UNGA head accuses Israel of slander

Follows allegations he tried to prevent Israel's envoy from giving a speech on human rights.

Brockmann 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Brockmann 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A top UN official accused Israeli diplomats of slander Monday after a dispute last week over diplomatic protocol in which he allegedly tried to prevent Israel's envoy from giving a speech on human rights. General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann issued a strongly worded statement calling the claim a "malicious and absolute lie" and suggesting that comments from Israeli officials to the press "could best be characterized as 'slander'" and suggesting that "in any court of law this is a criminal act." In a statement issued by his spokesman, Enrique Yeves, d'Escoto also said he had received death threats on the Internet that were being investigated by "the pertinent authorities." D'Escoto said in the statement he planned to bring up the issue with the Israelis at a meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon. Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev responded by announcing she had canceled the meeting. "The role of the president of the General Assembly should be to unite the international community and promote shared interests and values. However, since his first days as president of the General Assembly, Mr. d'Escoto has been divisive and controversial, abusing his position," Shalev said in a statement issued by her spokeswoman, Mirit Cohen. The war of words was the latest in a series of heated exchanges between the two in the press that began with Shalev calling d'Escoto an "Israel hater" in September, after he declined to castigate Iran's president for saying that Israel should be wiped off the map. D'Escoto, a Nicaraguan diplomat and former Sandinista government minister who currently holds the one-year General Assembly presidency, subsequently said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post that he "loved" Israel but more recently called for a boycott and divestment from the international community after comparing Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories to South African apartheid. The furor bubbled over last week ahead of the 60th anniversary celebration of the UN's Declaration of Human Rights, at which Israel was scheduled to speak on behalf of the western European regional group as its temporary chair. Shalev told the Post last week she suspected d'Escoto had initially decided not to schedule speeches from regional blocs in order to stop her from speaking. D'Escoto fiercely denied that he had tried to silence Israel, saying in a statement that only high-level UN officials were initially slated to make addresses. European envoys intervened and urged him to include regional blocs, Shalev told the Post. Shalev was ultimately invited to address the gathering, along with representatives from the Arab League and other nations.