“ONCE YOU KNOW Israel, go there, live there,” Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gabriella Shalev said. “You know it’s a wonderful place, with security.” Ambassador Shalev on April 30, 2009, discussed the condition and challenges of Israel at its 62nd anniversary at an intimate forum sponsored by the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at New York University, JeWPA (Jewish Wagner Professional Association), Hagshama, the Israeli Consul General and the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner.
Her discussion focused on the historical and current relationship between the UN and Israel. Though both were established at about the same time out of necessity for preserving Jewish and other minority communities, the conversation has been at times hostile, as when Zionism has been likened to racism in UN forums. While the UN has criticized Israel’s actions in conflicts with Palestinians, Israeli society often views the world body as “nonsense” and anti-Israel, even though the UN also works with Israel on problems such as those in Gaza. Diplomatic confrontations while attempting to change the perception of Israel in the UN (as well as the world) has made Ambassador Shalev’s job difficult.
Shalev stressed the need to see Israel as a country facing global issues just like any other nation (such as swine flu, climate crisis, and terrorism). Iran, she said, is a global threat, not just a problem for Israel and the US. While Israel is facing all of the same global problems, its problems are magnified by being a small state surrounded by enemies. On top of it all, Israel struggles in the global public eye, often singled out in international debate.
“It is like pushing a big rock up hill at times,” she said, adding that over the long term, education and persuasion might be the only way to improve public opinion on Israel’s legitimacy as a nation.
But the ambassador reassured the audience that all Israeli leaders strive for the same things as everyone else in the world: peace, happiness, and a good life. At the UN, every nation should speak out about their national agendas with greater transparency so that all countries can work together to improve our globalized society and, too, eliminate the threat of terror. Indeed, she said, borders matter little anymore.
She also showed that there is a new sense of worldwide hope given the Obama Administration’s fresh involvement with UN and international affairs; the hope is felt worldwide. Obama is the personification of youth and hope, and his main prerogative of engagement is hugely needed for global cooperation and collaboration, said the ambassador.
Shalev also said she believes women are at the forefront of achieving a modern and equal global society, including in Israel. She holds herself as an example, as its ambassador to the UN. Perhaps, given all Shalev said, Israel and similar nations will appoint more women leaders to work together to ease cross-border conflict and tensions.