Effecting change at the United Nations

Haley’s moral clarity in standing strong against the lies and injustices directed toward Israel reminds me of an experience that I encountered 17 years ago.

Nikki Haley (photo credit: REUTERS)
Nikki Haley
(photo credit: REUTERS)
American United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s recent defense of Israel at the UN comes as a breath of fresh air for most Israelis, who for years have been subjected to a twisted and inaccurate understanding of our country and people, created by the international world body.
Today there are more UN resolutions against Israel – 62 – than against all other countries combined.
There are currently only two resolutions critical of Syria, a country whose own government bears responsibility for a genocidal five-year civil war in which over half a million people have been killed and over 1.2 million displaced.
On a personal level, Haley’s moral clarity in standing strong against the lies and injustices directed toward Israel reminds me of an experience that I, as a young student, encountered 17 years ago, as I experienced a UN gathering for the first time.
In September 2000, I joined six Israeli students as a participant at the UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. There were rumors that Israel was going to be a topical issue at the conference, however not one of us anticipated the outcome as it unfolded.
Upon arriving at the conference hall, I noticed someone handing out free T-shirts at the registration table and I took one. I was shocked at what I saw. The shirt, printed with the official logo of the UN Conference Against Racism, had the picture of Muhammad al-Dura and his father, two Palestinians who were caught in a cross-fire between a Palestinian gunman and Israeli soldiers at the outbreak of the second intifada in Israel several months prior.
I knew that an IDF investigation into the incident, made public in the news, had concluded that it was impossible that the two innocent bystanders were shot by Israeli soldiers, a fact later confirmed by several international investigations.
I walked over to the opening ceremony and once again I was stunned. There in Kingsmead Cricket stadium, 20,000-plus people were packed into the designated ceremony area, all wearing their white Muhammad al-Dura T-shirts, standing in unison against the State of Israel. By now, I had located another Israeli participant, Ora, a young Israeli-Ethiopian student, who stood next to me as we took in the outrageous spectacle. In addition to the T-shirts, the stadium was covered in banners with accusations like “Zionism=Racism,” “Israel is an Apartheid State” and others equating Israel with Nazism. I took off my kippa for the first time in my life out of fear of the incited crowd that stood before me.
The events of the week continued along the same lines. Our delegation of six students together with the other representatives from Israel were assigned a full security detail that escorted us wherever we went. We were confronted daily by hundreds of protesters who approached our tent to shout us down and try to remove the Israeli flag. They shoved posters in our faces with all sorts of accusations against Israel and handed out antisemitic flyers, books and cartoons with Hitler’s face staring out at us from the covers.
At one point during the conference, we decided to design and distribute our own T-shirt and through a local sponsor were able to produce thousands of shirts in record time. Our shirt had a blue Star of David on the front with a peace sign in the middle and a quote on the back from Martin Luther King Jr.: “When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews.”
On the way back from fetching the shirts, without our knowledge, one of the largest anti-Israel rallies ever held since Israel’s establishment, with over 300,000 people, was making its way toward the conference.
I arrived at the conference’s entrance and as a group, we began immediately to distribute our shirts. A few moments later, the anti-Israel rally arrived at the bend of the street close to where we were standing and one of the rally’s organizers, an official member of the steering committee of the conference (as was later revealed), directed her followers to “stop the Israelis from handing out their shirts.” We were immediately accosted and physically assaulted by the large crowd and were only saved by the South African police who formed a protective circle around us.
The next day, Mary Robinson, the deputy head of the UN at the time, invited our group to the front of the conference and personally apologized to us, which was covered by international press.
Since then, not much has changed at the UN for Israel, but Nikki Haley’s brave and just position serves as a light and example for many others who have “had enough,” and at least in Israel will not be easily forgotten.
The writer is the author of United Nation (www.unitednationbook.com), a new book which explores Israel’s humanitarian efforts throughout the world. In his collection of over 40 stories, personal interviews and press releases, he lays bare the benevolent and altruistic sides of the nation of Israel that have been mostly hidden beneath years of censure and denunciation.