UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The first U.N. General Assembly meeting on anti-Semitism on Thursday sparked calls for global action to combat the rising hatred of Jews and a surprising denunciation from the world's 57 Islamic nations of all words and acts that lead "to hatred, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia."
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the statement delivered by Saudi Arabia's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Moualimi on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation was "extremely significant," especially since the United Nations has often been a venue to try to de-legitimize Israel.
The assembly met at the request of 37 mainly Western countries including the United States who urged the world body to address the "alarming outbreak of anti-Semitism worldwide." It was an informal meeting, attended by about half the 193 member states, so no resolution could be adopted.
But 40 mainly Western countries issued a joint statement afterward urging all nations to "declare their categorical rejection of anti-Semitism," strengthen laws to combat discrimination, and prosecute those responsible for anti-Semitic crimes.
"The determination to eradicate the conditions that gave rise to the Holocaust was a guiding principle among the founders of this organization over six decades ago," their statement said. "Let us rededicate ourselves to that principle and endeavor to eliminate anti-Semitism in all forms."
The letter requesting the meeting was sent last October, months before the recent attack at a Kosher supermarket in Paris that killed four Jews. It followed last May's shooting that killed three people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels and the 2012 murder of a rabbi and three children in the French city of Toulouse.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor recalled that after the Holocaust "the world pledged 'never again,' but here we are again."
"Violent anti-Semitism is casting a shadow over Europe," he said. "Last summer, anti-Israel demonstrations in Paris turned into violent riots, graffiti reading 'Jews your end is near' was scrawled on the walls of Rome, Jews were banned from stores in Belgium, an angry mob beat an elderly Jewish man in Hamburg, and firebombs were thrown at Jewish homes in Amsterdam and Berlin."
In the keynote speech, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy said blaming Jews "is once again becoming the rallying cry of a new order of assassins."
Levy, who is Jewish, called for new arguments to counter anti-Semites who say "Jews are detestable."
These anti-Semites call Israel an "illegitimate state," deny the Holocaust, and believe Jews give far too much attention to Holocaust victims and stifle other people's martyrs, including the Palestinians, he said.
Dozens of speakers echoed his call to address the root causes of anti-Semitism as well as wider religious intolerance, hatred and extremism.
Saudi Arabia's Al-Moualimi said Muslim nations have witnessed "with growing concern the increase in hate crimes around the world" and "condemn in strong terms any discrimination based on belief and religious practices in all its forms."
He also emphasized the links between Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism.
"Anti-Semitism and Islamaphonia and all crimes that are based on religious hate are inextricably linked, they're inseparable," Al-Moualimi said.
He said Israel's actions, political crises, economic recession and policies that protect powerful nations are "very closely linked to the increase in hate crimes, extremism, and violence and anti-Semitism."
The only way to address this is to develop a strategy that focuses on dialogue, Al-Moualimi said.
Power responded that while the United States accepts criticism of policies it rejects "anything that would suggest that there is a justification for anti-Semitism."
She said it mustn't be forgotten that Holocaust denial is still commonplace in the Middle East and North Africa "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."
Because of Germany's historic role in the Holocaust, German Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth said his country will always be in the forefront of fighting anti-Semitism and pursuing "a zero-tolerance policy."
France's minister of state for Europe Harlem Desire urged the world to act "with the utmost firmness, wherever anti-Semitism rears its head in the world."
"Without the Jews of Europe, Europe would no longer be Europe," he warned.
Roth and Desire called for a new legal framework at the European Union and internationally to address the diffusion of racist and anti-Semitic speeches and material.
This is needed today, Desire said, "to put the responsibility on those passing the message" such as Google and Twitter.
Associated Press writer Cara Anna contributed to this report.