Reflections from the 71st United Nations General Assembly

September 30, 2016Honey Heller

September has been a busy month for me as one of the URJ’s representatives to the United Nations as part of the Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organizations (DPI/NGO), program.

The month started with a High Level Forum on Global Anti-Semitism. The opening speakers included the ambassadors to the United Nations from the United States, Canada, Israel and the European Union as well as the  UN Secretary-General and General Assembly President.  They were followed by two outstanding panels – “Government Responses to Anti-Semitism” and “Antisemitism and Hate Speech on the Internet and in Social Media.” The keynote speaker was Professor Deborah Lipstadt, the renowned Holocaust historian, professor, author and the person upon whom the soon-to-be released movie Denial is based.

The next week I attended a meeting of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women. There was a panel discussion “Preparing for the High Level Summit for Refugees and Migrants” at the General Assembly. The speakers were women with experience in working with refugees as well as two young Syrian women talking about their experiences.

Tuesday was a first for me. After standing in line in the DPI office Monday, I obtained a ticket to the morning session of the General Assembly for the general debate.  The highlight of the session was President Obama, who spent a large part of his talk on globalization including moving forward on a course of change toward integration to transfer national challenges and to make the global economy work for all.

Other speakers included the Secretary General and the President of the General Assembly, then the heads of state Brazil, Chad, Slovakia, Qatar, Guyana, Argentina, France, Malawi and Uruguay.  They all mentioned the United Nations Sustainable Development goals, hopes for an Israeli/Palestinian two-state solution, ratification of the Climate Change Agreement, the Ukrainian situation, and, of course, the Syrian situation as well as the 65 million refugees and migrants.  This was definitely a stimulating morning.

A Union for Reform Judaism resolution on the Pursuit of Peace (1963) underscores the importance of the UN in global affairs and in our social justice work, “we believe that the world powers should utilize United Nations procedures for major issues as well as for lesser disputes. The peace of the world requires the strengthening of the United Nations, the assurance of its adequate financing and the full utilization of its great potential for resolving such tension-producing situations as hunger, poverty and disease.”

Learn more about the Reform Movement’s work on international issues.

Honey Heller is long-time member of Commission on Social Action and founding member of Reform Jewish Voice of New York State

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