The sweepstakes to replace Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev have moved into high gear in recent days, following her agreement to head the Ono Academic College’s academic board next year.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman are expected to decide within a matter of weeks on a replacement for both her and Asi Shariv, Israel’s consul-general in New York, whose tenure is also coming to a close.
Israeli UN ambassador resigns
Shalev, a law professor and former academic president at Ono, was chosen to replace Dan Gillerman as ambassador to the UN in 2008 by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
Lieberman reportedly is interested in appointing Yaffa Zilbershatz, a prominent Bar-Ilan University professor and expert on constitutional, international and human rights law, to the UN job. In addition, he reportedly wants to see Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz’s chief of staff, David Sharan, take over the consul-general job in New York.
Speculation has been rife for months over who would replace the two.
Former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold, former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval, and Foreign Ministry director-general Yossi Gal are among those being touted for the UN job.
Alan Baker, the Foreign Ministry’s former legal advisor and a former ambassador to Canada, has also placed his hat in the ring with recent letters to both Lieberman and Netanyahu.
Among other names being mentioned in relation to the consul-general position, which opens up August 15, are former consul-general in Miami Shai Bazak, and Bobby Brown, who has held numerous senior positions at the Jewish Agency.
“There’s a big transition, and the sooner Israel can name an ambassador to the UN, the better off we’ll all be,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “Now the clock is ticking. This can’t become a political football in Israel. It’s too important, simply, for Israel’s interests to allow the job to go unfilled any longer than necessary.”
American Jewish leaders have insisted the decision is Israel’s alone. But they envision a person of stature with a direct line to leaders at home; someone who is eloquent, with integrity and thick skin; and someone from within the UN framework, however hypocritical it may seem.
“This is not a job for the squeamish. You see hypocrisy every day,” said Harris. “You have to work with the UN as it is.”
In Shalev’s case, the former law professor came in and had a short honeymoon. With no diplomatic experience, she was thrust into a role defending Israel against the Goldstone Report and, more recently, the Gaza flotilla raid.
Observers said her experience as a law professor helped. She did not come off as a politician with talking points, and her commitment to law brought credibility to her arguments.
During her tenure, Shalev also established a close working relationship with US Ambassador Susan Rice, an ally of Israel at the UN.
“She has been an extraordinary representative of Israel at the UN,” Rice told The Jerusalem Post
She said she was “heartbroken” to lose Shalev as a colleague, and described her Israeli counterpart as “just tremendous.”
“She was not viewed as political,” Rice said.
Fiercely loyal to Israel, Shalev took a pragmatic and non-ideological perspective and used that approach to her advantage, she said.
“People trust that,” noted Rice.
Even those who didn’t agree with Shalev respected her, Rice said.
“She’s done Israel an extraordinary service at the UN,” she said.
The relationship with Rice was deemed “very beneficial,” by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Harris, who calls Shalev a close friend, said she performed “extremely well,” given the odds.
“Look, Ambassador Shalev was not dealt a very good hand of cards in
either case,” he said. “The world had basically made up its mind. Within
the limits of what an Israeli ambassador can do against all the odds, I
believe she did as much as one could, because of her own personal
Observers said Shalev built a strong team with Israel’s deputy
ambassador, Danny Carmon. Behind the scenes, she forged relationships
with other diplomats and effectively articulated Israel’s case.
In an interview with the Post
in May, Shalev emphasized the Iranian
threat above all else. She also defended her quiet approach to
“I think you should speak more rationally than emotionally,” she said.
She also acknowledged the tension she felt as an Israeli diplomat at the
“Sometimes, I must tell you, that my heart breaks when I hear the way
that our democracy and our judiciary and mainly our army, our soldiers,
are attacked as war criminals,” she said.