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Israel’s UN Envoy Channels Bob Dylan: Come Senators, Congressmen, Please Heed the Call
Gilad Erdan speaks at a British Embassy event in Ariel Sharon Park near Tel Aviv on April 30, 2021. (Ben Kelmer and Nimrod Saunders/UK iN Israel via Flickr)

Israel’s UN Envoy Channels Bob Dylan: Come Senators, Congressmen, Please Heed the Call

Gilad Erdan sets tone for new Israeli government’s dialogue with Biden administration 

On the rare chance that Israel’s representative to the United Nations was going to reference a Bob Dylan song in front of the Security Council, one would think it would be “Neighborhood Bully,” a pro-Israel anthem.

On Wednesday, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN and United States, chose a different tune.

“To quote a great Jewish thinker, the times they are a-changin’,” Erdan told the Security Council at its quarterly debate on “The Situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian Question.”

It’s a preview of the series of meetings to come in Washington between Israeli officials and members of the administration of US President Joe Biden.

This Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s national security adviser and senior diplomatic adviser are scheduled to meet at the White House with their counterparts and other senior officials. It will serve, in part, to lay the groundwork for an upcoming visit by Bennett himself, the logistics of which are still being worked out. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is nearly certain to follow in short order.

Erdan’s speech at the Security Council laid out the new Israeli government’s view on the Middle East, one that is at times in agreement with the previous government’s (of which Erdan was once a part) and at times at odds. The message from Jerusalem to Washington over the next few weeks likely will center around the notion that Israel is willing to take steps – within reason – to open the door with Ramallah, but that the Palestinian Authority will invariably slam it shut, right on its own foot.

We always try to help the Palestinians and improve their quality of life but, as I demonstrated and explained to the Security Council, the Palestinians always prefer to try to demonize Israel and to delegitimize Israel, instead of helping their own people

“I don’t think I should discuss those [Israel-proposed peace and cooperation] initiatives or ideas here because Prime Minister Bennett will visit Washington quite soon, so I will leave it to him to discuss with President Biden all of that. But as we all know, the obstacle for peace is not our initiative,” Erdan told The Media Line following his debate remarks.

“We always try to help the Palestinians and improve their quality of life but, as I demonstrated and explained to the Security Council, the Palestinians always prefer to try to demonize Israel and to delegitimize Israel, instead of helping their own people, as it was proven when they denied our suggestion to supply them with [COVID-19] vaccines,” said Erdan.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority reached an agreement this summer, under which Israel would provide Ramallah with urgently needed but soon-to-be-expired vaccines, and the PA would return the same number of vaccines from a later shipment, when the need might be higher for Jerusalem. Ramallah canceled the deal under hard-line pressure, citing the expiration dates, and Israel made a similar arrangement with South Korea.

“While the PA continues to spread hate against Israel at the UN, the Palestinian people are in the streets calling for the downfall of the PA regime. PA security forces are savagely beating and murdering protestors and journalists. But rather than addressing any of these issues, the PA is going through the same old, tired act of blaming Israel for its problems,” Erdan told the council, in his first in-person quarterly debate address in the council’s chambers.

Nevertheless, this week the Israeli health and environmental ministers met with their respective Palestinian Authority counterparts, in a sign that the Bennett government wants to make efforts to engage, either as sincere gestures or to score points with – and prove points to – the Biden administration.

Erdan’s speech took aim not just at the Palestinian Authority, but at the Security Council itself, saying that the normalization and cooperation agreements signed over the last year between Israel and new Arab partners in the Middle East came about not due to the council’s involvement, but because of its lack of participation in the process.

He also railed against the equivalence drawn by several Security Council ambassadors between the rockets and incendiary devices that Gazan terrorist groups, including Hamas, fire into Israel, and Israeli policies such as settlement expansion, demolition of Arab-owned homes it claims are illegally built and court-authorized evictions of Arabs in Jerusalem in real estate disputes dating back decades.

The British envoy called on Hamas to halt indiscriminate rocket fire against Israel and on Israel to stop its demolition of Palestinian homes. Niger’s ambassador likewise called for a halt to Hamas’ launching of incendiary balloons into Israel, and for Israel to halt its “sinister” demolitions of Palestinian homes.

On Monday, just as Bennett’s advisers are meeting in Washington with Biden officials, Israel’s Supreme Court is set to hand down a decision on the proposed evictions of four Palestinian families from homes in the hotbed Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah/Shimon Hatzaddik – the same area from which prior evictions were used as a pretense for Hamas rocket attacks on Jerusalem in May. The timing itself has the potential to throw a wrench into the dialogue in Washington. Multiple Israeli media reports this week cited a source close to Bennett as saying that the Israeli government won’t allow the evictions to move forward, even if the high court deems them legal, in order to not inflame national and regional tensions, something Biden’s people will surely look upon favorably.

“I will leave it to my government to decide what to do after we see what is going to be the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court. But everyone should understand that Israel is a vibrant democracy, committed to the decisions that are being taken by our courts. And this can never justify acts of terrorism or launching missiles and rockets at our civilians,” Erdan told The Media Line.

“That’s what we will continue to say to the international community. And those member states of the Security Council would never accept those explanations − those excuses − for acts of terrorism when it comes to their capitals. So, we expect them to understand and not to accept these claims or excuses when it comes to the citizens of Israel,” Erdan said.

He additionally blasted the council for its inaction against the likes of Iran and Syria versus its focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying it opens the door for companies like Ben & Jerry’s to single out Israel for boycott while continuing to do business with globally recognized, large-scale human rights abusers. The Vermont-based ice cream manufacturer announced it would not renew the license for its Israeli franchisee to distribute its product into “occupied Palestinian territory.” The Palestinian Authority’s envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, told the Security Council that it should salute Ben & Jerry’s and other boycotters of Israeli settlements.

“We’re looking to all the Israeli consuls general here in the United States and all the ambassadors around the world, first of all, to explain to all of the countries around the world that those boycotts would never bring peace. It will only create distance from the Palestinians. You have to get people closer together and not separate them,” Erdan told The Media Line.

Those companies have no problems doing business with the biggest human rights violators around the world like Iran and other countries. But the fact that they are singling out only Israel is because of their anti-Semitic views and anti-Israeli views

“Secondly, we have to show everyone that those who are behind the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement] organizations are people who are connected to terrorist organizations. Many of their leaders hold anti-Semitic ideologies and use anti-Semitic tropes, and what we’re doing here in the United States is turning to state governors as I did, and asking them to review this decision that was taken by Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s, and make them pay the price for this anti-Semitic decision,” he said. Unilever is Ben & Jerry’s parent company and played no apparent role in the decision by the independent board of directors of the ice cream company to boycott West Bank Jewish settlements.

“Those companies have no problems doing business with the biggest human rights violators around the world like Iran and other countries. But the fact that they are singling out only Israel is because of their anti-Semitic views and anti-Israeli views. And we are not going to allow them to continue with this method,” Erdan said as he pressed for some 35 states in the US to turn to their anti-BDS laws to pressure or punish Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s.

In a nod to Israeli concerns, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield used her debate speech to highlight the United States’ new framework agreement for providing support to UNRWA, the controversial UN agency that exclusively serves Palestinians.

“The United States has zero tolerance for manifestations of anti-Semitism, racism or other forms of hatred in UN agencies, and that includes UNRWA. This is why our framework of cooperation – the most robust to date – outlines expectations and includes benchmarks to increase UNRWA’s transparency and accountability, consistent with UN principles, including neutrality,” Thomas-Greenfield said, referencing noted past incidents including anti-Semitic curriculum items in UNRWA schools, UNRWA employees making hateful public statements about Israel, and funding going to subcontractors affiliated with designated terrorist organizations.

Despite an influx of US aid, UNRWA is facing a $100 million annual budget shortfall, according to testimony on Wednesday by Lynn Hastings, UN deputy special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

Thomas-Greenfield also highlighted her meeting last month with Leah Goldin, the mother of a fallen IDF soldier whose body is being held by Hamas in Gaza, along with another dead soldier and two presumably living Israeli citizens.

“For the last seven years, the Goldins have advocated endlessly for his return. When I met with her, I promised her I would do everything possible to support her efforts to have her son returned. No parent – no one – should have to endure such a wretched experience. The United States will continue to fiercely advocate for the return of Israeli soldiers killed in action in Gaza, as well as the return of Israeli civilians held captive there,” she said.

Israel has demanded the return of its citizens, dead and alive, as a condition for facilitating reconstruction efforts in Gaza.

But, in the coming weeks in Washington, the Israeli government will largely want to do what it can’t in the corridors of the UN: turn the focus away from Gaza City, from Ramallah and from Jerusalem, and toward Abu Dhabi, Manama and Rabat, showcasing what Israel believes is its centrality to the “new” Middle East.

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