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Thirty years ago today the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted its infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism. Israel's standing in the UN had reached a new low, at the hands of the automatic majority enjoyed by the Arab and Islamic bloc together with the Non-Aligned Movement.
Last week, in a historic turnaround, the same General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by Israel - and co-sponsored by over 100 countries, led by the United States and the world's leading democracies - promoting Holocaust remembrance and education across the globe. Israel's traditional opponents, despite their discomfort, recognized that to fight Israel on this issue was a battle they could not win.
This is unprecedented stuff. This is the first instance that a resolution proposed by Israel has ever been adopted by the General Assembly, and it is the first resolution ever adopted by the Assembly regarding the Holocaust. Indeed, the plenary debate surrounding the resolution is the first time since its establishment in 1945 that the UN General Assembly has even discussed the Holocaust, let alone addressed its lessons.
Such a turnaround has not come easy. Israel's diplomats have been working for decades to break down the walls of hostility that have characterized so much of the UN's behavior toward Israel, often, sadly, with little effect.
These efforts have been upgraded significantly in recent years. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom has made clear to the diplomatic corps here in Jerusalem, and, more importantly, to all his counterparts around the world, that Israel will no longer quietly accept the blatant discrimination against it within the UN system, and that the time has come for the UN to change its approach.
Through a series of initiatives on matters close to Israel's heart, but of universal relevance to all humanity, and with the backing of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the active support of the United States and other like-minded countries, Israeli diplomacy at the UN has taken on an activism never seen before.
Even before last week's historic resolution which acknowledged the uniqueness of the Holocaust and called on all countries to teach its lessons, this activism had brought about the UN's first-ever resolution condemning anti-Semitism. This was followed by a unique Special Session of the General Assembly, convened in New York last January at Israel's initiative and with the support of over 150 nations, to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps. On that evening last January, "Hatikva," Israel's national anthem, was played at UN headquarters for the first time. Israel has also made headway in our campaign to reduce the number of anti-Israel resolutions adopted by the General Assembly each year at the instigation of the Arab bloc.
OF COURSE, we must not get carried away. There is much that still has to be done to ensure that the resolutions on anti-Semitism and Holocaust remembrance are translated into concrete measures by all UN member states. Moreover, the mountain of UN resolutions and resources devoted to perpetuating a one-sided, pro-Palestinian narrative of the conflict in our region has still to be overcome. But it is fair to say that we are seeing at the UN a gradual positive shift in attitudes toward Israel. Our international standing is improving.
Our treatment by the UN, however, is not only a reflection of Israel's standing. It is also a reflection of the UN's ability to live up to its own ideals.
Like Israel, the UN was established out of the devastation of the Second World War, an attempt to find a positive response to the nadir to which man had sunk. The UN Charter bears witness to the understanding of the founders that this new international organization must serve as the world's answer to evil, and as the engine through which we build together a global community of justice, tolerance and universal values.
Israel's effort to end our decades-old tension with the UN is finding support from others in the international community for exactly this reason. The UN cannot be true to its own ideals, if it cannot find a way to adopt a less polemical and more constructive and balanced approach to Israel and the Middle East. Member states who wish to see the UN making a positive contribution to developments in the region are coming to recognize that the UN must discard its tendency to see only Palestinian rights and Israeli obligations, in favor of an approach which recognizes the rights and obligations of both sides.
As the recent UN decisions regarding Syria suggest, the need to hold Arab leaders to account for their actions is taking root. The move away from the culture of victimhood toward a culture of responsibility is gaining ground. To the extent that this trend succeeds, then the UN will be empowering those on all sides who genuinely seek peace.
ENCOURAGED BY this shift and by the push for UN reform, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is seeking to broaden our agenda at the United Nations by working together with the UN on global issues such as environmental protection, sustainable development and disease prevention. We are even at the preliminary stages of exploring the possibility of contributing manpower, equipment and know-how to UN peacekeeping forces. Israel, with our unique experience and expertise, has much to offer in support of these efforts. It is wrong - for us and for the UN - to be deprived of that ability to contribute.
The UN still suffers from a severe credibility deficit among the Israeli people and this is understandable. The institutionalized discrimination against Israel at the UN is far from over. But the days of resolutions such as "Zionism is Racism" are. So too, are the days when Israel will let its frustration with the UN prevent us from engaging constructively with its various agencies and institutions. Israel has much to gain from actively pursuing a different and better relationship with the UN, and this is the path we intend to follow. The diplomatic skirmishes in the corridors of the UN will remain. But last week's ground-breaking resolution on Holocaust remembrance proves that Israel, the Jewish people, the UN and the international community as a whole can all benefit from us taking up the battle.
The writer is director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.