United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Monday that US President Donald Trump made a clear error of judgement in his response to the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.
The UN chief, in Israel for a three-day visit, spoke in an interview with Channel 2 news of the importance of Holocaust education in combating anti-Semitism
“One could think that the horror of the Holocaust would be enough for anti-Semitism to be buried,” Guterres said, having visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum earlier in the day. “But no, it is alive and well.”
Guterres said he was “very shocked when I saw a few days ago in Charlottesville people chanting things like ‘blood and soil’ — that is a Nazi statement.”
He was asked what he thought about Trump condemning “both sides” as a response to the August 12 rally, when neo-Nazis marched in broad daylight through the streets waving swastika flags, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and in which a woman was killed and others injured when a white supremacist drove a car into people marching against the rally.
“I think [Trump] was not sufficiently aware of how tragic this is,” he said. “I think he went into this kind of political thing to please part of his electorate. But this is a matter of fundamental values.”
When asked whether he felt that Israel was treated equally by the UN, Guterres refused to be drawn in, replying that “by the secretary general, and by the secretariat that I run, I believe it is.”
When pressed on the issue, and about the comments of US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who said that the UN has a habit of bullying Israel, Guterres admitted that this was sometimes the case.
“I think that in some situations, this is true,” he said. However, he also accused Israel of overreacting at times, saying that not all criticism was anti-Semitism.
“I think in other situations Israel needs to understand that people might disagree with the policies of its government.”
The UN head was asked about May’s UNESCO resolution denying Israeli claims to Jerusalem.
“It is very clear to me that Jerusalem is a holy place of three religions and needs to be respected like that,” Guterres said.
When asked whether Jews should have privileges in the capital city, the UN chief said, “Privilege to Jews for their religion, privilege for Muslims for their religion, privilege for Christians for their religion, to me they are all equal.”
Guterres stressed his support for achieving peace in the region through a two-state solution.
“I would like to see this region in peace,” he said. “I would like to see Palestinians and Israelis in peace. My belief, my strong belief, which is in line with resolutions of the United Nations with which I fully agree, is that the only way to do it is with two states.”
However, he refused to apportion blame for the continued failure to reach a peace deal.
“I’m not blaming anybody,” he said. “I am saying that I believe it is necessary to move with a political process leading to the two-state solution.”
While he said that he understood the difficulties Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced in achieving a peace deal, Guterres also said he believed it would be possible if the conditions were right.
“I think that in the life of a statesman there are always moments in which fundamental choices that consist of your legacy for the future, provided you believe in them and provided that the conditions are there for those to be possible, will make you potentially overcome these kinds of limitations,” he said.
However, the UN head said that there was very little he could do to protect Israel from the threat of Iran, Syria and Lebanon.
“There are many things I cannot do and there are things I can do,” he said.
But Guterres did say that he was working to strengthen the United Nations force in southern Lebanon, which Haley and Israeli leaders have accused of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah’s arms build-up.
“One of the things I can do is to try to make sure, to do everything possible, to have UNIFIL, the UN force in southern Lebanon, to fully accomplish its mandate,” he said. “I have already wrote to the Security Council saying that I would like to see conditions to enhance the capacity of UNIFIL according to its mandate, which is to cooperate with the Lebanese army.
“I would like to say that I believe UNIFIL has done a very important job in many aspects. But I have also given instructions for UNIFIL to intensify their actions in a number of ways. We all know the difficulties of acting in these circumstances.”
But at the end of the day, Guterres was asked, can he or the United Nations actually do anything to protect Israel or ensure peace in the region?
Not so much, it seems.
“The UN wants to help Israel live in peace in this part of the world,” he said. “As I said this morning, I have not much leverage or much influence, but whatever I can do to help the parties come to an understanding, I am entirely at their disposal.”
Guterres later met with IDF Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi who told him “Iran and the Shiite axis’s creation of bases in Syria and the strengthening of Hezbollah in Syria are two processes that are likely to cause an unwanted escalation in the northern arena.”
Earlier in the day, Guterres met with the families of the late IDF soldier Oren Shaul, and of Israeli citizens Avraham Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed who are being held hostage by the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip. During their meeting, the families requested the secretary-general’s assistance in the effort to return their sons to Israel.
Guterres also met with Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who briefed him on the security situation and explained the difficulties of dealing with Hamas.
“The terror organization Hamas does not hesitate at all and repeatedly exploits the Gazan residents by attempting to take advantage of Israel’s assistance, despite the severe civil hardships in the Strip,” Mordechai said. “Hamas collects an estimated NIS 100 million (some $280,000) per month from Gazan residents, while the price of its internal conflict with the Palestinian Authority falls on the backs of the Strip’s residents first and foremost.”