This year’s General Assembly of the United Nations ended just as it began — with Israel standing basically alone.
In one of the last actions of this year’s annual three-month gathering, Israel was the only country to abstain Monday, when Ireland offered its annual resolution on religious tolerance.
“Given the upsurge in anti-Semitism, we cannot support a resolution on religious tolerance without mentioning anti-Semitism by name,” said Arye Mekel, deputy permanent representative of Israel to the United Nations.
“We represent not just the Jewish state, but the Jewish people,” said Mekel.
The session, which was slated to end this week, saw some of the most strident attacks against Israel in years — but at the same time, some of its most serious advances.
In addition to the customary passage of some 20 resolutions Israel considers hostile, the flurry of activity came in the form of many firsts:
For the first time in a decade, Palestinians tried to challenge Israel’s U.N. credentials, but failed;
The first resolution explicitly condemning anti-Semitism was offered, but its sponsor, Ireland, later withdrew it due to lack of support;
Israel, for the first time in 25 years, sponsored a resolution. Israel later withdrew the resolution, which expressed concern for Israeli children under the threat of terrorism — a mirror image of a resolution passed by the General Assembly concerning Palestinian children — after what it termed a “hostile takeover” attempt by Arab states to co-opt it.
For Israeli and Jewish activists battling for the Jewish state at the United Nations, it was a time of resolve and fatigue.
“This was perhaps the toughest General Assembly in years,” Mekel said. It “showed more than ever the duplicity and the double standards of the United Nations against Israel.”
He quipped that the ambassador to the Palestinian mission to the United Nations, Nasser Al Kidwa, succeeded in one thing — making “a Jew like me long for Christmas” — that is, the end of the session.
He specifically cited an unprecedented three emergency sessions called to discuss Israel — two to condemn Israel’s security fence and one blasting Israel’s talk of expelling Arafat.
But Israel’s advocates also point to several victories.
For one, the Jewish state, which never before was elected to a U.N. committee, gained representation on more U.N. bodies than ever before, Mekel said.
From 2004 through 2007, Israel will serve on a committee on narcotic drugs, an environmental protection governing council, and Habitat, an organization that resettles people. Israel is currently vice chair of the U.N. General Assembly legal committee and will serve on a committee on international trade law for the next six years.
Israel also serves on a disarmament committee and earlier in the year, vice chaired a U.N. disarmament conference.
Israel’s election to these posts was “one of the most important things that happened this year,” Mekel said. “What it actually means is that Israeli experts will participate in these operations and make a contribution” beyond just defending itself vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
The positions came as a result of endorsements from the regional group Israel belongs to — the Western Europe and Others Group, or WEOG.
In May 2000, Israel, then the only country excluded from a regional grouping, was permitted to join WEOG. But countries can only apply for positions after serving as members in the regional group for two years.
In April, Israel will assume the rotating chairmanship of WEOG.
The United States, which almost always votes with Israel on the key issues, lobbied both for Israel’s placement on a regional grouping and its recent appointments.
It also urged member countries to oppose or abstain from the myriad resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Our belief is that it has to be the two parties sitting down negotiating these issues, not resolutions here in the G.A.,” said a U.S. official at the United Nations. “All these resolutions do is further harden the position of both sides.”
In fact, the barrage of pro-Palestinian resolutions appear to have caused a backlash.
That was evident last week when the Palestinians failed at an attempt to displace Israel and obtain their own credentials to represent the West Bank, Gaza Strip and parts of Jerusalem.
After learning that Europe, which often influences others at the United Nations, would oppose the measure, the Palestinians chose not to bring the resolution to a vote.
And when the Palestinians pushed a resolution earlier this month calling on the Hague’s International Court of Justice to assess the legality of Israel’s security fence, European abstentions led to dozens more.
While the resolution still passed 90-8, with 74 abstentions, it was seen as a moral victory for Israel.
Still, the resolution worries Israel and Jewish activists.
Last Friday, the Hague determined it would hold hearings on the issue beginning Feb. 23.
Calling the resolution a “dangerous move,” Amy Goldstein, director of U.N. affairs at B’nai B’rith International, said that “it would mark a deterioration of yet another humanitarian body and a very important humanitarian body because it’s the highest court in humanitarian justice.”
In addition, “the U.N. already has an apparatus with which to address these issues and that is the road map,” she said.
Another key concern for Israel’s proponents was a recent Security Council resolution endorsing the road map.
While Israel supports the road map, it worries that the resolution empowers the United Nations over the United States. The resolution also hands the Palestinians a tool with which to seek Security Council scrutiny of Israel’s compliance.
Such episodes and others reveal the extent of Israel’s struggle at the United Nations, say Jewish activists.
“The most shameful moments came in the fate of the Irish resolution, and also in the Israeli attempt to focus on the plight of the Israeli children as victims of terror,” said David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
“Tragically, the U.N. G.A. is unwilling to face up to anti-Semitism as a separate and distinct threat, and to the plight of Israeli children who’ve been among the victims of terrorist acts.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.