As the world community marks International Holocaust Memorial Day - set by the UN General Assembly - for the first time on Friday, Israeli professionals have begun to realize that they are now welcome partners of the UN, which generations of Israelis have so long regarded with despair and derision.
More Israeli physicians and other experts than ever are being included in the UN's special agencies, and a 10-member delegation of doctors (six Jews and four Arabs) is currently attending a health symposium in Geneva at the invitation of the UN. All 10 are due to participate together in the International Holocaust Memorial Day event at the UN Palace on Friday, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Dr. Dorit Nitzan-Kalusky, head of the Health Ministry's Food and Nutrition Service, is currently in Belgrade running the World Health Organization's (WHO) office there. Dr. Bina Rabinovich, an infectious disease control specialist, has just been sent by the UN to Turkey to help that country deal with its avian flu epidemic.
The UN administration's growing warmth toward Israeli professionals is not limited to health agencies, but also includes UNESCO (UN Educational, Social and Cultural Organization) - which had long been hostile to Israel but has now appointed Israelis to four professional committees, including the World Heritage committee.
The current international health symposium in Geneva, organized with help from the Foreign Ministry, the Israel Medical Association and various UN agencies, has welcomed the Israelis, according to one member of the delegation.
"This change is a clear message from all UN organizations, and not just the World Health Organization," said the participant. "There is complete openness to Israeli professionals that we have not experienced before."
The UN, whose agencies have constantly allowed political and diplomatic attacks on Israel over the decades, has realized that "enough is enough," he added.
Ilan Elgar, director of the Foreign Ministry's international organizations department, confirmed this turnaround. He credits years of Foreign Ministry staff work, plus the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
"We in the international organizations branch set as a target the normalization of Israel's status in UN and other international bodies," he said.
One way was Israel's initiative in the General Assembly to establish an International Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27; "another way is to fight Israel's image as a one-issue state constantly under attack for the conflict with the Arab world and the Palestinians and to promote Israeli professionals' participation in all agencies," Elgar said.
"Arab delegates to the WHO, in an annual ritual every May, have presented a resolution against Israel on the health situation in the Palestinian territories. These things have kept us busy, but now we have begun to see the fruits of our efforts in the professional realm. It is not that they suddenly like us; it is the result of many years of work, plus the disengagement."