Secret of the UN Holocaust Remembrance Day — A personal perspective

January 27, 2017 was the 12th annual observance of the UN’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Have you ever wondered why it took sixty years from the end of WWII in 1945, till January 2006, for the UN to finally come to recognize the Shoah?

At a New York Israel Foreign Ministry Law Conference in late June 2005, I found the answer.

First allow me to share some personal background information. As Director of Academic Affairs for the Philadelphia Israeli Consulate from 2004 to 2013, one of the roles I valued most was educating community members about Israel. My mission was to give context to those interested in hearing about Israel, who were constantly bombarded from headline to misleading headline, without a sense of background and history.

To give the needed context I devised a lecture on the “3 paradigm shifts” of Israel and the Middle East, inserting a few personal observations as a witness, as we are all witnesses to the times of our day.

Paradigm shift one – Sadat came to Jerusalem in November, 1977. (Immediately following my year abroad at Hebrew University, when I became more intent on observing Israel in world affairs.)

Outcome of Sadat’s visit – the barrier of thirty years of Israel’s isolation from the Arab world was broken, and the Jewish State demonstrated that when a serious opportunity arose it was ALWAYS ready to make Peace.

Paradigm shift two – Arafat dies – November, 2004. (Two months earlier I began my service to the Foreign Ministry in Philly.)

My question, what would happen November 2005, on the anniversary of Arafat’s death?

Would there be world-wide observances commemorating the “George Washington” of the Palestinian People? The accepted narrative is that the Palestinian conflict and suffering under Israeli ‘oppression’ is the center-piece of world affairs, which the whole Middle East and world relations hinges upon. Billions of dollars of Western – American and European support, goes towards relieving the suffering of the Palestinian People. Yasser Arafat was the Nobel Peace Prize winning founder of Palestinian people-hood. How would his death be acknowledged one year later?

Outcome – on the anniversary of Arafat’s death – NOTHING happened! It was understood that Arafat was the thief of Palestinian fortunes, and the arch terrorist of the world. The lack of praise on the anniversary of Arafat’s death gave me hope that without his glorification by world leadership, it would allow the emergence of new Palestinian leadership with a different narrative other than victim-hood, and the supplanting of Israel.

Unfortunately, Arafat’s #2 succeeded him, and world leadership still refuses to hold Abbas accountable for the education of hate to his people, thus enabling destruction and terrorism.

Paradigm shift three – Gaza Disengagement– Summer, 2005. In my community lecture’s I would speak in depth on the Disengagement from Gaza. From my perch in the Consulate I related Israel’s democratic process and the steps of government decision making. I spoke of the months of preparation, both home and abroad, in which I was part of the efforts to explain what was happening to the American public. Most people did not realize that there was a very serious risk of a civil war in Israel among Jews opposed to and defending government plans. The disengagement took place miraculously without a casualty, and the world watched live for the first time on their living room TV sets, what Israel was prepared to do for Peace.

Additionally, I related that while IDF soldiers … and social workers, were carrying yeshiva students out of their school, I was watching closely, in case I saw one of my religious Israeli nephews. The Gaza disengagement was a very personal experience for Israeli’s, and those of us who had family in Israel.

Outcome of the Gaza Disengagement – while many focus on Gaza as a Hamas controlled terrorist state that rained down missiles on Israeli civilians, and started two wars against Israel’s Southern exposure, as an educator and witness to world events, I shared three different observations.

Observation One – In the Fall of 2005, immediately following the disengagement, Iran’s Ahmadinejad called to “Wipe Israel off the Map.” It was astounding to hear the chorus of world leaders castigating Ahmadinejad. Was he the first Moslem leader to voice his intent of destroying Israel? Of course not. When did we hear such a chorus of leadership defending Israel before? I don’t remember a time.

Observation Two – January 2006 – The UN declaration of an annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Last week, on January 27, 2017, world attention has been again on the annual observance of the Holocaust. This is a moment for world-wide reflection, giving cause for the lessons of the day, with the Shoah as the point of reference. I drew a direct link to the founding of this UN observance and world attention to moral values, influenced by Israel’s efforts to hand Gaza back to the Palestinians.

Observations Three – June 2006 – the Magen David Adom was finally accepted, after decades of refusal, to become part of the world-wide International Red Cross agencies. That summer’s 2nd Lebanese War saw for the first time Magen David Adom allowed to provide life-saving services in Lebanon.

Fast forward to May, 2011, when Abbas declared in the pages of the NY Times that he was seeking acceptance of Palestine at the UN for the stated purpose of taking Israel before the World Court.  To combat this threat, at the end of June, Israel’s Foreign Ministry organized a US national Law Conference in NYC. Gathering the best and brightest US legal minds and leadership, Israel presented its case with its leading law, military and political advisors. Among those attending, Israeli Consulate American staffers were invited and I was able to meet a few of my fellow American FM ‘phone buddies’ for the first time.

One of the presenters was Ambassador Roni Leshno-Yaar, Israel’s special representative to the UN at the Hague. After his presentation I approached him with a special question. Following a brief description of my 3 Paradigm Shifts I asked, “Ambassador Leshno-Yaar, is there any validity to my conclusion of connection to the Gaza disengagement?” He answered, “Not only is there a direct connection, but I negotiated for the UN observance of the Holocaust commemoration, AND the Magen David Adom acceptance!”

As a witness to Israel- Middle East events for four decades, and someone who continues to work in the “trenches” for Israel education and advocacy … it was very nice to receive the validation, and the answer to the question on why it took sixty years for the UN to Commemorate the Holocaust.

Thank you Ambassador Leshno-Yaar!Amb. Roni Leshno-Yaar. June 2011

About the Author
Lou Balcher served from 2004 - 2013 as Director of Academic Affairs to Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region. He also served as Education Director for Congregation Tifereth Israel in Bensalem, PA, and as administrator and teacher for Gratz College's Jewish Community High School. He is a former Membership Director for the Philadelphia and Cincinnati regions of B'nai B'rith International. For three decades, he has coordinated post-college young leadership programs for Young Jewish Leadership Concepts. Additionally, he consults as National Director of the American Friends of the Kaplan Medical Center, Rehovot, Israel which serves more than one million Israeli citizens.