A milestone for Israel, long overdue, was achieved this week when the Jewish state was invited to become a member of the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) at the United Nations in Geneva.
What’s the big deal?
Until now, Israel was the only member state of the UN that was not fully part of a regional group in Geneva, the odd man out, for no reason other than clear bias on the part of the international body whose charter calls for equal treatment of all member states. Without membership in a regional group, Israel was not eligible to participate in the Security Council or other significant committees.
Israel became a member of WEOG — but confined to deliberations in New York — in 2000, thanks in large part to the efforts of the late Richard Holbrooke, who at the time was U.S. Ambassador to the UN. There was an understanding at the time that full participation in Geneva, the other key center for the UN, would soon follow. But after Holbrooke left his post, and amidst the trauma of 9/11, the second intifada and ongoing discrimination against the Jerusalem, the world body neglected to elevate Israel to its rightful status.
In recent months, thanks in part to the continuing efforts of the American Jewish Committee, which has made this an issue and lobbied for it for 20 years, and others, most notably U.S. Ambassador to Israel Samantha Powers, WEOG has brought Israel into its committee in Geneva.
One could say that the gesture on the part of the U.S. and the Western countries was a political sop, an effort to offset the intense pressure being put on Israel by these same countries over the Mideast peace talks and negotiations with Iran. That may well be true. Still, David Harris, AJC executive director, chose to emphasize the positive, noting that “the good news is that another discriminatory barrier [at the UN] has been overcome.” While acknowledging that “this only brings Israel to the starting line, where others have long been, taking it from minus to zero,” he added that it counters the sense that the UN is a place for “unremitting bad news in its treatment of Israel.” In addition, he said, it restores, at least in part, the notion of the UN as a world body with integrity, true to its charter.
But on that score the UN has a long way to go. Indeed, Harris said that the next “pressing issue” will be to address the fact that the UN Human Rights Council permanent agenda “assigns a separate item to Israel, judging it guilty unless proven otherwise, while the other 192 UN member states, including serial human rights offenders such as Iran, Syria, North Korea and Sudan, are all lumped together under a different heading.”
Perhaps WEOG now will lead the way in reversing this blatant discrimination. But we’re not holding our breath.