The U.N. is a Drainpipe of
the Hostility Toward Israel
By Shalom Yerushalmi
...these are not the days of John Bolton, the American ambassador to the U.N. that everybody thought was the Israeli delegate.
Translated By Viktoria Lymar
3 September 2011
Edited by Hoishan Chan
Israel - Maariv - Original Article (Hebrew)
September is already here, and professor Gabriela Shalev, Israel’s previous ambassador to the U.N., is more pessimistic than ever: “We have no tools, we’re in trouble.”
Gaby Shalev, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., has a joke on the occasion of the beginning of the school year. Someone turns to his mom and complains in the corner: “I don’t want to go to school. All the teachers hate me, and I hate them. All the students hate me, and I hate them.” “You don’t have a choice,” responds the mother. “You’re the principal.”
Israel has no choice as well. Neither does the former ambassador. She had to return daily to a place where she felt condemned and despised. Today, exactly one year after finishing her term, she’s sitting in her beautiful house in Even Yehuda, still overcome by fear. September is in the doorway, and she sees that Israel will be engulfed in the wave of an unprecedented political tsunami, at the end [of which] Israel will be thrown outside of the fence, subject to heavy sanctions and boycotts.
After taking off the diplomat suit, Shalev speaks eloquently and daringly, trying to confront the failures of public relations, acknowledging weaknesses and mistakes and even how she was fundamentally unsuitable for the role she was asigned to.
“Operation Cast Lead [the Gaza War] broke out. The Netanyahu government came to power, the talks with the Palestinians were stopped, the Goldstone report loomed into prominence, and the Marmara affair struck waves in the world,” analyzes Shalev. “Add to this the rewarding diplomatic effort of the Palestinians and Arab countries, and you’ll fathom why Israel is at a political nadir in the U.N. that we have never before been driven to. The U.N. is a drainage collector of all the hostility toward Israel and the global delegitimization of Israel. There, they already don’t recognize our right to exist. These days are the gravest of all you can possibly recollect.”
But the United States is with us.
“Not precisely. We’re going from bad to worse, and losing the United States as well on the way. U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro may say that relations are steadfast, strong and good, but this is no longer the same type of relationship and support. A rapport between the leaders is not the most important thing, but even that is nonexistent. Obama is not opening his arms to us. He’s different. In my view, this is very impressive. Distant, noble. He is a cold and rational person. He thinks unusually. Esther Brimmer, Clinton’s assistant secretary of state, told me once, “Help us to help you.” In short, these are not the days of John Bolton, who was the American ambassador to the U.N., but everybody thought he was the Israeli delegate.
What has changed?
“You should comprehend the totality of the new interests of the United States. It wants to be the leader of the world, not to isolate itself from it. Ambassador Susan Rice remarked that the U.N. is not perfect, but it’s impossible [to do] without it. There is new black elite in America today: Barack Obama, his wife Michelle, Susan Rice, Esther Brimmer who is very close to the president and the others. Everyone went to Harvard. They became very associated with the blacks from Africa, from the islands. Susan Rice became attached to them, socially and politically. We remained outside. We are the separatists, we help neither our friends nor ourselves.”
What’s going to happen in September?
“It’s terrifying. I don’t call this ‘the black September’ only because my son was born in September, but the state of affairs is serious. The president of the [General] Assembly will be Abdelaziz al-Nasser, Qatar’s ambassador to the U.N. He used to be my friend, despite Qatar being extremely against us. The president of the Security Council (which changes according to monthly rotation) will be the Lebanese ambassador. From our standpoint, that is an intolerable condition. They are chairing meetings, bringing up proposals, setting the agenda, gaining control of the whole show.
Meanwhile, there are no talks between us and the Palestinians, there is an absolute standstill. Sept. 20 may yield a resolution for the recognition of the Palestinian state within 1967 borders. There’s no way it won’t be accepted.”
Will the Palestinians manage to get through the Security Council?
“See, last February, the Palestinians very wisely proposed a resolution against settlements, formulated precisely in the words of U.S. Secretary of State Clinton. 14 states, permanent and non-permanent members in the Council had voted for the condemnation of the settlements and our expulsion from there. The United States vetoed the move, in spite of the wording. I saw Ambassador Rice raise her hand reluctantly. The Palestinians will attempt once again to prove that the United States is standing alone against the world. We must not arrive at a situation where only they defend the state of Israel, leprous in the eyes of the world. In my opinion, the United States is also hinting to the Palestinians that it does not pay to put it in a position like this. For example, the administration has threatened to halt funding for them.”
Will the Palestinians rethink their standing?
“The Palestinians will come out losers from this move. The West Bank is doing well, cooperation with the security forces is taking place. I’m telling them: ‘Do not undertake unilateral steps.’ Unfortunately, they don’t want to listen or to speak.”
Is the [General] Assembly likely to adopt a resolution recognizing the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders
“Certainly, depending on what’s going to be in the draft proposal the Palestinians will submit on Sept. 20. At the [General] Assembly, we don’t stand a chance, and we lose the [high] quality majority as well: Germany, Italy, Australia. We’re to stay solely with the United States and Micronesia. Things won’t change instantly on the ground, but the animosity, the mutual suspicion and the disgruntlement of the Palestinian youth will grow stronger. I heard a local leader by the name of al-Aradj referring to the third generation of the Palestinian kids who’d go out to the third intifada.”
At a conference of experts organized by the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last May, you noted that “As soon as the declaration on the disputable territories is received, the Yesha areas will not be considered as anything other than territories under occupation.”
“It is actually beyond that. Several of my fellow jurists comment that with the declaration, we won’t be regarded as an occupying power but instead, an invading force. This involves international sanctions, and they have fateful significance. Should the Palestinians be admitted as a member state in the U.N. through the Security Council, — we’re in complete trouble.”
Aren’t the Americans going to exercise their veto?
”The Americans are not our puppets. They are not in our pocket. You should remember that sanctions could be imposed on us even without agreement in the Security Council. The matter is based on the Resolution 377, adopted under the name ‘Uniting for Peace.’ Whatever will happen after the declaration, Israel will look like South Africa during the apartheid.”
We Had Been Good Once
Shalev does not miss the U.N., where she served from July 2008 to September 2010. The Sisyphean struggles did not suit her. They required from her a stiff dose of trickery, hypocrisy and an available ammunition of knives for backstabbing that she didn’t bring from home. Also, the virulent criticism of her didn’t cease for a moment.
“I came unprepared for the job,” Shalev admits today. “I’ve never been a diplomat or a politician. I haven’t made the acquaintance with any official from the ministry of foreign affairs. No heads of state. I abode in the academic world where everything works according to your achievements — and fell into a world of showmanship. That’s a world of instincts, jealousy, contemptible politics. A big deal of evil. After the right wing rose to power, I was blamed for being leftist, that I belonged to the founders of B’Tselem.* They even filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court against me. Nothing but a figment of imagination. I never signed any petition.”
You are not rightist in your views. You were also the chair of the Legal Committee of the New Israel Fund.
”[…] It was a right decision to task a woman after 14 male ambassadors. We tried to channel something less belligerent, less macho, less militarist. Regretfully, I was busy with peace and security most of the time because of all the events, and fell short of delivering another kind of voice.”
In fact, you got up and resigned.
“Look, in Israel, we lived inside of a bubble. I spent 40 years in the Hebrew University, surrounded by researchers, books, theater. I was pulled out of there into a brand different world. All of a sudden, you’re coping with tough work, where you’re not your own boss. From the second I got in, I wanted out. Before I was nominated, meddling began. Alon Pinkas wanted to be the ambassador, and he was disappointed. I was sullied endlessly. It was obvious to me that I’m coming back here after two years.
Shalev says that she misses the little [Land of] Israel of old. From her vantage point, the country before the Six Day War was ideal. Even what was granted us by the U.N., according to the partition plan, could be enough. “I remember the day when the U.N. had recognized and embraced us. My father woke me up in the middle of the night and we were out on the streets of Tel Aviv on Nov. 29, 1947. Amos Oz in ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ lays out a similar story about himself. Think what would have happened were the Arabs to accept the partition plan. The whole thing would be completely different.”
According to the plan, Galilee would not come under our control, nor parts of Negev. Jerusalem would be an international city.
“It could have been better. A smaller country, more consolidated, more Jewish. My happiest years were the '50s. There was austerity and rationing, but everything was more concrete and coherent, without exercising control over another people. We had no idea what materialistic dehumanization is. There were no [social] classes. In my school in Tel Aviv, all of us were equal. There were no rich and poor. We concentrated on ourselves and not on aggression, expansion and occupation.”
Lieberman Brings Shame
The enmity to Israel does not give Shalev peace. She holds research papers, lectures and drafts she wrote in order to explain this deterioration. She also finds it hard understanding the duplicity of countries such as Brazil and Argentina, who maintain fine trade relations with us, but stick with all their might to the Palestinian narrative.
“I asked myself many times, how come the U.N., as the prism of the world that loved us so much, and made us a model, has suddenly turned into such a great hater of us. Why the anathema toward us?”
And the rationale behind this?
”There are 193 member states in the U.N. today. We were the 59th country to join the organization, immediately after World War II and the Holocaust. We were loved and appreciated for our righteousness. Since then, the number of member countries has tripled. Most of the states that got aboard since then are liberated countries who have never tasted democracy. They easily hooked up to the Muslim states, and eagerly bought the Palestinians’ story about a conquest by a swashbuckling country. Also, the balance of power between the superpowers has shifted.”
That is a global explanation.
“True. The occupation and strengthening of the Arab states are additional reasons. Today, the Arabs and Palestinians have another strategy, very clear and absolute. In the past, they were defeated in all the wars, and even terror was unhelpful to them. Now, they came up with a rational decision to devastate the state and the foundation of the Zionist existence through diplomacy. To my great sorrow, they are ahead of the game because we don’t know how to repel them, not only by words or publicity, but by actions as well.”
“I don’t hit others in the chest. Our hands are often not clean, too. I held office in the period when peace talks were not carried out at all. Right-wing government arose here; there’s a new president in the White House. Obama is not Bush who hugged Olmert, and not Clinton whom I saw speaking of Yitzhak Rabin in tears. Suddenly, there is entirely different personnel in office. Also, there is national awakening amidst the peoples of the Middle East. Everything leads to this retreat in the international status of Israel, and not only in the U.N.”
How do we deal with this?
“We don’t have tools. Netanyahu focused on Washington, he did not care for the U.N. [Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor] Lieberman has also not been in touch with the United States and left this arena to Danny Ayalon. Lieberman said to me: ‘I am not politically correct. I am not a diplomat’. Overall, it was wrong thing to do — naming him the Foreign Minister. Once, I was present with him at the meeting with David Milibrand, the then-British foreign secretary. They went into a conversation about Operation Cast Lead. Lieberman disrupted him: ‘What you have done in the Falklands?’ he snapped. Milibrand was in shock. There are things you just don’t say. Period.”
Perhaps it’s appropriate to talk directly and say what you think.
“It cannot be so in public diplomacy. From the moment Lieberman was appointed, I was asked in the U.N.: How is this guy your foreign minister? I had the bad luck to be the ambassador in these difficult couple of years. Luckily, I was gone in September 2010, two weeks before Lieberman showed up to make an address in the U.N.
Lieberman got onstage and in front of all the heads of the states, gave a Yisrael Beitenu speech meant for his public here in Israel. He said stuff contradicting everything I conveyed here for over two years. He refuted what Netanyahu had promised in his Bar-Ilan speech — he announced that there is no chance for peace. I was horrified. Imagine to yourself that I had to then fill the ambassador’s chair in that U.N. General Assembly, and say that we’re reaching out for peace, that we’d sit [for negotiations] without preconditions. To keep on parleying about two countries for two peoples. Thank God I was no longer there.”
Gabriela Shalev, exactly 70 years old […], had a magnificent academic career. She studied at the faculty of law at Hebrew University, completed all the degrees summa cum laude, and is a renowned lecturer and expert in contract law. Aharon Barak, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court and a close friend, was the man who she says influenced her more than anyone else.
In recent years, she served as president of Ono Academic College, and counts among its founders. Olmert and Livni drew her out of the college for the ambassador’s post, after concluding she’s acceptable to both sides. Shalev agreed to move to the U.N. only after a lot of hesitation.
In the course of the interview, Shalev also recalls blunders that did not contribute to the Israeli PR message. She gives an account of one minister, it does not matter from which party, who did not know how to finish up a sentence in English. Also of another minister who insisted on delivering a speech in English, though he had no command of the language, — he made embarrassing mistakes. As well as of a politician who arrived at a women's convention and was late to all the meetings where she was the chief guest.
”English is not the most important thing. Against me, they claimed either that my English is spoken with too great an Israeli accent, and that I read off a script. As if the rest didn’t do the same. They do not understand that the speeches are recorded in the protocol. That it’s irresponsible to speak by heart.”
“Before I was assigned for duty, I went to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu,” shares Shalev. “He was the head of the opposition then. We got together at the King David [Hotel]. From his point of view, there were three important things in the U.N. tenure: media, media and media. I asked him who the best ambassadors were in his eyes. He opined that Chaim Herzog was the most successful one. I asked what about Abba Eban? He answered me that Eban spoke beautifully, but people did not understand what he said.
Netanyahu suggested that I write my speeches myself. At first, I couldn’t. I had to get help from the ministry staffers and members of the delegation. Later on, I saw that if I write [on my own], it’s the best, the most effectual. Obama’s got hundreds of speechwriters — nevertheless, that has not prevented them from making severe errors in the famous al-Azhar speech (the Cairo speech).”
What kind of errors?
“First of all, he appealed to the Arab world. Not to us. He did not talk to us but rather about us. Obama addressed the Iranians in Farsi and wished them a happy holiday. He bowed to the Saudi king. He did not address us. His assertion that the rebirth of the people of Israel in its homeland is the result of the Holocaust has outraged me. That is a misinterpretation. We actually returned here after 3,000 years of yearning. Besides, Obama made a connection between the Shoah and the suffering of the Palestinian people and their need for independence. This is an invalid historical equation.”
[…] You’re angry as if you still hanging around in the U.N. corridors.
”I was totally frustrated the last year. In the U.N., I managed to develop contacts and personal ties. Ambassadors came over to our house. The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon dropped by our place; Susan Rice is a special friend of mine. The Turkish ambassador stopped for a visit. So did the Egyptian ambassador. Now, everything went down the drain. I take everything personally. Unlike men, I am not capable of fighting all day long against the hatred to Israel, and listen to slander and baseless accusations, and in the evening head to a show on Broadway.”
Are you happy to have run out there?
”Yes, and I am very glad to have come home far more Zionist.”
CLICK HERE FOR