Head of the Table

Jewish Light Editorial

For at least the past two decades, we have come to expect the relentless drumbeat of harsh criticism, unfair treatment and marginalization of the State of Israel by the United Nations.

 

Thus it came as a most welcome surprise that Israel has been elected by the General Assembly as chair of the important U.N. Legal Committee.

What’s perhaps even more surprising, however, was that the General Assembly voted to make Israel the chair when its ambassador, Danny Danon, is one of the most outspoken figures in Israel in favor of settlements and against a two-state solution. 

How does this particular guy break the barrier when Israel has had far more temperate and middle-of-the-road U.N. delegates in the past?

We have some ideas.

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Danon was elected a week ago Monday in what is properly described as an historic achievement for the State of Israel, marking the first time that an Israeli representative will head a permanent committee. Danon’s election was not a slam-dunk; it resulted from months of intense behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts, and unlike the election of other standing committee chairs this time around, was not unanimous.

 

The U.N.’s Legal Committee is charged with dealing with all of the organization’s activities regarding international law, including the status of the additional protocols of the Geneva Conventions and coordinating its fight against terrorism.

 

“I am proud to be the first Israeli elected to this position,” Danon said after his election. “Israel is a world leader in international law and in fighting terrorism. We are pleased to have the opportunity to share our knowledge with the countries of the world.”

The unexpected and unprecedented victory for Israel followed an arduous diplomatic battle led by the Israeli Mission to the United Nations, in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem and Israeli embassies around the world. Nations from the historically anti-Israel Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which includes many member states with records of hostility to Israel, ran a coordinated campaign attempting to block Danon’s appointment.

Israel has been historically excluded from regional U.N. bodies, from participation in U.N. arms like UNESCO and WHO, and has been the object of ritualized denunciations for its mistreatment of the Palestinians” and for its “illegal occupation” of the West Bank. In fact, upon Israel’s election to this chair, Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said,  “This nomination encourages the occupation to continue its terrorist policies against the Palestinian people.”

So why did Israel, and Danon in particular, receive a majority of votes for this seat? Effective lobbying alone doesn’t seem to provide a sufficient explanation.

We can certainly speculate on several reasons for the appointment. One is that Israel has some of the most relentless and advanced anti-terror forces in the world, due to the constant pressure from its neighbors in the region, groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and now ISIS.

With many more nations sharing in the pain inflicted by terror, the move, especially with this committee focusing on terrorism in particular, seems like a recognition that many states need the legal (not to mention other) guidance and support required to combat terrorism that Israel can provide.

One clue that the terror angle might play a part is that one of Danon’s first tasks in his new post will be to further the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, a most timely topic in the wake of horrific terrorist acts in Jerusalem, Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino and, most recently, Orlando.

But there’s another dynamic that we think comes into play. Several Mideast states are now quietly embracing relations with Israel despite the public rhetoric they still hurl to satisfy their internal constituencies.Even if Arab and Muslim states in the region lobbied against, and didn’t vote for, this action, they might well have sent back-channel word that trade, diplomacy and other relations between them and Israel not only are reaching  acceptance but are a necessity for Mideast economic growth, especially with the decline in petroleum prices and the potential turmoil to come if Britain votes to leave the European Union.

Israel, like any other nation-state, is fair game for legitimate criticism, but the habitual Israel-bashing at the U.N. has often served as a thinly veiled platform for anti-Semitism. Perhaps most infamous was the 1974 resolution, since rescinded, that  equated Zionism with racism.

The election of Danon and Israel to this chair, however, could be a true recognition by world leaders that Israel has the experience, skills and expertise to be a leader among world nations on the critical anti-terror front. This posting could help the world see there is far more to gain from an involved Israel than from a condemned one.