Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministry expressed sorrow on Saturday night for the passing at age 80 of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a diplomat who made the UN a tiny bit less anti-Israel.
“We will remember him as having been very active in the international arena and as someone who fought antisemitism and Holocaust denial,” Netanyahu said in a statement, sending Israel’s condolences to Annan’s family.
The Foreign Ministry called Annan a “pillar of multilateral diplomacy,” and said that during his tenure he “opposed attempts to delegitimize Israel, fought resolutely against Holocaust denial, and in 2006 supported the UN initiative to establish an International Holocaust Remembrance Day.”
In 2006, at the end of Annan’s tenure as secretary-general, Eve Epstein, a former consultant to the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General who had worked with Annan, wrote an op-ed piece for the Forward, headlined, “Annan made the nations a little less united against Israel.”
She quoted late president Shimon Peres as saying at a farewell dinner for Annan in 2006, “There are things a secretary-general must do, and there are also things that he is free to do. We shall remember Kofi Annan – and thank him – for the things he did that he was free to do.”
While Annan was seen by many in Jerusalem as disproportionately critical of Israel during the Second Intifada and the Second Lebanon War, and while he was taken to task for not taking a more vocal position against Iran’s genocidal threats against the Jewish state, Epstein argued that he moved the needle a bit on Israel inside the world body through a number of steps.
She noted the following: In 1998, on his first official visit to Israel, he underlined the exclusion of Israel from the UN’s system of regional groupings that prevented its inclusion in many of the body’s most important institutions, an anomaly finally rectified by Israel’s acceptance to the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) in 2000.
During his visit to Israel, she noted, he was the first secretary-general to voice public criticism of a UN bias against Israel, and slammed the “Zionism is racism” resolution (UN General Assembly Resolution 3379) of 1975.
During that same year, she wrote, Annan also was the first secretary-general to address the Holocaust in a Jewish context, a position that led in 2005 to the UN General Assembly convening a special session to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. This led to the institution of an annual International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust to be recognized on January 27.
Epstein noted that in June 2000, Annan issued a report concluding Israel had completely withdrawn from Lebanon. Under his tenure, the UN held its first official seminar on antisemitism, with Annan saying that “Jews everywhere must feel that the United Nations is their home too.”
Epstein pointed out that in his last major speech on the Middle East, in December 2016, he questioned the value of endless UN resolutions against Israel.
“Some may feel satisfaction at repeatedly passing General Assembly resolutions or holding conferences that condemn Israel’s behavior,” he said. “But one should also ask whether such steps bring any tangible relief or benefit to the Palestinians. There have been decades of resolutions. There has been a proliferation of special committees, sessions and Secretariat divisions and units. Has any of this had an effect on Israel’s policies, other than to strengthen the belief in Israel and among many of its supporters that this great organization is too one-sided to be allowed a significant role in the Middle East peace process?”
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