U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that Israeli policies in the Middle East can never justify anti-Semitism. The Secretary General also criticized bigotry against Islam.
Mr. Annan made his remarks at a time when physical and verbal anti-Semitic attacks against Jews appear to be on the rise. In the Secretary General's words, recent attacks against Jews and Jewish symbols in Europe, Turkey and elsewhere, show that anti-Semitism is not "the stuff of history."
Mr. Annan warned against Holocaust denial and said that no one should be allowed to use criticism of Israel's actions in the Middle East as a mask for anti-Semitism.
"In some cases, anti-Semitism appears to be a byproduct of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, particularly with the escalation of hostilities in the past several years," said Mr. Annan. "Criticism of Israeli policies is one thing. But it is quite another when such critiques take the form of attacks, physical or verbal, on Jewish individuals and the symbols of their heritage and faith."
The U.N. leader also urged supporters of Israel not to use the charge of anti-Semitism to stifle legitimate discussion.
In a message calling for an end to bigotry, Mr. Annan also criticized intolerance, harassment and ignorance of Muslims. While the Crusades and colonialism are examples of centuries old aggression against Islam, Mr. Annan said discrimination and suspicion of Muslims that followed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States are recent manifestations of the problem.
"One of the most disturbing manifestations of bigotry today is Islamophobia," Mr. Annan said. "Islamophobia is a new word for an old phenomenon."
The Secretary General called on the United Nations to address discrimination and racism and said the international organization will hold seminars in the coming months to offer fresh perspectives on the issue. He said the war in Iraq and the collapse of world trade talks are examples of deep divide in the world political system and called for unity in tackling global problems.
Mr. Annan made his remarks at the United Nations during the inaugural memorial lecture for Robert Burns, the Scottish poet who dealt with issues of poverty, and brotherhood in his verse two centuries ago. Mr. Burns, who was born poor and is recognized for his concern for the underprivileged, is also known for his ode to friendship, "Auld Lang Syne," which is often sung in New Year's celebrations.