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President Reuven Rivlin (front, right) and Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon (front, left) pose with visiting U.N. representatives, February 3rd, 2019.(Photo by: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Rivlin impresses Jewish connection to Jerusalem on U.N. ambassadors
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
02/03/2019
"Some U.N. bodies make unfair decisions about Israel," he said. "Double standards and discrimination must not detract from the U.N.’s important work.”
Just as the United Nations seldom misses an opportunity to be critical of Israel, President Reuven Rivlin seldom misses an opportunity to be critical of the United Nations and its satellites.

In a meeting at the President's Residence on Sunday, with close to 40 ambassadors to the UN from many parts of the world, Rivlin acknowledged the importance of the UN as a multi-national entity that deals with numerous national and international issues, but was highly critical of its tendency to ignore history, specifically with regard to the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

"Some UN bodies make unfair decisions about Israel," he said. "Double standards and discrimination must not detract from the UN’s important work.”

He could not understand how UNESCO could pass a resolution denying the Jewish connection to Jerusalem when Jews prayed for 2,000 years to return there, besides the fact that there is ample archaeological proof of the Jewish connection to the city.

Using his own family as an example, he made a slight change to the Rivlin narrative that he usually presents, and said that the head of the family had declared that instead of praying three times a day to return to Jerusalem, they should just get up and go there – which they did, a little over two centuries ago.  At that time, they and other Jews were welcomed by their Arab neighbors, many of whom were living in poverty. The Jews established business ventures where the Arabs found employment.

"We lived in harmony with the Arab community until we became a political movement," said Rivlin, who also delved back to the time that King David declared Jerusalem as his capital.

Having been told by Danny Danon, Israel's permanent representative to the UN, that the ambassadors had just come from an emotional visit to the Majdanek death camp and the Warsaw Ghetto, Rivlin responded that while Majdanek was a terrible chapter in Jewish history, the State of Israel was not established because of the Holocaust.

Again using his own family as an example, Rivlin said that they came to Jerusalem from Vilna, but before that they had lived in Vienna.  "We came back to our fatherland because we had nowhere else to go," he said.  "Wherever we went, we were told, 'why don't you go back to your homeland?'"

Of the many miracles which in one way or another define the State of Israel, Rivlin's first choice was the Hebrew language.  He said that when he was born 79 years ago, there were 250,000 Jews in Israel, not all of whom could converse in Hebrew. "Today there are 14 million people in the world who speak Hebrew fluently - because we understood that we had to bridge a gap of 2,000 years."

Touching on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rivlin emphasized that putting pressure on either side or both sides will not solve the problem.

He credited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with agreeing that the problem can be overcome, but explained that Hamas, with its refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Israel, stands in the way.

Rivlin also outlined the challenges facing Israel amid hostile neighbors, as well as all of the Mediterranean crises.

The ambassadors listened to him with solemn attention.

Some had been to Israel before and were happy to come and learn more about the nation's history and vibrant present.

One of them, Darja Bavdaz Kuret, the head of the permanent mission of Slovenia, was unofficially helping Danon in this task.  A former Slovenian ambassador to Israel who was also accredited to the Palestinian Authority and served afterwards in numerous European and Asian countries, her last position was as State Secretary in Slovenia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which capacity she visited Israel three years ago.

Other ambassadors were extremely grateful to the Israel Permanent Mission at the UN, the American Zionist Movement and the International March of the Living for facilitating the visit and "letting us share the experience of the Jewish people coming from the ashes of the Holocaust to this dynamic country."

The question and answer portion also included questions about Israel's formula for success; what message of hope Rivlin could give to the world; and how important Israel's relations are with Latin America.

To the first question, Rivlin said that in confronting its challenges, Israel had acquired substantial know-how in many fields, and was willing to share that know-how with other countries such as various countries in Africa, India and South America, as well as Vietnam, Jordan and with the Palestinians. Although Israel cooperates with Jordan and the Palestinians on various levels, water is one of the most important.

In reply to the second question, he said that: "The real promise and hope in this region is to build confidence."  He was certain that many Palestinians prefer peace over war, but emphasized that even though Israel would like see an improvement in the standard of living of the two million Palestinian residents of Gaza, this is not yet feasible because they are being held hostage by 55,000 terrorists.

Rivlin said that as Knesset speaker, he had visited Latin America and was scheduled to do so again, because relations with that region are very important.  He also hinted that he would travel to Latin America via New York, saying to the ambassadors that he hoped that the next time he would see them would be in New York.

El Al does not yet fly to South America from Israel. Latam, a major South American airline company which began direct flights between Tel Aviv and Latin America late last year, is so far the only airline flying these routes which, depending on the destination, take between 13 and 19 hours.

It would be much more comfortable for Rivlin to fly to New York and then continue on to Latin America.

Phyllis Greenberg-Heideman, president of the International March of the Living, accompanied the ambassadors along with her husband, Richard Heideman, who is president of the American Zionist Movement and a former chairman of the Lawyers Committee of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

"In Majdanek, they wore warm coats, scarves and gloves and they were freezing.  It was the best time to take them there and make them realize that the prisoners wore threadbare clothing in winter," Phyllis Heideman told The Jerusalem Post. "They don't know very much about the Holocaust and they kept asking: 'how did your people survive?'"

Describing the visits to Poland and Israel as a lesson in history and current events, Heideman said of the ambassadors: "After this exposure, they can be agents of change.  I hope we'll see more kindness and understanding at the UN."

From the President's Residence the ambassadors met with Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who briefed them about Hezbollah's activities on the northern border prior to their visit to the area, to see with their own eyes into neighboring Syria and Lebanon.
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