United Nations General Assembly in New York.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Anti-Israel bias at the United Nations is a perennial storyline in the media and a tired truism to the Israeli public. However, in recent years the Israeli diplomatic team at UN headquarters has pioneered a strategy to beat back the bias through a series of proactive measures aimed at furthering the mutual interests of both Israel and the international community. By connecting Israeli values to the UN’s agenda on conflict resolution and economic development, Israeli diplomats have unlocked new areas in the UN where Israeli knowhow can be deployed to make a significant positive impact and change the prevailing anti-Israel narrative.
Israeli value-based diplomacy at the UN draws on the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam – acts of kindness aimed at repairing the world – and combines it with the plethora of knowledge gained throughout Israel’s remarkable rise as a modern nation state. This form of diplomacy is almost as old as the state itself and has been used effectively when Israel, as a young country, reached out to support newly decolonized countries in the developing world. With many hard-learned lessons in development, agriculture, water management and renewable energy, Israel continues to have much to share with struggling nations. The UN might be one of the most challenging arenas of diplomacy for Israel, but it is also the most effective global platform to promote shared values and deploy Israeli value-based diplomacy on a broader scale.
An example of this strategy in action is in the breaking of the most pernicious of obstacles at the UN – the automatic anti-Israeli majority. Every junior diplomat knows the basic math. One hundred and twenty member states make up the archaic non-aligned movement, and serve as an automatic anti-Israel majority in almost every UN vote. They are powered from within by the 56 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which includes the 21 Arab states. However, this majority also contains a growing number of countries with both good and even strong bilateral relations with the Jewish state. A diplomatic strategy based on the values Israel shares with many of these countries presents a real opportunity for changing the equation, overcoming the automatic majority and thus promoting Israel’s global and multilateral interests.
Shifting from a traditional country-to-country approach, Israeli diplomats have introduced UN resolutions leveraging Israel’s development experience, with the intention of broadening the scope to the entire developing world. These resolutions have aimed to support developing countries, which traditionally vote against Israel. Two Israeli resolutions, Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development and Agricultural Technology for Sustainable Development, are adopted biannually with strong majorities in the UN General Assembly. These resolutions call on countries to incorporate entrepreneurship and agricultural technology in their development agendas and require the UN to report on progress in these arenas. Despite being Israeli resolutions, many countries from the non-aligned movement voted in favor of them.
Why? Because when you present delegations from Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa with a choice between voting in favor of a resolution that directly supports their development agendas while also aligning with Israel or voting against because the Arab League said so, they choose the former time after time. The automatic anti-Israel majority is made irrelevant through targeted value-based diplomacy.
Another example of successful value-based diplomacy is in the recent partnerships between Israel and UN Peacekeeping. More than 100 UN peacekeepers die in the line of duty annually. By adopting IDF standards for emergency first aid and through future training provided by Israel, the UN will improve existing medical treatment standards across the entire multinational peacekeeping force. This could potentially save hundreds if not thousands of peacekeeper and civilian lives.
The initiative to partner on lifesaving medical care comes as a result of Israeli diplomats seeking ways to better connect IDF capabilities with the needs of flagship UN peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts. In 2015 the IDF’s first peacekeeper, Maj. Jonathan Conricus, marched alongside officers from around the world in a special ceremony at UN headquarters. This small but historic ceremony was a culmination of a decision to work with the UN to support its peace and humanitarian efforts with IDF knowhow. The same IDF consistently vilified by some UN delegations will be working to save the lives of soldiers from countries represented by those delegations.
With many of Israel’s foreign policy challenges emanating from international forums like the UN, more not less diplomatic engagement is necessary. Prof. Joseph Nye at the Harvard Kennedy School, who conceived the term “soft power,” wrote that soft power “is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies.” Israel has effectively demonstrated soft power at the UN in both peacekeeping and development, and should increase the use of this approach to redefine its relationship with the intergovernmental body. Let us continue to fight the diplomacy of hatred with the diplomacy of shared values.
The author is a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School and serves as a diplomat with the Foreign Ministry, including a term in the Israeli Mission to the United Nations in New York (2013-2016).