President Reuven Rivlin told the UN General Assembly on Wednesday that "the West, Christians or Jews have no war with Islam" and that "the brutal barbarism and villainous terror" that exacts hundreds of thousands of victims "has nothing to do with religion or the prophet's sayings."
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Speaking at the assembly's ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Rivlin said "Islam contains under its great wings the victims of persecution and terror, as it serves as the banner of the attackers."
Although nothing compares to the cruelty, scope or dimensions of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe, the president said "evil is not the domain of one religion or another, as it does not characterize a state or an ethnic group."
Rivlin, who spoke in English and Hebrew to a hall filled with Jewish activists – chose to open his speech with words about the 1915 Armenian genocide. In a statement that could raise anger in Turkey, Rivlin mentioned the Armenian refugees who came to Jerusalem in 1915 – and were seen by his parents and family – and said: "nobody denied the murder that had taken place."
He quoted Avshalom Feinberg, one of the leaders of the pre-state Jewish espionage network Nili, who said that in those days two questions were asked: who's next and "will we Jews shed tears over the disaster of others, as well?"
The answer to the first question was of course – the Jewish Holocaust – but the second question "remains hanging to this day," Rivlin said.
Ahead of the speech Rivlin said that in view of the events in Israel's north he was cutting short his visit in the United States by 24 hours as he wanted "to be in Israel with the bereaved families and the wounded and follow the events."
This was the second disruption to Rivlin's timetable. On Tuesday, events the president was scheduled to attend were cancelled due to the snowstorm.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon received Rivlin warmly and called him "a vital, sometimes lonely voice for tolerance." He added that anti-Semitism remained violent and Jews were still being murdered only because they're Jews."
"We haven't yet found the antidote to the poison that led to genocide 70 years ago," he said.
The ceremony also consisted of a detailed personal testimony of Holocaust survivor Yona Laks about the frightful torture she had been subjected to with her twin sister Miriam at the hands of Dr. Josef Mengele in Auschwitz.
Avner Shalev, the chairman of Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial Museum, said in a video speech that "the Holocaust refuses to turn into history," because of one of its main lessons – the speed and ease in which it is possible to commit genocide.
Universal message on genocide
Rivlin described the Holocaust as the "systematic, brutal, murderous annihilation. Six million, a third of our people, including some 1.5 million children, were killed, slaughtered, gassed to death, buried alive, burnt and died of hunger, thirst, diseases and all manner of strange deaths, in the most awful crime ever committed in the history of humanity."
However, Rivlin's speech was more universal in essence than those usually given by Israeli officials, and focused on the need to prevent genocide wherever it may be. The president said the UN had been erected explicitly to prevent genocide, but in too many cases it failed this mission.
He called on the UN to act to define and implement "red lines" against acts of genocide worldwide, but also to stop the "cynical, pseudo-objective use" of human rights rhetoric and terms like "genocide" for political purposes against Israel.
Rivlin mentioned a UN resolution titled "Zionism is racism" from 1975, which has since been revoked, and said that "groundless comparisons of this kind, that we as Israelis are exposed to all the time (including the attempt to associate Israel with genocide, and recently, again with war crimes), not only confuse partner with enemy, but sabotage this institution's ability to fight genocide effectively."
Afterward Rivlin attended the opening of a Yad Vashem exhibition that will be displayed in the UN headquarters under the tile "Shoah: How was it humanly possible?" He was accompanied by Ban and Miriam Adelson, wife of billionaire Sheldon Adelson, whose family is the major contributor to the institution.