Jewish Ideas Daily: Thankless in Turtle Bay

What, realistically, can any Israeli ambassador hope to achieve at the UN?

Ron Prosor 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ron Prosor 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
After more than six months of internal squabbling, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have agreed to dispatch seasoned diplomat Ron Prosor as ambassador to the United Nations.
But what, realistically, can any Israeli ambassador hope to achieve there? This is a body in which more than 118 members identify with the farcically labeled “nonaligned” bloc: an interlocking directorate that includes 57 countries belonging to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, 22 members of the Arab League, and five countries (Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and North Korea) that have no diplomatic relations with Israel. As if this weren’t bad enough, the European Union nowadays rarely takes any initiative to support the country’s right to self-defense, and even Washington has been known to express its pique by occasionally throwing Jerusalem to the jackals.
The first UN ambassador, Abba Eban (1949- 1959), who served concurrently as ambassador to Washington, essentially disregarded his immediate audience to address his “language and emotion to the wider world beyond.” His successor Michael Comay became one of the country’s leading representatives to American Jewry. In the lead-up to the Six Day War, Gideon Rafael transmitted diplomatic messages from American decision-makers that the cabinet interpreted as providing a green light for a preemptive attack.
Not much, however, could be done inside the UN itself. In rebutting Yasser Arafat’s gun-toting November 1974 speech to the General Assembly, Yosef Tekoa directed himself mainly to Israel’s friends outside. Similarly, Chaim Herzog, in literally tearing apart the November 1975 resolution defining Zionism as “a form of racism,” was likewise speaking to the civilized world beyond.
To the renowned jurist Yehuda Blum, who served from 1978 to 1984, the UN had become an arena that actively “fanned the flames of Arab-Israel conflict.” His successor Binyamin Netanyahu alternated between fighting off attempts to deny the country’s credentials at the General Assembly and deploying his considerable polemical talents in the American media.
The subsequent tenures of Yohanan Bein, Yoram Aridor and Gad Ya’acobi were marked by the growing tilt of the world body toward the PLO. Although the “Zionism is racism” resolution was rescinded under US pressure in the early 1990s, Aridor could do nothing about the Security Council’s condemnation of Israel for deporting 12 Palestinian terrorists to Lebanon during the first intifada. Even at the height of the Oslo era, Ya’acobi was unable to dissuade the US from joining in yet another sweeping Security Council condemnation – this, in the wake of Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Arab worshipers in Hebron.
By the time Dore Gold – an effective public diplomat and the first American-born Israeli appointed to the post – arrived in the late 1990s, the template was as if set in concrete.
A General Assembly vote of 131 to 3, blasting housing construction in Jerusalem, was followed, under Gold’s successor Yehuda Lancry, by shameless condemnations of “excessive use of force” during the barbaric Palestinian violence of the second intifada.
WHICH BRINGS us closer to the present. Dan Gillerman, arguably the most thriving of recent ambassadors, succeeded in promoting the first Israel-sponsored resolutions ever adopted by the UN, and in impelling secretary- general Kofi Annan to speak out against the UN’s ad nauseam attacks. But the attacks continued, as witness the powerlessness of Gabriela Shalev against the campaign – led by Judge Richard Goldstone – to eviscerate Israel’s right to defend its civilian population along the Gaza border.
Plainly, the labors of ambassadors have taken on a Sisyphean character. If the country nevertheless persists in trying, it is only because the UN is still where the dysfunctional family of nations, such as it is, comes together to make consequential collective decisions. In any event, Prosor’s main role will again be to represent the country beyond the UN’s corridors – most prominently to the global media and the US Jewish community.
This is a task he will partly share with Ambassador to the US Michael Oren.
True, their role has not been made easier by the evident inability of officialdom to speak with one voice. Should an ambassador take Netanyahu’s own public statements as his marching orders, or the contradictory line articulated by Lieberman at his 2010 UN address? Further complicating matters is the cacophony of voices on the Internet, each claiming to know what’s best for the country.
Prosor’s advantage in both public and private settings is that he is a compelling figure with superior communications skills and diplomatic heft. Much else depends on the two men who have belatedly sent him to the UN, the sometimes incongruent policies of which have their own effect on the country’s image in the media and its public support, especially in the US. That support, in the end, counts infinitely more than any vote taken in Turtle Bay.
The writer is a former Jerusalem Post editorial page editor, and is now contributing editor to Jewish Ideas Daily (, where this article was first published and is reprinted with permission.