Representing Israel at the United Nations is one of the toughest jobs in the
diplomatic world. For me, coming from academia, not being part of the political
scene or a member of the diplomatic corps made this position even more
I must admit that when I arrived in New York and first
attended the meetings of the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, I was
surprised, even appalled. The gaps between things that are being said openly, on
the podium, and the things that are being said privately, the hypocrisy, the
double standard (like the double talk described by George Orwell) were something
that I had to educate myself to get used to. Similarly in academia, we
lecturers, tutors, researchers, teach our students and ourselves to look for the
truth, the true meaning of things. Quickly enough I knew that I must stand up
for my country.
When I was appointed to this demanding position
representing Israel in the global arena, I intended to show the “Israel beyond
I believe that this was also the intention of prime
minister Ehud Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni in appointing, after 60
years of independence and 14 male ambassadors, a women: to change the perception
of Israel in the world as a macho country, led by generals, to show the world
what Israel is really about: state of the art science, medicine, start-ups,
I was hoping to attend committees and meetings dealing with human
rights, equality and more. However, the reality was very different.
after my arrival, the situation on the ground started to change: the peace talks
were halted, Hamas declared the end of the tahdia (lull), and two days after
Christmas 2008, Operation Cast Lead was launched.
Since then, I had to
dedicate most of my time and energy to the political agenda. As I reflect on my
tenure in New York, I think of the dozens of Security Council and General
Assembly meetings I participated in, the hundreds of negotiations and meetings
with diplomats from around the world, and numerous letters of complaint
delivered to the secretary-general and to the Security Council, briefings and
cables back and forth.
Indeed, the United Nations is a worrying place for
Israel. Israel is the only country in the world that another country threatens
to wipe it off the map.
Yet this was not always the case.
United Nations and the State of Israel were founded within three years of each
other – both born out of the ashes of the Second World Was and the Holocaust. In
the aftermath of the tragedy of war and the horrors of the Holocaust, there were
high hopes for a global organization to secure the peace, promote democracy,
ensure freedom and encourage development.
Given these values, when the
State of Israel was born, its founders envisioned a warm partnership with the
Israel’s Declaration of Independence states: “Israel will
be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
the early years of the United Nations, Israel enjoyed a relatively supportive
environment there. This was due to the fact that the majority of the member
states were democratic and shared Israel’s values.
Yet since Israel
joined the UN, some 64 years ago, the demographics of the United Nations have
changed: from 59 member states, including Israel, to 193. Out of these 193
member states, over one hundred constitute the automatic anti-Israel block of
Muslim states and of the so-called nonaligned nations.
their majority to autocratic regimes and to newly independent Third World
nations. One of the things that these countries share is a hostile attitude
In fact, most states in our region, along with a growing
block of other non-democratic countries, view the United Nations as an extension
of the battlefield for fighting Israel. Beginning in the late 1960s, the full
weight of the United Nations was gradually but deliberately turned against
The campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel in every UN
forum was initiated by the Arab states, together with the former Soviet Union,
and was supported by what has become known as the automatic majority of Third
World member states.
This reality means that today, the UN is the global
center of efforts to delegitimize Israel and the right of the Jewish state to
We must realize what happened here.
Over the years
the Arabs changed their strategy, but their goal did not change. In 1948, 1967
and 1973, Arab armies tried to destroy Israel militarily. They failed. The Arab
countries then engaged in economic warfare, in the form of embargoes and
boycotts. They failed. When both of these strategies failed, we encountered a
wave of terrorism, intended on destroying the fabric of Israeli
Again, this failed.
Today, in view of their failure in
wars, boycotts and terrorism, we witness a renewed and vicious phase in the
battle: Our enemies relentlessly use UN diplomacy and UN organs to deny Israel’s
right to defend its citizens.
This diplomatic campaign is the outcome of
all other failed attempts to destroy Israel and the Zionist dream.
found myself at the UN, combating a form of politically correct anti-Semitism,
disguised in the robes of anti-Zionism. Debate after debate, be it in the
General Assembly or in the Security Council, feature the most venomous attacks
against Israel. UN resolution after resolution embraces the Palestinian
narrative that seeks to turn Israel into an illegitimate state.
other hand, the UN stands in silence when brutal regimes slaughter civilians
across Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Such a double standard against
Israel within the United Nations is dangerous, as it reflects not a mere
criticism of our actions, but an attack on our very legitimacy.
hypocrisy is damaging as well, because it diverts global attention from truly
serious matters that require collective action.
Sadly, there are
countless human tragedies and immeasurable human suffering around the
Victims of the most severe violations of their most basic rights
in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, North Korea, Afghanistan,
Somalia, Iran, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and elsewhere cry out for their plight to be
heard, for their suffering to be redressed by the international
Still, the United Nations reserves the overwhelming majority
of its condemnation for Israel. This can only be interpreted as politically
correct modern anti-Semitism.
This hypocrisy, this double standard, this
double talk, which is unleashed inside the United Nations, is checked only by
one country, Israel’s best and closest ally: the United States of
From my own experience over two troublesome years (2008-2010), I
can attest that the United States has been our steadfast ally. Over these years
the cooperation between our missions was the closest that can be
Fighting the venomous Goldstone reports, trying to contain the
Mavi Marmara crisis, dealing with Iran’s nuclear race – the American mission led
by Ambassador Susan Rice was effective, helpful and the best friend that can be
Even disagreements between friends regarding the settlements
did not deter the Americans from vetoing the resolution regarding a unilateral
declaration of a Palestinian state.
So far as the main challenges facing
Israel at the UN, allow me to say a few words regarding opportunities.
the United Nations, Israel is involved in developing programs and standards
related to the so called non-political issues, and known as “the positive
agenda” at the UN.
Naturally, positive matters are of little interest to
the media and such activities are unlikely to be mentioned by the media, let
alone catch a headline. They do exist, however, and are important.
issues include: education, gender and women’s empowerment, agricultural
technology, public health, water security, sustainable development and
children’s rights. Through engagement on these issues, Israel is able to share
our knowledge and technological advancement with the world. In doing so, we try
to make allies around the world, a necessity, given our tough
Thus, during my tenure in New York, I signed a partnership
agreement with the United Nations Development Program in Africa; we have
deployed police officers to the United Nations missions in Haiti and Georgia; we
have increased our contribution to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF),
the UN Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and many other UN specialized agencies; we
have sponsored and negotiated resolutions that share agricultural technology
with the developing world.
These accomplishments are only a small sample.
In short, we do not let the political battles of the UN prevent us from actively
making the world a more hopeful place.
Despite the obstacles in the UN,
we promote the Jewish value of tikkun olam, rendering the world a better
What is Israel’s future at the United Nations? There are voices
that call for us to disengage, to walk out from the UN. There are many who
believe that the automatic majority against Israel renders the UN a lost cause
for us. Truly, we cannot stop the witch-hunt against Israel that regularly takes
place at the United Nations today. But nor should we walk away from defending
our cause in the global arena of the UN.
The United Nations is a
parliament of the world. All nations are represented in it. But as the world is
not a perfect place, its parliament cannot be perfect. The UN is – as Ambassador
Susan Rice said – imperfect but indispensable.
Our voice needs to be
heard. Even if we cannot change the attitude of our enemies, we need to
strengthen our allies. We must help them, so that they can help us in keeping
our standing in the world.
We should never desert or neglect the global
arena. We must stay and fight back, committed to ensure the safety of the State
of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Prof. Gabriela Shalev is
president of the Higher Academic Council at Ono Academic College in Kiryat Ono
and a former ambassador to the UN. This op-ed is based on a speech she delivered
on September 24, 2013, at the College of International Affairs, National
Chengchi University, Taiwan.