3 Israeli NGOs win rare UN affiliation

Foreign Min. portrays approval as sign of Israel's growing involvement in UN.

The Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday that three Israeli non-governmental organizations have been newly "associated" with the United Nations. The UN Department of Public Information (DPI) on Tuesday granted affiliation to ZAKA Rescue and Recovery, the Israel Women's Network and the New Israel Fund's Empowerment and Training Center for Social Change Organizations in Israel (Shatil). Only seven other Israeli organizations have received such status before. Although the benefits are largely nominal, the Foreign Ministry portrayed the NGOs' approval as another sign of Israel's growing involvement in, and acceptance by, the UN. "We're trying to normalize our image in the world, and to normalize our status in the UN as well. We're a nation that contributes to the UN, and not only when it comes to the conflict," said Orli Gil, head of the NGO unit in the Foreign Ministry's division for international organizations. She asserted that the list of organizations chosen "shows how democratically mature we are," since it included organizations that sometimes criticize the government. While any NGO can apply for affiliation with the DPI, independent of government approval, Gil recommended that these three organizations apply. She said that she encouraged other NGOs to submit applications as well, but they were dissuaded by the lengthy bureaucratic process. New Israel Fund executive director Eliezer Yaari described himself as gratified by the UN inclusion and "pleasantly surprised" by the Foreign Ministry's support of his organization's application. "It gives you hope because [the NIF] has been advocating for weak voices. Traditionally, that's in conflict with the government - any government - and the fact that the government respects [us] is a very good sign for Israeli society." In addition to the three Israeli groups, 22 other organizations were inducted following the DPI's semi-annual meeting this week. In total, 1,558 international organizations are associated with the UN department. DPI association provides NGOs with credibility as an established organization, global contact with the UN's NGO networks, and access to UN committee meetings, conferences and the like, according to the Foreign Ministry. "Materially," Yaari said, the designation means "nothing," but "to every employee, to every volunteer, to every donor, this is a little award saying hey, you're doing right - and this is huge."