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Israel Sees UN as Important Platform Despite “Bias”

Iranian Nuclear Issue Important for Jerusalem


As soon as the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur ended, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and a host of other Israeli officials jumped on a plane bound for New York and the opening sessions of the United Nations General Assembly (GA). The large contingent of officials is making the trip despite the fact that the GA, where each nation has one vote, is seen as particularly unfriendly to Israel.


“We’ve got no illusions when it comes to the General Assembly and we know there is an automatic majority against Israel,” a senior Israeli official traveling with the Prime Minister told The Media Line. “They pass anti-Israel resolutions without batting an eyelash. I’ve heard they still condemn us every year for bombing the Iraqi nuclear reactor.”


Yet, Israeli officials say that even if they will not be able to change opinions it is important to have an Israeli voice at the UN. The message, they say, will continue to be that Israel will allow Iran to become a nuclear power.


Iran is dangerous, not only to Israel, but to the whole region,” Ilana Stein, deputy spokeswoman at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Media Line. “The whole Middle East is already too unstable and we can’t let a nuclear Iran happen in this unstable region.”


Stein said that Israel also has a message for the Palestinians, who are expected to ask the UN to give them non-member status after their bid for full statehood and membership fizzled last year. “By going to the UN, the Palestinians won’t gain the state they wish to have,” Stein said. “The only way to have a state is by negotiations. Once there is a peace agreement, then the UN could recognize a state.”


Israel has a long history with the UN. It was, of course, a vote by the international body that created the state of Israel in 1948. But support for Israel didn’t last long. By 1955, Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion used the dismissive phrase “Um-Shmum” to describe the UN. “um” is the Hebrew pronunciation of UN, and shmum is a derogatory world implying “nonsense.”


And some officials feel that Israel is still attacked unjustly in the General Assembly, where each nation has a vote. The situation is different in the Security Council. Of the 15 members, five (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US) have veto power, and the United States has consistently used this veto power to torpedo anti-Israel resolutions.


Many Israelis say that even if they don’t agree with the UN, it is nevertheless an important platform.


”It’s like an international Hyde Park speakers’ corner in which every country — big or small — can be heard,” said Jewish settler leader Dani Dayan. “It’s a public podium that we should use to the maximum.”


Change comes slowly, says Dayan and others, and Israel must keep sending out its message in any way it can.


“There are some countries in the UN that privately agree with us,” said the senior Israeli official. “The Prime Minister’s immediate audience is those people who are willing to listen, but it is a way to reach a global audience.”


The most important audience, though, is the United States, and the timing of this year’s opening session is especially sensitive as it comes just weeks before the American presidential election. Underscoring that point is the buzz over President Obama decision not to meet Prime Minister Netanyahu in New York or Washington, which some Israelis saw as a sign of his pique with the Israeli leader, who many see as openly supporting the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney. But others said Obama is acting wisely.


“Obama is not meeting any foreign leaders,” Gerald Steinberg, the head of NGO Monitor, an Israeli organization, told The Media Line. “I think there was a feeling that in the middle of an election campaign if you can’t meet with everyone, don’t meet with anyone.”


Steinberg said that in the last decade Israel has become more adept at public diplomacy and has realized the importance of the UN.


Israel has moved away from the ‘Um-Shmum’ approach,” he said. “In an era of soft power relations, the UN is a platform for international public opinon. It used to be that only individuals like Abba Eban (Israel’s long-time, legendary ambassador to the UN who served during the 1967 war) understood that, but now everyone gets it.”