UN recognition of Israeli NGO Zaka seen as big win for Israeli diplomacy

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The United Nations has granted official observer status to Zaka, an Israeli search-and-rescue organization that has operated around the world.

The advisory status conveyed unanimously on Tuesday by the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations gives Zaka, a volunteer organization, the right to take part in official UN discussions and conferences that are open for such groups.

Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, called the recognition “a very significant victory for Israeli diplomacy.” The committee’s vote followed dozens of meetings between Israeli diplomats and representatives of the United Nations and the member states, according to an Israeli government statement.

The 19-member state committee includes representatives of Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, Cuba, Turkey, China, Russia, Pakistan, Uruguay, Burundi and Greece, along with the United States and Israel.

Zaka was recognized four years after making its original request; the Israeli NGO has been rejected several times. The observer status must still be approved at next month’s meeting of the Economic and Social Council of the UN.

“Zaka is an organization that reflects Israel’s moral values,” Danon said, “and its acceptance by the UN represents conclusive proof to the world of this fact. Zaka received the status it deserves.”

In a vote that took place six months ago, the committee rejected Zaka, but did recognize the Palestinian Return Center, a Hamas-affiliated and British-based organization.

In 2005, Zaka was recognized by the United Nations as an international volunteer humanitarian organization.

Its international rescue unit has assisted in the Nepal earthquake and Paris terror attacks, both last year; Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013; the tsunami and earthquake in Japan in 2011, and the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

“After years of working at terror sites and at mass casualty incidents in Israel and offering assistance to all who need, Zaka has received a unique status that will allow us to continue our sacred work around the world,” Mati Goldstein, head of the international rescue unit, said in the statement.

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