Israeli envoy say UN filled with 'hostility and hypocrisy'
Behind the scenes she hears a lot of appreciation for Israel, but on the stage the remarks are poisonous. Talking to Ynet, Prof. Gabriela Shalev speaks of her Algerian counterpart, her new friend from New Zealand, and expresses her anger over accusations that she is a leftist
WASHINGTON – It happened overnight. From a professor and an international expert in contracts law, she became a diplomacy student. At the age of 67, Prof. Gabriela Shalev sprang from the slow and protected course of the academia to a fast-pace race, with zero days of grace.
The criticism began before she landed in New York. They wrote that she was unfit for the job, that she was appointed by her friend Tzipi Livni
(whom she had only met once before), that she was a leftist and a member of the B'Tselem organization.
Talking to Ynet, Israel's new ambassador at the United Nations fails to conceal her feelings of insult. "This is a despicable accusation. I never signed any political petition, because I didn't think a law professor was better than any other citizen.
"I was never a member of any party of any other legitimate body, and I never expressed my political opinions. Now I am an emissary of the State of Israel,
not of any party."
She refuses to get excited by those who said she was stepping into big shoes. "It's good to follow our excellent ambassadors. Danny Gillerman was such a person, with smooth public appearances. Each person brings something else to this position.
"There well less known ambassadors who did outstanding things. Yehuda Lankri, for example, who was a liked and popular ambassador, although he seldom appeared on the media. His diplomatic activity was conducted behind the scenes, and people still talk about him here.
"Each person brings his own added value. In the several weeks I have been here I have proved that I also have things to bring to the UN. If I didn't believe in that, I wouldn't have accepted this difficult and ungrateful job."
In New York she hasn't had one moment to rest. She landed straight into the boiling water of the General Assembly's annual meeting.
"I felt like when I was four years old and my parents threw me into the water in order to teach me how to swim," she says.
Only two months have passed, and the ambassador – with very little hours of sleep, with no free time to read a good book or tour New York City and its slew of temptations – is already well-known at the UN building.
She has a record of four speeches at the Security Council and General Assembly, meetings with representatives of countries which have no official relations with Israel, and one very undiplomatic remark – "enemy of Israel" – directed at the General Assembly president who embraced the Iranian president at the end of his speech.
"It was simply terrible, shocking," Shalev recounts the incident. "Not only did the audience applaud Ahmadinejad's speech,
but the General Assembly's president, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, ran to embrace him. We weren't there and neither were the Americans. It was my decision to respond. Not everyone was pleased with the response."
The Nicaraguan diplomat, who is known for his lack of sympathy to Israel and to the West in general, decided to fight back. He told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he had met with all the 191 UN ambassadors, apart from the Israeli one.
There were then those who pleaded with Shalev to ask for a meeting with the General Assembly president in order to straighten things out. She did not rush to do so, and he blinked first. When the Israeli envoy entered his office, he stood up, embraced and kissed her, as if nothing ever happened.
"I was pretty happy it ended nicely," she concludes. "I didn't come to the UN to fight."
Prof. Shalev quickly learned the double game: One language at the corridors, in private talks backstage, with a lot of appreciation for the Zionist state, and poisonous remarks against Israel in the official speeches.
"There is a clear recognition here that Israel can, wants and helps the Third World with agricultural technologies, culture, science and medicine. They know that. They need it and can appreciate what we do. But this is a world of double language, of hypocrisy and of a lot of hostility towards the State of Israel. It's difficult listening to the ardent speeches of the Arab countries' representatives – and they sure know how to talk, those guys."
Credentials. With UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Photo: Ilan Tennenbaum)
But she has learned that things can be done and ties can be established in the non-formal meetings. In the first dinner organized on her behalf by the Turkish ambassador, the Algerian ambassador sat next to her.
"We sat and talked for two hours. It was a particularly pleasant conversation. He is an impressive man with a French education, a nice gentleman. He had no problem approaching me at the corridor and shaking my hand. These meetings are important. I even had a conversation with the ambassador of a large Muslim state, which may yield results on the ground in the future."
In another incident the British ambassador held a lunch in her honor, and she asked him to invite the Jordanian ambassador and Palestinian observer. At a women ambassadors' event, Shalev approached New Zealand's envoy, Rosemary Banks, a very popular figure at the UN who regularly slams Israel's policy in the territories.
"She was exceptionally nice, and during that meal we established a connection. The fact that I'm a female academic and not so young creates some respect."
Now Shalev wants to bring Banks, and other colleagues, for a visit to Israel in order to explain that things seen from there are viewed differently here.
But sitting at the UN is not just cocktails and meals. These days the Israeli delegation is fighting attempts by Arab and other countries to define Israel as "a terror state". For this matter Prof. Shalev plans to use her legal education as well.
In addition, on November 29, the day Israel marks the acceptance of the partition plan by the United Nations and the end of the British Mandate in the Land of Israel, the UN mainly mentioned the Palestinians suffering.
"This day I plan to deliver a speech and say what we have to say. Our voice must be heard. We don’t want them to think that we have no response to the harsh claims and the call on the world's countries to mourn the historic decision which led to the State of Israel's establishment," she concludes, knowing that regardless of the policy of the next Israeli government, she is in for many more difficult tests.