Working with the United Nations

November 1, 2011
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Harriet Mandel

While the United Nations is the central address for world powers to convene, it is not a “world government” or even a world power. It has no jurisdiction over any country and no independent financial resources. It is a parliamentary forum where member states arrange and prioritize regional and international agendas that focus on issues of socioeconomics, human rights, humanitarian efforts, security, and war and peace. U.N. debates serve as a valve to diffuse frustrations of states, and often act as an alternative to war. The U.N. is a venue for horse trading involving national interests, mutual back-scratching and deal-making, and Machiavellian diplomacy.

What is Israel’s current situation at the U.N.? In 2000, Israel was elected to the Western European and Others group in New York. This catapulted Israel to a new and active role at the U.N. On June 14, 2005, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador, Dan Gillerman, was elected vice-president of the 60th U.N. General Assembly. In 2007, Rony Adam, head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s U.N. Department, was unanimously elected to head the U.N. Committee for Program and Coordination. Israel, which has chaired a number of commissions, including the Commission on Population and Development, is a member of the Commission on the Status of Women as well as the Commission on Sustainable Development. Israel has sent police support to Haiti through the U.N. and soon may be considered a candidate for the Security Council. A significant breakthrough occurred in 2007, when the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution by consensus condemning any denial of the Holocaust, and designated January 27 as an annual International Day of Commemoration.

After 30 years working at the U.N., I offer these reflections:

  • Israel does not view itself as a “one-issue” mission to respond to negatives against the Jewish state. Indignation is not a foreign policy. Israeli diplomats form valuable relationships with representatives across the world focusing on issues far beyond the Middle East.
  • Human tragedies abound. As a Diaspora community, Jews have a history and interests that connect them to the lives and traumas of all peoples. We must listen to other nations’ narratives, issues, and challenges, and find ways to build global coalitions.
  • Israel thrives on bilateral business, trade, and cultural relations with many U.N. nations that value Israel’s preeminence in numerous fields. As informed Jews, we can learn about these relations and cultivate global links that support Israel’s work.
  • Nurturing common goals is extremely helpful. We can acknowledge and express appreciation for countries and diplomats who work with Israel, while also understanding the limitations of that cooperation.
  • Relationships matter. We should establish and invest in long-term personal relationships with diplomats — especially the next generation diplomats who will shape and make policy in the future. And we must listen to their concerns and points of view.

Working on the global stage is as rewarding as it is challenging. The Jewish communal test at the U.N. is to release ourselves from a mind-set of isolation. As Israel is integrated into world affairs, we must overcome the insufficiencies of an imperfect organization, find commonalities, build friendships, and create bridges of understanding.

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Harriet Mandel is president of Jewish Global Associates. She has degrees from Columbia University in international, Arab, and Muslim affairs, and she has been involved with the United Nations for three decades.

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