United Nations week

RSLMGMTIt’s diplomacy season in New York, the 10-day September ritual of snarled midtown traffic, will-they-won’t-they handshake speculations and speechmaking so endless it would shame Fidel Castro. But like other notable New York weeks (I’m looking at you Fashion), much of the fun takes place away from the cameras.

So it was last night when World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder greeted the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, at his art gallery on the Upper East Side. (In case you’re wondering why a German minister has an Italian name, I learned the hard way that it’s pronounced “Gee-doh.”)

Westerwelle is an interesting figure. He’s the first openly gay person to serve as Germany’s foreign minister. He’s also something of a lame duck. His party, the Free Democratic Party, or FDP, was humiliated in German elections Sunday, securing just 4.8 percent of the vote — falling short of the five percent threshold necessary for seats in parliament for the first time since the party’s founding after World War II. Which made for an interesting scene of Lauder heaping praise on a man soon to be unemployed whose party was just thoroughly repudiated by the German electorate.


Mindful of his audience — Barbara Walters and Dr. Ruth among them — Westerwelle emphasized there was “no chance” that Germany’s shifting political landscape would undermine the country’s solid support for Israel and Jewish concerns. He threw in a self-deprecating remark to the effect that, while he loves art and owns “a few paintings,” he couldn’t possibly call himself a collector standing next to Lauder, whose holdings include (among many others) a Klimt for which he paid $135 million and which was hanging just up the stairs from where Westerwelle was speaking.

Then he mentioned there was wine being served, flashed a big smile, and was off.

Ben Harris is JTA’s news editor. In his seven years with JTA, he has reported from more than 15 countries. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, New York magazine, among other publications.