WASHINGTON -- After the Trump administration announced its withdrawal from UNESCO last month, Israel followed suit hours later. But it was actually a tough call for the Israeli government, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, recounted in a speech on Saturday night.
Addressing the Israeli American Council, Haley said that Israeli officials struggled where to draw the line between the beating it receives in one UN body versus any other – and what signal it might send to the world only to withdraw from its cultural and educational organization, whilst not others, or the UN entirely.
"To its credit, Israel has stayed committed to the United Nations. This small nation shows the collective nations of the world more deference and respect than they deserve," Haley told the gathering in Washington. "The reason is because Israel knows it needs to stay and fight for its interests– and its survival. And it needs to stay and fight for the principles of democracy, tolerance and openness that it alone upholds in the Middle East."
"I'm glad that Israel remains committed to what can seem like a very lonely fight," Haley added. "I'm here to let the world know that Israel is not alone."
Haley was received as a celebrity at the IAC, which on its YouTube channel lists the UN envoy as a "real-life Wonder Woman." The former South Carolina governor championed her achievements in defending Israel since assuming her New York post, including her successful thwarting of a Palestinian appointment to a senior UN post, and the rejection of a UN report characterizing Israel as an apartheid state.
Opening her remarks, she thanked Sheldon and Miriam Adelson– who donate generously to the IAC – "for all they do for America, for Israel, and for the American-Israeli relationship."
The crowd cheered both at Haley's pointed attacks against the previous, Democratic administration, as well as her reference to a gay pride parade
she witnessed in Tel Aviv.
"I went to Israel to see firsthand the country the United Nations spends half its time on," Haley said, recounting her June visit. "Unfortunately, I'm not kidding– it's ridiculous. It seems like the rough breakdown at the UN is half the time on Israel and half the time on the other 192 countries."
Haley said that leaving UNESCO – which is "attempting to erase the history of the Jewish people," she charged – was an "easy call," and warned that similar action may occur at the Human Rights Council if it fails to "live up to its name." Israel believes this council is one of the greatest offenders of applying a double standard to the Jewish State within the UN apparatus.
The ambassador said she is "cautiously optimistic" that the US is slowly but surely "chipping away at the anti-Israel culture" that welcomed her when she first moved to New York. She vowed never to "betray" Israel as she characterized the actions of former President Barack Obama, when he facilitated the passage of a Security Council resolution condemning Israel's building in East Jerusalem as a violation of international law.
"It's no secret that the UN is a hostile place for Israel, but what I saw just before I became the US ambassador was a shameful period in which the United States became a part of that hostility," she said.
"To me, Resolution 2334 wasn't about the settlements issue," Haley added. "The United States and Israel have long had our differences on the settlements, and that's okay – friends can have disagreements and still be friends."
Of greater concern to Haley than the culture of the UN, she said, is the actions of Iran – and there, too, she has been instrumental in steering the Trump administration toward a more combative posture. She said the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers is "very, very flawed" and "plays" the international community for fools.
"We are now pushing the world to confront the totality of the threat posed by the Iranian regime – not just how many centrifuges it has, but how many terrorists it supports and how many missiles it tests. It is beyond time that we did this," she said. "This is a chance not to abandon the deal – not yet– but to improve it. I sincerely hope Congress takes this opportunity."
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