Between 2nd and 1st avenues – New Year’s Reflections from the UN

Israel is a geographically small country, but we stand strong at the UN against incredible odds.

United Nations General Assembly in New York (photo credit: REUTERS)
United Nations General Assembly in New York
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Like many Jews, the High Holidays provide me with much needed time for reflection. During my time in synagogue, I pondered the challenges and opportunities facing my family and my country in the coming year, and I also gave thanks. In addition to being blessed with a wonderful and supportive family, I am particularly thankful for the larger Jewish community and the strength I draw from them as I battle daily on behalf of Israel at the United Nations.
Over the past year in my position as Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, I am asked on almost a daily basis how I deal with the hypocrisy and the mean-spirited obsession with Israel in what is supposed to be a fair-minded parliament of nations.
There is a lot of validity in this question. Not a day goes by at the UN without a report issued accusing the Jewish state of ludicrous fallacies such as instigating domestic violence in Palestinian society, or causing the poor environmental conditions in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the international community has stood by almost silently as hundreds of thousands of Syrians are massacred, yet countless special envoys and UN agencies feels the need to condemn Israel for every neighborhood expansion in Jerusalem.
The truth is that I draw inspiration and strength from a number of sources. My loving family, the dedicated professionals in our mission and throughout the Foreign Ministry, and of course Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and my former colleagues back home in the government in Jerusalem. But the Jewish community, here in United States and around the world, plays a crucial role.
Major Jewish organizations, student activists and “ordinary” supporters of Israel have been key to the successes we have achieved at the UN over the past year. They were our partners when we brought 2,000 anti-boycott activists into the General Assembly Hall to stand proud and speak out against those seeking to boycott and sanction the Jewish people. Similarly, when we organized a conference highlighting the challenges posed by modern antisemitism, it was the Jewish community who worked tirelessly with our mission, the American and the EU delegations to ensure the success of such an important event inside the UN.
Additionally, our friends from the Jewish community have stood by our side in fighting some of the most egregious comments and actions emanating from Turtle Bay.
They joined us in denouncing the Palestinian representative who tried to spread a modern-day blood libel by saying that Israel was harvesting organs from terrorists, and they helped ensure that the Venezuelan ambassador apologized personally to me after his outrageous accusation that we are perpetuating a “final solution” of the Palestinians.
This past June, our mission made history when I became the first Israeli elected to chair a permanent UN committee, the Legal Committee. After a long and tumultuous diplomatic campaign, it warmed my heart to see the messages of congratulations pouring in from the heads of so many Jewish organization and people I would meet on the streets of New York. I understand that my victory was rightly viewed as a proud moment for all Jews.
It is this strong bond that has led me to bring more yiddishkeit into the UN. We held a model seder for over 40 ambassadors where they learned about the Jewish love of freedom and age-old fight against oppression, and over 70 diplomats joined us as we watched Fiddler on the Roof on Independence Day. Many of the ambassadors approached me after the show to tell me how now that they better understood the story of our people in the Diaspora; they had a renewed appreciation of the need for a strong and independent Jewish homeland.
Most significantly, I am proud that 5777 is the first year that the UN did not hold any official meetings on Yom Kippur. While some thought of this as a symbolic victory for Israel, it has much deeper meaning. It indicates that at a time when antisemitism is on the rise, and powerful forces seek to delegitimize the very existence of the State of Israel, the world’s most important international organization is exhibiting much-deserved respect for one of humanity’s oldest nations.
Like all missions, our offices are not on UN grounds on New York’s First Avenue, but one block away on Second Avenue. I often tell people of the dissonance that occurs when I walk the five-minute distance from my office, past the Israeli flag proudly displayed with the other nations of the world, and enter the UN. In doing so, I cross from one of the world’s most Jewish and pro-Israel cities to an institution overrun by dictatorships who have perverted the principles of freedom and democracy upon which the UN was founded.
Israel is a geographically small country, but we stand strong at the UN against incredible odds. We are able to do so thanks in large part to the strong support and unequivocal backing we receive from the Jewish community.
As we begin 5777 I am thankful for my Jewish brothers and sisters and hopeful that we will continue to achieve great accomplishments for the State of Israel in the year to come.
The author is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.