NEW YORK, Dec. 13 (JTA) — The secretary-general of the United Nations is encouraging the American Jewish community to closely cooperate with the world body, despite its history of isolating and criticizing Israel.
For some in the Jewish community, “it sometimes seems the United Nations serves the interests of all the world’s peoples but one: the Jews,” Kofi Annan told members of the American Jewish Committee in New York on Sunday evening.
His comments came after the latest high-level meeting of the European Union failed to even address the issue of Israel’s membership in a regional bloc at the United Nations.
Israel is the only U.N. member excluded from such a group, which is a prerequisite for participation on important committees, including the Security Council.
Annan said Sunday that “the exclusion of Israel from the system of regional groupings; the intense focus given to some actions taken in Israel, while other situations sometimes fail to elicit similar outrage; these and other circumstances have given, regrettably, the impression of bias and one- sidedness.”
The secretary-general made his remarks at an AJCommittee dinner honoring Morris Abram, a former U.N. ambassador in Geneva and civil rights lawyer. Abram is also the founding chairman of U.N. Watch, an organization that, among other things, monitors Israel’s treatment at the United Nations. The organization is a joint project between the AJCommittee and the World Jewish Congress.
At the same event, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, expressed “bitter disappointment” that in recent meetings, the European Union fell short of the “outcome we were expecting.”
Israel has been blocked from membership in the Asian group, where it belongs geographically, mostly due to the opposition of Arab countries.
It is now seeking temporary, full membership in the Western European and Others Group.
Last month in Brussels, E.U. action on the issue stalled when Spain lodged what was reportedly the sole objection to Israel’s joining the bloc.
Following that meeting, E.U. political directors last week did not take up the issue at all when they set the agenda for future E.U. committee meetings.
Holbrooke pledged to keep the issue in the forefront of his agenda. He called on “our friends in the European Union ” to “re-examine what they are not doing” and to drop “procedural reasons” to block Israel’s temporary membership in that group.
Other WEOG members — namely the United States, Australia, Canada and Norway — have publicly supported Israel’s admission.
The recent setback notwithstanding, the secretary-general highlighted reasons for the American Jewish community “to feel growing confidence about the United Nations,” including the General Assembly’s decision last year to include anti-Semitism among the forms of racism it wishes to eliminate.
Establishing peace between Arabs and Israelis, he said, would also improve the inequitable situation in the United Nations.
He praised the AJCommittee for its activism at the United Nations since the world body’s beginnings, noting that Felice Gaer, the director of the AJCommittee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Human Rights, was appointed last months as the only woman to the U.N. Committee Against Torture.
“Ours is a key relationship,” Annan said. “The question is not whether the United Nations and the Jewish community should be closer partners. Rather the key issue is how we get there.”
He also pointed to an AJCommittee public opinion poll, released in May, which showed that 58 percent of American Jews have a favorable view of the United Nations, while only 20 percent have an unfavorable opinion.