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The plethora of anti-Israel resolutions to come out of the General Assembly and other UN institutions over the years may have left a sense among Israelis that the UN panders to a large and hostile Arab bloc at the expense of the small Jewish state.
But a half-day meeting at Tel Aviv University on Thursday, organized by IsraAID, the Foreign Ministry, The B'nei B'rith World Center, and TAU's Hartog School of Government and Policy, sought to put the political aspect of the Israel-UN relationship aside in favor of what presenters and organizers believed was the most important part of the organization's activities - international aid.
With presentations by UN officials and Israelis working in and with the UN, the event was meant to encourage Israelis to consider working for the world body on issues of health, development and other humanitarian concerns.
The idea seemed to strike a chord. Some 150 people had been expected, but over 500 turned up, forcing the presentations to be moved to a larger hall.
Representatives of an alphabet soup of organizations - UNICEF, UNDP, FAO, WFP, UNFPA - were in attendance, alongside Israelis affiliated with various UN bodies.
Israelis have much to contribute to international development efforts, according to Dr. Yehuda Paz, president of the Negev Institute for Peace and Development, who has worked with the International Labor Organization for over two decades. "It's not just in technology," he told the audience, "but [Israelis'] ability to link institutions from government or communities to work together. Israeli research and development is reflected in economic activity faster than anywhere else in the world."
Paz also cited the Israeli ability to bring many languages, derived from the various new immigrant communities, to the table, and the country's renowned expertise in agriculture, education and other fields crucial for development.
Furthermore, according to Dr. Inon Schenker of the Jerusalem AIDS Project, there is room for Israelis in UN institutions. UN employment is based on quotas for each country, determined by a complicated formula.
At the 192-member World Health Organization, for example, Israel, a full member, has a quota of four to nine employees. Yet, notes Schenker, only two Israelis currently work there - only one as a health professional.
"Today, if an Israeli, a Japanese and a German compete for a job at the UN, the Israeli will certainly win, because both the Japanese and the Germans are over quota," he said encouragingly to the crowd of young people. "And it's important to know that the UN is open to Israeli professionals."
Nava Almog, an Israeli working with UN peacekeeping forces in Haiti, gave a taste of what international aid work could be. "It's physically uncomfortable," Almog noted. "Haiti is the second-poorest country in the world, the poorest depending on the day. You walk down dark streets at night. The water cuts out without warning."
The psychological pressure can also be daunting, Almog told the audience, noting her experience in a project to empower politically active women. "You're in a country in crisis," she explained. "You could go to sleep to the sound of gunfire for two months...You could wake up in the morning and be told you can't leave your house because UN soldiers have been attacked."
Even among aid workers, the social situation can be complex. "You find yourself on a bus where everyone is from some other country. It's wonderful, but it is also lonely," she said.
But at the end of the day, Almog told the audience, Israelis should become more involved in the UN's humanitarian activities: "I'm in a 1,500-member mission, and I'm the only Israeli. We look bad. We need ambassadors for Israel, people who represent the country, to be working for the UN."