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Jewish Journal

Q & A With Wilda Spalding

by Sarah Price Brown

October 21, 2004 | 8:00 pm

Open Wilda Spalding's "little black book," and you'll discover a code of ethics -- written in part by Eleanor Roosevelt and adopted by the United Nations in 1948: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Spalding, who will be at the University of Judaism on Oct. 26, has been a human rights activist at the United Nations in Geneva for more than 30 years. She has campaigned for indigenous people, children, the disabled and others and founded the International Human Rights Consortium, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote the spirit of the Universal Declaration by honoring human rights advocates. Spalding is a member of congregation B'nai Horin, which holds services outdoors in gardens.

Jewish Journal: What will you speak about at the University of Judaism?

Wilda Spalding: The title of the talk is "Powerful Pixels of Peace: The Individual, the Nation and the United Nations." Your screen on your computer or your television is made up of pixels. If one of them isn't on, your television or your computer doesn't work. That's how important each one of us is. I want [listeners] to get really connected with themselves and the pretext of the individual and the different forms that can take -- individual couples, individual communities, individual nations. One of the forms is the United Nations. I want them to go away feeling their beauty, their specialness, their uniqueness and their power.

JJ: Do Jews have a particular interest in human rights?

WS: A Jew is a living human rights Universal Declaration. By the covenant with Hashem -- by the act of creation -- they're called to be the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From the beginning, the declaration was born from the horrors of World War II.

JJ: How did you get involved with the United Nations?

WS: My mother was in San Francisco at the time of the signing [of the United Nations Charter in 1945], and I was in her womb. Through the amniotic fluid, I heard it, and I went, "Yes! This is for me." For me, it's about purpose and enabling people to feel their full dignity and respect. This is a place where people gather to try to do that.

JJ: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has said, "The U.N. Human Rights Commission promotes anti-Israel, anti-Semitic resolutions." Do you agree?

WS: I'm in the Commission and have been for many, many years as a senior NGO [nongovernmental organization] participant. Israel as a nation is one thing, and Israel in what it's doing in other areas of the world in terms of humanitarian work, in terms of being involved in HIV/AIDS, in its work in Senegal [is another thing]. Israel is doing a lot of very exciting and wonderful things. And that does show up in other places.

JJ: In September 2001, the United Nations hosted in Durban, South Africa, "The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance." The conference was called anti-Semitic and the United States government boycotted it. Do you think it was anti-Semitic?

WS: It was not anti-Semitic in the sense that it was not anti-Islam. No, it was anti-Israeli. And the fact that, that came through was really indicative of the pain that the world community is feeling and may be turning on the United States in a very similar way.

JJ: Peter Hansen, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), recently said in an interview that UNRWA in Gaza knowingly hires members of Hamas. Israel has called for Hansen's resignation. Do you think Hansen should resign?

WS: When there is an organization or a club, which is all the U.N. is -- it's a dues-paying club -- if you're not a member of that club, you may not want to join that club, you may not like that club. You may want to criticize that club's rules. But then how do you get that club to go to the ethical place you'd like it to? By being angry at it? By criticizing it? By not joining it?

If people want UNRWA to be different, then they need to start working at UNRWA.

Is it better that you have the people working for you, so that you can keep an eye on them and integrate them into something positive, or is it better to leave them alone, giving them 10 hours a day to make a bomb?

JJ: What's something practical that the Los Angeles community can do to improve the state of human rights?

WS: The community is made up of individuals. The first thing all of us have to do is go inside ourselves, clean out the fear. Why are we always pitting ourselves us against them? Why do we fall into the trap of dualism? Is God two? No. God is echad [one].

We have tremendous capacity within ourselves, no matter our situation. Take a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ask yourself, if you had all the money and all the staff in the world, what one thing would you do?

Wilda Spalding will speak Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 10:45 a.m. after a 10 a.m. reception at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. $10. For more information, call (310) 440-1283, ext 283.

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