The old adage about the weather is applicable to the United Nations. Everyone complains about it, but no one seems to do anything about it.
A group of more than 60 rabbis, at the annual meeting of the Rabbinic Cabinet of Jewish Federations of North America, decided to try to do something, if not about the weather, then at least about the poor treatment of Israel in the international forum.
Ambassador Richard Schifter, who served in the United Nations with Jeanne Kirkpatrick and as ambassador to the Human Rights Commission, guided our approach. He pointed us in the direction of which countries he thought we would be able to influence. Prepared with briefings by Aaron Jacob of the American Jewish Committee and David Michaels of B’nai B’rith, we fanned out across New York in groups of five or six and met with ambassadors and representatives of a dozen countries, including the Vatican’s mission to the U.N.
To the best of my knowledge, it is the first time that American rabbis had gone out in such a concerted effort to lobby and meet with U.N. delegations about the treatment of Israel.
We chose selectively. There was no point wasting time or expending energy with countries that are predisposed against Israel. As a result, we met with representatives of nations primarily in the Eastern European bloc, because they have often voted neutral or abstained on resolutions pertaining to Israel, and they appear to be interested in improving their relations with Israel.
Our goal was to express our dissatisfaction with the poor and unjust treatment of Israel at the United Nations. We sought to highlight the unique way in which Israel is treated, resulting in the inexcusable ignoring of serious problems and egregious human rights violations elsewhere. No other nation is singled out in the way that Israel is. At the last session alone, 30 percent of the resolutions adopted by roll call criticized Israel.
We discussed problems posed by a repeat of the attempt by the Palestinian Authority to avoid or circumvent direct negotiations with Israel by seeking admission to the U.N.
Another issue we brought to the attention of the ambassadors was the very structure of the United Nations, which is automatically stacked against Israel. There are 22 members of the Arab League, along with 57 countries that make up the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and other geopolitical factors. The organization of Jewish states in the world is of course, one.
Israel’s predicament is further complicated by the structure of the governing body and its agencies. Whereas nine of 10 units in the Department of Political Affairs deal with global or regional issues, there is one that deals with a singular issue, the Division for Palestinian Rights. Two committees of the General Assembly focus almost exclusively on bashing Israel. The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Human Rights Practices Affecting the Palestinian People are the only committees of the General Assembly that have such narrow mandates.
Finally, we spoke about Iran and the threat posed to the region and the world by a nuclear-armed Iran.
I believe the Palestinian Authority was genuinely surprised last year when its request for member status was rejected. The active response and work of the American Jewish community expressing its opinion clearly influenced the outcome.
Time will tell if our meetings had an impact. We were extremely well received, and they were happy to hear from us. Indicative of this was the high rate of acceptance of our requests.
Of the 14 nations with whom we asked to meet, an astonishingly high number, 12, agreed to our request. We still have much to do, but at least we let it be known that Israel is not alone, but has friends who care deeply about how it is treated.
Stuart Weinblatt is the rabbi at Congregation B’nai Tzedekof Potomac and chairman of the Rabbinic Cabinet of JFNA.