‘Oom Shmoom.” Ask any Israeli politician, university lecturer or taxi driver
their opinion of the United Nations, and odds are that’s the response you’ll
get. The pejorative term is Hebrew slang for “United Nothing,” and has come to
epitomize the Israeli mentality toward the UN ever since it was coined by David
Ben-Gurion 60 years ago.
For a select group of Israeli diplomats,
however, the UN is not only the front line in the fight for their nation’s
legitimacy, but a crucial venue for promoting age-old Jewish values of tikkun
olam (fixing the world). They are the men and women of Israel’s Permanent
Mission to the United Nations, tasked with waging some of Israel’s toughest
Utilizing a potent mix of expertise, experience and
classic Israeli “chutzpah,” they often emerge victorious – even against
Members of Israel’s modest-sized mission (under 20
diplomats and advisers) can be found in nearly every UN committee, sponsoring
resolutions, vying for top positions and promoting Israel’s interests on topics
that range far beyond the Arab- Israeli conflict.
In 2007, the mission
sponsored a resolution on agricultural technology which was eventually
co-sponsored by more than 100 countries, an astounding feat for Israel. That
resolution has since been reaffirmed three times. Other members can be heard
sharing Israeli expertise in committees dealing with international law,
counter-terrorism, global sustainable development and even the UN’s budgetary
Recently, Israel was elected to the executive board of the UN
Development Program, an influential agency which operates in over 170 nations
with a budget of over $1 billion. The mission’s human rights expert was elected
for a chairing position in within the Commission on the Status of Women’s
communications working group. Other mission members currently hold leadership
positions within the Economic and Social Council’s subcommittees on forests and
activities of non-governmental organizations. In 2013, Israel will to ascend to
the executive board of UNICEF, the UN children’s fund.
In the UN lobby,
Israeli-sponsored exhibits and seminars are a common sight. On the 50th
anniversary of the Adolf Eichmann trial, Minister Yossi Peled and Elie Wiesel
spoke to the UN on the lessons of the Holocaust. The event came days after the
mission hosted its annual autism awareness day seminar, inviting Israeli artists
and experts to address the UN for the fourth straight year.
the UN’s radar screen or below, the Israeli mission employs a strategy that may
as well have been plucked from playbooks of Israel’s old-school military
generals: aggressively promote Israeli interests and values, while taking the
offensive whenever the foes of the Jewish state cross the line.
rants, tirades and outbursts against Israel can be heard from across the East
River. The famed “automatic majority” formed by Arab and Islamic states remains
firmly in place, never failing to cynically politicize Israeli involvement in
every UN venue. Two weeks ago, Arab nations took a break from their boycott of
the Assad regime to rally behind a Syrian bid to block Israeli NGOs from
contributing to the UN’s upcoming conference on sustainable development to be
held in Rio de Janeiro.
Moments before the vote, Israeli diplomats could
be seen scrambling throughout the General Assembly, lobbying member states
against catering to the political ploy. The drama culminated with a fiery speech
by Deputy Ambassador Haim Waxman, drawing shouts and fist-banging from the
The vote failed and the mission emerged victorious.
Yet, it was just another day for Israel at the UN.
Arab-Israeli conflict does take center stage (and it often does), Israeli
Ambassador Ron Prosor takes the UN to task. One of Israel’s most distinguished
diplomats, Prosor never hesitates to use humor and cutting cynicism to name and
shame Israel’s opponents. In the General Assembly, he branded Bashar Assad the
“world’s most dangerous ophthalmologist” (for blinding his people’s vision of
freedom). In the Security Council, he pointed out that “you don’t need to be a
rocket scientist to understand that when rockets fall on your head, your
government has a right to defend itself.”
During the Security Council’s
most recent debate on the Middle East, Prosor unabashedly exposed the five great
myths about the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the rarely discussed plight of
Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
Indeed, he is consistently able to
keep all 15 Security Council members on the edge of their seats during every
speech using a combination of telling facts, stirring anecdotes and revealing
Despite the mission’s growing list of achievements, Israel still
faces a daunting uphill battle. The Palestinians remain intent on pursuing their
unilateral statehood bid to circumvent the peace process. Other nations seem
determined to refocus attention from the Arab Spring toward isolating and
Driven by the spirit of Zionism and the
principles of tikkun olam, the diplomats of Israel’s Permanent Mission to the UN
are up to the task.
The author is a former intern-adviser at Israel’s
Permanent Mission to the United Nations. You can follow him on twitter