Jews worldwide; they are also a threat to some of the rights that we hold most sacred – the rights of freedom of religion and expression. And their defense across faiths and cultures is fundamental to pluralistic societies. Rising anti-Semitism is rarely the lone or the last manifestation of intolerance. When the human rights of Jews are repressed, the rights of other religious and ethnic groups are often not far behind. The group that calls itself the Islamic State aims to kill Jews, but it also hunts down Yazidis, Christians, and Muslims of different sects.
Today we are taking a historic step by holding the first-ever meeting in the General Assembly on tackling this long-standing and growing problem. The United States is proud to have joined 36 other nations in calling for this meeting last October.
But unprecedented as this step may be, and in addition to the commitments that we hope countries will announce today, we urge everyone in this room to return to their capitals with the urgency and energy this monstrous global problem demands, to turn words into long overdue actions. Governments cannot do this alone; we have to rally civil society partners around this effort, including diverse religions and ethnicities, human rights groups and civil rights groups.
As you know, when the attack on the kosher market began, Lassana Bathily – a 24 year old Malian immigrant who worked at the store – quickly hustled 15 people into a walk-in freezer, where he hid them during the attack. When the attack began, Lassana did not see the people in the market as Jews. And the people that followed Lassana and his lead did not see a Muslim. They saw each other as fellow human beings, there for each other in a time of danger. And in the case of Lassana and Yohan Cohen, who worked together, they saw each other as friends.
If there is a lesson in Lassana’s bravery, it is that we cannot leave the struggle against anti-Semitism to the Jews alone. Attacks on any religious or ethnic group are attacks on us all. Attacks on Jews are attacks on us all. And we must not only stand up together against these acts of violence, but also against the hatred, intolerance, and prejudice that helps lead to such acts. If we fail to expand dramatically the ranks of those fighting anti-Semitism, not only will we fail in our obligations to the Jewish people, but we will see the weakening in our own societies of the rights and bonds that tie us all together. Our common security and our common humanity demand that we do much, much more.