United Nations General Assembly in New York.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
New Yorkers take most events in stride. But once a year, every year, New Yorkers let out a great big collective groan. That groan signals the annual gathering of the United Nations General Assembly, otherwise known as the GA. While the rest of the world pays close attention to the speakers and their speeches, New Yorkers pay even closer attention to their traffic reports. As the GA starts, traffic in New York stops. Police block off streets to allow for the most important men and women in the world – and their security details and entourages – to sightsee, dine, shop, party with friends, visit family and, yes, to deliver their much heralded address at the UN.
Seasoned New Yorkers know that there will be no reservations available in the best restaurants in the city. Those chairs are reserved for world leaders and their security details. For example, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara dined at the famous River Café. New Yorkers know that ensconced in the seats of those sedans and Escalades with tinted windows are the men and women who rule the world. So the seasoned New Yorker goes underground. They use the subway and hang out at their local pubs and bars.
And then they follow the news to see who said what from the podium in the main hall of the United Nations.
News analysts listen for morsels that might telegraph change or crisis or a solution to a global problem. Journalists look for scoops. But when all is said and done, the GA is nothing more than a glorified parade of dignitaries. Speeches are pat and predictable. The real action takes place not in the main hall of the UN, it takes place in the hallways and the corridors of the UN and at cocktail parties – at places far from the watchful eyes and sensitive ears of the press and their cameras.
When leaders talk to one another without fear of being vilified at home for speaking to the enemy – that’s when progress is made. Corridor conversations conducted through third parties or mediators happen day and at night during the GA. Sometimes the conversations are between heads of states, prime ministers and sheiks. More often they are between lower-level diplomats and advisers, people who are not immediately recognizable.
And that is where Israel really shines.
It’s a well kept secret that Israel is very active in helping other countries solve problems – especially in Africa. Israelis are particularly adept in helping African nations improve their ability to grow crops and expand their food sources. They teach them how to get more milk from cows and more eggs from chickens. They assist in productive irrigation and efficient crop growth. Israelis assist other nations with health care, computer technology and communication services. And, of course, Israel aids countries with their infrastructure development, security and defense.
And most of the deals between Israel and these other nations – many of whom refuse to acknowledge Israel’s existence, let alone shake the hand of an Israeli in public, are initiated and inked behind closed doors at UN committees and during annual GA gatherings.
One of the main accomplishments of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent trip to Central and South America is the decision to have Israel join Mexico and the United States in helping develop the countries of Central America. The reason that is so significant is because Israel has already perfected a method of helping and assisting countries develop along these very lines. That experience is through the UN.
Years ago prime minister David Ben-Gurion famously referred to the UN by its Hebrew acronym – “Ha’Oum.” Ben-Gurion said “oumsmoom.” At the time many member nations were openly and virulently anti-Israel. That has not changed much. Many bodies within the UN are still anti-Israel and the United Nations is still a platform for an ugly, deplorable form of antisemitism.
That hasn’t changed. Yet things have changed – Israel has changed.
Today Israel contributes greatly to the UN and, by extension, to the world. Those contributions are what makes the world a better place and slowly moves publicly antagonistic countries closer to recognizing Israel as a contributing member of the nations of the world.
For that, this New Yorker is willing to put up with a few days of congestion and traffic.
The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.