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Representing Israel at the UN by Gabriela Shalev

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Representing Israel at the UN

by Gabriela Shalev
J. Post
Nov. 14, 2013

When I was appointed to this demanding position representing Israel in the global arena, I intended to show the “Israel beyond the conflict.”

Representing Israel at the United Nations is one of the toughest jobs in the diplomatic world. For me, coming from academia, not being part of the political scene or a member of the diplomatic corps made this position even more challenging.

I must admit that when I arrived in New York and first attended the meetings of the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, I was surprised, even appalled. The gaps between things that are being said openly, on the podium, and the things that are being said privately, the hypocrisy, the double standard (like the double talk described by George Orwell) were something that I had to educate myself to get used to. Similarly in academia, we lecturers, tutors, researchers, teach our students and ourselves to look for the truth, the true meaning of things. Quickly enough I knew that I must stand up for my country.

When I was appointed to this demanding position representing Israel in the global arena, I intended to show the “Israel beyond the conflict.”

I believe that this was also the intention of prime minister Ehud Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni in appointing, after 60 years of independence and 14 male ambassadors, a women: to change the perception of Israel in the world as a macho country, led by generals, to show the world what Israel is really about: state of the art science, medicine, start-ups, hitech.

I was hoping to attend committees and meetings dealing with human rights, equality and more. However, the reality was very different.

Right after my arrival, the situation on the ground started to change: the peace talks were halted, Hamas declared the end of the tahdia (lull), and two days after Christmas 2008, Operation Cast Lead was launched.

Since then, I had to dedicate most of my time and energy to the political agenda. As I reflect on my tenure in New York, I think of the dozens of Security Council and General Assembly meetings I participated in, the hundreds of negotiations and meetings with diplomats from around the world, and numerous letters of complaint delivered to the secretary-general and to the Security Council, briefings and cables back and forth.

Indeed, the United Nations is a worrying place for Israel. Israel is the only country in the world that another country threatens to wipe it off the map.

Yet this was not always the case.

The United Nations and the State of Israel were founded within three years of each other – both born out of the ashes of the Second World Was and the Holocaust. In the aftermath of the tragedy of war and the horrors of the Holocaust, there were high hopes for a global organization to secure the peace, promote democracy, ensure freedom and encourage development.

Given these values, when the State of Israel was born, its founders envisioned a warm partnership with the United Nations.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence states: “Israel will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

In the early years of the United Nations, Israel enjoyed a relatively supportive environment there. This was due to the fact that the majority of the member states were democratic and shared Israel’s values.

Yet since Israel joined the UN, some 64 years ago, the demographics of the United Nations have changed: from 59 member states, including Israel, to 193. Out of these 193 member states, over one hundred constitute the automatic anti-Israel block of Muslim states and of the so-called nonaligned nations.

Democracies lost their majority to autocratic regimes and to newly independent Third World nations. One of the things that these countries share is a hostile attitude towards Israel.

In fact, most states in our region, along with a growing block of other non-democratic countries, view the United Nations as an extension of the battlefield for fighting Israel. Beginning in the late 1960s, the full weight of the United Nations was gradually but deliberately turned against Israel.

The campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel in every UN forum was initiated by the Arab states, together with the former Soviet Union, and was supported by what has become known as the automatic majority of Third World member states.

This reality means that today, the UN is the global center of efforts to delegitimize Israel and the right of the Jewish state to defend itself.

We must realize what happened here.

Over the years the Arabs changed their strategy, but their goal did not change. In 1948, 1967 and 1973, Arab armies tried to destroy Israel militarily. They failed. The Arab countries then engaged in economic warfare, in the form of embargoes and boycotts. They failed. When both of these strategies failed, we encountered a wave of terrorism, intended on destroying the fabric of Israeli society.

Again, this failed.

Today, in view of their failure in wars, boycotts and terrorism, we witness a renewed and vicious phase in the battle: Our enemies relentlessly use UN diplomacy and UN organs to deny Israel’s right to defend its citizens.

This diplomatic campaign is the outcome of all other failed attempts to destroy Israel and the Zionist dream.

I found myself at the UN, combating a form of politically correct anti-Semitism, disguised in the robes of anti-Zionism. Debate after debate, be it in the General Assembly or in the Security Council, feature the most venomous attacks against Israel. UN resolution after resolution embraces the Palestinian narrative that seeks to turn Israel into an illegitimate state.

On the other hand, the UN stands in silence when brutal regimes slaughter civilians across Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Such a double standard against Israel within the United Nations is dangerous, as it reflects not a mere criticism of our actions, but an attack on our very legitimacy.

Such hypocrisy is damaging as well, because it diverts global attention from truly serious matters that require collective action.

Sadly, there are countless human tragedies and immeasurable human suffering around the globe.

Victims of the most severe violations of their most basic rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and elsewhere cry out for their plight to be heard, for their suffering to be redressed by the international community.

Still, the United Nations reserves the overwhelming majority of its condemnation for Israel. This can only be interpreted as politically correct modern anti-Semitism.

This hypocrisy, this double standard, this double talk, which is unleashed inside the United Nations, is checked only by one country, Israel’s best and closest ally: the United States of America.

From my own experience over two troublesome years (2008-2010), I can attest that the United States has been our steadfast ally. Over these years the cooperation between our missions was the closest that can be achieved.

Fighting the venomous Goldstone reports, trying to contain the Mavi Marmara crisis, dealing with Iran’s nuclear race – the American mission led by Ambassador Susan Rice was effective, helpful and the best friend that can be imagined.

Even disagreements between friends regarding the settlements did not deter the Americans from vetoing the resolution regarding a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

So far as the main challenges facing Israel at the UN, allow me to say a few words regarding opportunities.

At the United Nations, Israel is involved in developing programs and standards related to the so called non-political issues, and known as “the positive agenda” at the UN.

Naturally, positive matters are of little interest to the media and such activities are unlikely to be mentioned by the media, let alone catch a headline. They do exist, however, and are important.

These issues include: education, gender and women’s empowerment, agricultural technology, public health, water security, sustainable development and children’s rights. Through engagement on these issues, Israel is able to share our knowledge and technological advancement with the world. In doing so, we try to make allies around the world, a necessity, given our tough neighborhood.

Thus, during my tenure in New York, I signed a partnership agreement with the United Nations Development Program in Africa; we have deployed police officers to the United Nations missions in Haiti and Georgia; we have increased our contribution to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the UN Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and many other UN specialized agencies; we have sponsored and negotiated resolutions that share agricultural technology with the developing world.

These accomplishments are only a small sample. In short, we do not let the political battles of the UN prevent us from actively making the world a more hopeful place.

Despite the obstacles in the UN, we promote the Jewish value of tikkun olam, rendering the world a better place.

What is Israel’s future at the United Nations? There are voices that call for us to disengage, to walk out from the UN. There are many who believe that the automatic majority against Israel renders the UN a lost cause for us. Truly, we cannot stop the witch-hunt against Israel that regularly takes place at the United Nations today. But nor should we walk away from defending our cause in the global arena of the UN.

The United Nations is a parliament of the world. All nations are represented in it. But as the world is not a perfect place, its parliament cannot be perfect. The UN is – as Ambassador Susan Rice said – imperfect but indispensable.

Our voice needs to be heard. Even if we cannot change the attitude of our enemies, we need to strengthen our allies. We must help them, so that they can help us in keeping our standing in the world.

We should never desert or neglect the global arena. We must stay and fight back, committed to ensure the safety of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Prof. Gabriela Shalev is president of the Higher Academic Council at Ono Academic College in Kiryat Ono and a former ambassador to the UN. This op-ed is based on a speech she delivered on September 24, 2013, at the College of International Affairs, National Chengchi University, Taiwan. 


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