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News Analysis: Israel, U.S. Jews Refrain from Entering U.N. Fray

November 27, 1996
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Israel and American Jews are sticking to the sidelines of the diplomatic maneuvering triggered by the recent U.S. veto of a second term for the United Nations secretary general.

They appear confident that whatever the outcome, U.S. veto power in the Security Council will ensure the political palatability of any successor to Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Israel, which has been fighting for decades against discrimination in the international body, clearly has nothing to gain by entering this diplomatic fray.

It cannot afford to antagonize its closest ally, the United States, by throwing support to Boutros-Ghali. At the same time, it cannot risk opposing the Egyptian and alienating Arab and African countries with which it has begun to forge relations after years of strain and animosity.

So any public comments on the imbroglio are carefully couched.

“Israel has not been asked, so it did not respond,” said one Israeli official. “It’s a matter for the Security Council before it comes to the General Assembly.”

The United States was the only one among the 15 members of the Security Council last week to oppose Boutros-Ghali in his bid for a second term.

The 74-year-old diplomat declined to take himself out of the running, relying on strong support by African nations, who were outraged by the U.S. veto.

The Africans have argued that U.N. leaders from Europe and Asia traditionally have enjoyed two terms.

The United States, in turn, said it recognizes the right of an African to a second term, but called on those nations to come up with alternative candidates.

They had been expected to come forward with a list of other names this week, but decided instead to continue backing the secretary-general.

Still, perseverance by the diplomat, whose term expires Dec. 31, is seen as futile amid a U.S. call for new leadership at the international body.

The United States holds that Boutros-Ghali has failed to institute reforms that would make the United Nations more effective and efficient.

The U.S. administration maintains that the conservative U.S. Congress would not support the body and pay its more than $1 billion in arrears if there were no changes.

The United States now expects to see a compromise candidate surface in the coming weeks. That candidate would have to be ratified by the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, American Jews and Israelis give Boutros-Ghali mixed reviews for his performance since assuming the post five years ago.

Some paint him as an ardent champion of the Middle East peace process, human rights and democracy, while others say he did not do all he could to fight anti-Semitism and Israel’s second-class status at the United Nations.

“He was open to us and always expressed sympathy for our agenda,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“But it is a question of results, and there we found things lacking,” said Hoenlein, making clear his organization steers clear of endorsing any candidates.

For his part, an Israeli official refrained from public comments on the secretary-general’s tenure. He would say only that, “Israel has a lot of appreciation for Boutros-Ghali for his role in the peace negotiations with Egypt.”

Boutros-Ghali became well known as Egypt’s foreign minister in the late ’70s and for his active role in the Middle East peace process.

He joined the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on his historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977 and helped negotiate the Camp David Accords in 1978.

Some Israelis viewed him as a hawk then, and as responsible for preventing Sadat from making too many concessions to Israel.

Remnants of suspicion and mistrust linger, though the Coptic Christian who is married to a woman of Jewish origin has reached out to American Jewish leaders, most recently in an effort to secure their political backing.

But Felice Gaer, director of international organizations at the American Jewish Committee, said what she described as Boutros-Ghali’s lukewarm record on Israel “demonstrates the correctness of the U.S. position.”

“There has been progress” on Israel’s status at the United Nations, she noted, but it has been due primarily to efforts by Israel and the United States, “not to the efforts of the secretary-general.”

“As the first secretary-general from a country in the Middle East, an Islamic country, he had an extraordinary opportunity” to “exercise leadership in Israel’s normalization,” she said.

Gaer pointed to Boutros-Ghali’s failure to take up the cudgel for Israel’s placement in a regional grouping in the international body. Such membership is a prerequisite for serving on key U.N. bodies, including a rotating post in the Security Council. Israel is the only member nation excluded.

She said he also did not use enough leverage to try to moderate some of “the excessively vitriolic resolutions” that continue to get passed in U.N. committees.

Some insiders say there is no precedent for such public pressure by a secretary-general and point to Boutros-Ghali’s claim that he has tried to exercise his influence behind the scenes. At the same time, they concede that the fruit of such private efforts has been scanty.

“We would have liked to have seen a more vigorous approach,” said Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents.

Harris Schoenberg, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith, lauded Boutros- Ghali, saying he “has done more to promote human rights and democracy at the U.N. than any other secretary-general.”

Gaer disagreed, calling the secretary-general a “disappointment” in the human rights arena. She pointed to his unsuccessful efforts in early 1994 to discourage the appointment of a high commissioner for human rights.

Schoenberg, whose organization also is neutral on the candidacy, also praised Boutros-Ghali for his “forcefulness” in trying to combat international terrorism.

On Middle East issues specifically, he hailed Boutros-Ghali as “a man committed to the peace process.” But he noted “three major disappointments” in his record.

They include the secretary’s failure to endorse the 1991 repeal of the resolution equating Zionism with racism, his call on the Security Council for sanctions against Israel after the Rabin government in 1992 deported 400 Islamic fundamentalists, and his “rushing out a biased report” earlier this year after the Israelis accidentally killed scores of refugees sheltered at a U.N. base in southern Lebanon.

One U.S. official said his performance on matters related to Israel and the peace process were beside the point, “since we don’t see the U.N. as a forum for the peace process.”

“We don’t need a supreme diplomat” in the role of secretary- general, said the U.S. official, who asked to remain anonymous.

“We need an efficient manager” who makes sure “the institution can meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

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