New envoy hopes to make UN more important to Israel

Veteran diplomat Meron Reuben prepares for his maiden address to the Security Council set for October 18.

Meron Reuben (photo credit: Courtesy)
Meron Reuben
(photo credit: Courtesy)
NEW YORK – In a conversation with the new ambassador to the UN in his office on Thursday morning, Meron Reuben proved at every turn that he is a consummate diplomat.
The busy ambassador sat down with The Jerusalem Post at the beginning of his second month on the job in New York.
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With his first address to the Security Council set for October 18, and dozens, if not hundreds, of diplomats to meet, it would be understandable if he seemed tired or overwhelmed.
Instead, Reuben was, in keeping with his profession, perfectly balanced. Seated in a perfectly groomed suit and tie, he was energetic yet calm, knowledgeable yet not pedantic. His candid eloquence was measured by the careful paces of discretion.
Characterizing his job as “a very challenging post, a very interesting post – a dream post for any career diplomat,” he said that “it takes time to build bridges.
“I’ve had a lot of experience in it and I do enjoy the personal side of it,” Reuben said, adding later that he believes in a personal touch.
“Many people have said that modern technology, in the end, will take over in terms of contacts with people, but it doesn’t – there is nothing like a personal relationship.”
Born in South Africa and raised in the United Kingdom, Reuben immigrated to Israel in 1974. He joined the foreign service and has worked in Chile, Mexico and Paraguay.
With his eldest daughter born in Mexico and his youngest daughter born in Jerusalem, Reuben jokes that he was already a member of “a United Nations family,” his own accent in English reflecting a hodgepodge of homes.
He is quick to stress the importance of the UN – and his hope that it will become more important to Israel.
“Even though people can be divided as to how they react to multilateral organizations, they are very important and they are a place where all the world’s governments get together,” Reuben said. “There’s no other substitute for it at the moment.
“We have to play on this playing field, whether we like it or not, and we have to play well,” he said.
Reuben said that after dealings in one of the UN committees (he declined to reveal which) he was reminded “of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 in terms of doublespeak, and a totally different focus on how one sees the world.”
“The language is something that one sometimes has to get used to,” Reuben acknowledged.
“The use of one simple word can change the focus of the document.”
Reuben’s dexterity with English, his mother tongue, is bound to be an asset on this count – though he admits that, after 40 years of being an Israeli, he sometimes finds himself translating in his head, or looking to find a the right word in English to correspond with a particular sentiment.
In his talk with the Post, however, eloquence reigned, as conversation leapt fluidly from off-the-record observations to on-the-record perceptions on the current state of affairs.
When asked for his opinion on Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s remarks to the General Assembly last month, Reuben said that the speech was illustrative of “coalition politics.
“The basic premise is that Israel needs peace, and is willing to go forward for peace,” Reuben said. “How to go about it, of course, is another story.
That shows the pluralism of the Israeli political system. The general message is that Israelis want peace, seek peace, and seek peace as a two-country solution for two peoples.”
Reuben said he’s “got enough things on [his] plate,” and that he doesn’t “really deal with the peace process.”
He anticipates his time will be spent on Iran, Lebanon and Turkey, as well as myriad problems like poverty, education and human rights that plague the world.
Reuben spoke eloquently on the subject of Turkey off the record, but was willing to say a few words on the record as well.
“The flotilla situation unfortunately has been blown out of all proportion,” he said. “It’s always sad when there is a loss of life, but the hypocrisy of piling inquiry onto inquiry on Israel and the flotilla situation when terrible things happen around the world and there are never any international inquiries into what goes on there, does sort of show up a lot of the organizations that are trying to investigate as rather hypocritical and politically focused.”
Calling the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva “practically a farce,” Reuben differentiated between the HRC investigation and Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon’s Panel of Inquiry. Reuben hopes Ban’s panel will study the national reports and provide insight into how to deal with similar situations that might occur in the future.
“What a pity it wasn’t done for Darfur and other places around the world, where the loss of life was immense and human rights were trampled,” Reuben said, referencing the numerous investigative panels into the Gaza flotilla incident of May 31.
Reuben hopes to establish a better relationship of respect between Israel and the UN, in both directions. He expressed admiration that the UN judicial committee had a moment of silence for the recently deceased Israeli judicial expert Shabtai Rosen, a member of the Turkel Commission of Inquiry into the Flotilla Incident.
“They stood up for him, and had a moment of silence for him, because he himself worked in the mission here in the UN in the 1960s,” Reuben said. “He was recognized as a giant in international law by a very important institution.”
He said that it is important to emphasize that Israel’s relationship with the UN goes beyond acrimony. He cited the Israel Police’s participation in restoring order in Haiti, courses given by Israelis and efforts to bring more Israelis in to work at the UN as positive examples with the potential to show the UN what Israel has to offer.
Noting that three years ago, Israel presented its first accepted resolution (on agricultural technology for reaching Millenium Development Goals), Reuben said that “there is so much that Israel has to offer.
“We can be a very constructive force, with our science, technology, education, music and culture, he said, noting the importance of being proactive.
“Over the last few years, we’ve been trying to push Israeli students and professionals into applying for posts at the UN and also to put their names forward for UN organizations and agencies,” he said.
Reuben expressed the hope that, by the end of his tenure, he will have helped to make Israel’s relationship with the United Nations more collaborative and less contentious.
“I hope that I accomplish a change of attitude in the UN towards Israel, not only on the political side, but also in terms of what we have to offer the organization and its agencies,” he said. “And I would like to be able to put my grain of salt toward a process where the Israeli public understands a bit better the UN’s importance and the importance of playing a role in the field of multilateralism.
I think that’s where I’d like to leave some kind of mark.
“I hope that our relationship becomes a more normal one – we both deserve it, both the UN and us,” the ambassador said. “It would be very nice to see the UN focusing less on just one subject, and more on the many subjects that face the world we live in.”