Gov't urged to appoint Arabist UN envoy

Govt urged to appoint

January 7, 2010 06:20
3 minute read.
yehuda lancry 248.88

yehuda lancry 248.88. (photo credit: )


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Israel's next ambassador to the United Nations should be someone who is able to speak Arabic and have an intimate understanding of the Arab world and Islam, a group of former ambassadors and academics wrote in a letter sent to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman earlier this week. The letter was sent at a time when Netanyahu and Lieberman were having difficulty reaching a decision on whom to send to the UN to replace Gabriela Shalev, whose two-year contract expires in the summer. The letter was circulated by the Morrell-Tzur public relations firm, reportedly hired by Eli Avidar, who formerly served as the head of Israel's trade mission in Doha. None of the names that have been bandied about as possible candidates for the UN job, Alon Pinkas, Dore Gold, Zalman Shoval or Einat Wilf, are considered "Arabists." Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo who also served for 12 years in Turkey and was one of those who signed the letter, said sending someone who was not an "Arabist" to the UN was a "missed opportunity." He said that the UN was one of the only forums where Israeli diplomats could conduct discreet and secret diplomacy with diplomats from Arab and Muslem countries, and that it was essential that the country's top diplomat there be able to both understand the Arab and Islamic mentality, and be able to communicate freely. "To send someone to the UN who is an expert on the US, but not the Middle East, is a missed opportunity," Shaked said. " An expert on the US you send to Washington and as a consulgeneral in one of the American cities, but in the UN - where so much activity has to do with the Arab and Islamic world, and the need to make contact with them - you need something different." Shaked, who said he was a " happy pensioner," denied that he was interested in the job, and that the motivation behind the letter was not personal, but rather to get Netanyahu and Lieberman to think about the UN post in a different light. "We want to point out that the UN is where much of the secret and informal contact between Israel and the Arab states with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations takes place, and it is very important that Israel's envoy will be a specialist in the Middle East and able to carry on these contacts with knowledge and understanding," the letter read. While conventional wisdom holds that Israel's envoy to the UN needs to be articulate in English to represent Israel adroitly in the media, the letter stated that the UN is a focus of Arab media attention and that fluency in Arabic, and an intimate knowledge of the history and culture of the Arab world, would be a significant advantage for an Israeli diplomat there. Shaked said that Washington was where Israel needed to have its articulate English statesman and media star, and that an articulate Arabic speaker at the UN would provide critical " added value." Only two of Israel's 14 UN ambassadors are believed to have spoken Arabic - Abba Eban and Yehuda Lancry. Lancry, who served in the position from 1999-2002, told The Jerusalem Post that while Arabic would be helpful, it was not a necessity in the job since there were six official languages in the UN, and it was possible to communicate in any of them: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. He pointed out that many of the Arab diplomats posted there were educated in English-speaking countries and speak perfect English. Although an Arabic speaker, Lancry said he often spoke to Arab colleagues in English or, especially those from the Maghreb countries, in French. Lancry, who on a number of occasions addressed the General Assembly and Security Council in Arabic, said that knowledge of the language would not help an Israeli envoy make contact with representatives from countries like Syria, Lebanon, Libya or Iraq, who were completely uninterested in any contact with Israel, regardless of the ambassador's knowledge of the language, culture and mentality. As for the other Arab representatives, if they were interested, they would have no problem speaking to an Israeli envoy in English or French, Lancry said. Among those who signed the letter were former ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazal; Middle East specialist Mordechai Kedar from Bar-Ilan University's BESA Center; Raphael Israeli, a professor of Islam and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University; and former police spokeswoman Linda Menuchin.

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