John Bolton, America's ambassador to the United Nations, may very well be Israel's greatest friend in the US government. Last Sunday, in a glittering ballroom at a New York hotel, Bolton gave the keynote speech at the Zionist Organization of America's annual dinner.
Bolton's address was refreshingly blunt. He pulled no punches in his criticism of the UN and its endemic anti-Semitism. Bolton allowed that the election of Israel's ambassador to the UN, Danny Gillerman, to the post of one of 15 vice presidents of the General Assembly and the passage of Israel's resolution to establish an official UN Holocaust Memorial Day are "positive steps." But at the same time, he stipulated that "to say that Israel can be said to be treated as a normal nation at the UN would be a statement of fantasy."
Bolton noted with evident disgust the fact that remarks by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for Israel to be wiped off the map have drawn "almost no attention at the UN." They have been met with inaction in spite of the fact that "this is a president of a government that has for nearly 20 years been pursuing a strategic policy of trying to acquire nuclear weapons." Bolton emphasized that the Iranian nuclear program threatens not only Israel, but all the nations of the region and may eventually threaten the US itself.
The American ambassador discussed at length an anti-Israel event that took place at UN Headquarters on November 29 which did not receive coverage by the Hebrew media and was ignored by the Foreign Ministry. On that day, as on every anniversary of the 1947 UN vote recommending the partition of the British Mandate in the Land of Israel, the UN sponsored an official Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
This year, law professor Anne Bayevsky, who in recent years has heroically taken it upon herself to expose the UN's institutional anti-Semitism, managed to photograph the event in which UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council participated. The three UN leaders sat on a stage against the backdrop of a map of the Middle East in which Israel was mysteriously replaced by a country called "Palestine."
Not one of the UN leaders, or any of the other participants in the event, saw fit to protest the fact that Israel had been literally "wiped off" this official UN map.
According to Bolton, "I think we need to use this example, this piece of evidence about a fundamental flaw within the UN itself. This is not simply a mistake that the three men made not speaking about the map. They didn't speak about the map because they didn't see anything unusual. And in fact there isn't anything unusual about it in the context of the UN. We need to take this instance and go beyond what our normal reaction might be – to slam the people involved for not criticizing the map, for not walking out. We need to say this is a pivot point to change the culture at the UN."
As an Israeli, listening to Bolton I could not help feeling a deep sense of shame. True, it is exhilarating to know that there is an American ambassador at Turtle Bay who is going out of his way to defend Israel's rights. But I couldn't help wondering where Israel's UN ambassador and Foreign Ministry fit into this story.
It seems that since he was elected vice president of the General Assembly, Ambassador Gillerman has spent an inordinate amount of his time praising Kofi Annan for the crumbs he throws in Israel's direction whenever he comes under pressure from the US Congress to reform the endemically corrupt UN.
And truly, one has to wonder, what purpose other than irony is served by having an official UN Holocaust Memorial Day? Every day the UN busies itself facilitating a second Holocaust by advancing its agenda of delegitimizing Israel's right to exist in every UN body except the Security Council where Israel is protected by the US veto.
It is a source of embarrassment that the only reason the public became aware of the UN's literal erasure of Israel from its official map is because of the subterfuge of Bayevsky – a private citizen and human rights activist who managed to smuggle a digital camera into the hall where the event took place.
Where was Israel's delegation when the UN officials were organizing this event and printing up this map? Where was Israel's delegation when the map was displayed? Where was Israel's delegation when Bayevsky was working alone to show the world what the UN budget is being used to finance? And why is the fact that the UN used a map with Israel wiped away not being staunchly and resolutely condemned on the Foreign Ministry's Web site or even mentioned there? Why are the ZOA's Web site and Bayevsky's UN Watch Web site the only sites that posted word of the outrage?
WHAT IS prominently displayed on the Foreign Ministry's Web site is a report on last week's vote by the Diplomatic Conference of all state parties to the Geneva Conventions that will pave the way for Magen David Adom to finally become a member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Society. According to a statement by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom posted on the Web site, the vote "reflects Israel's improved international standing in recent years…. This is yet another achievement for Israel's diplomacy, joining a long list of other successes in recent months."
Sadly, as in the case of Israel's treatment at the UN, what we see here is yet another example of Israeli diplomats mistaking spit for raindrops.
The agreement that Israel reached with the International Red Cross is not an achievement but a travesty. Israel's dispute with the organization was a dispute over symbols. For 58 years Israel has justifiably demanded that the Red Cross recognize the red Star of David – long the national symbol of the Jewish people – as a symbol equal in legitimacy to the cross and the crescent. But the organization's vote did not recognize its equality. Rather, the symbol of the Jewish people was replaced with a bizarre diamond shape. MDA delegations abroad may be permitted to stick a red Star of David inside of the diamond, but then again, they may not be permitted to do so. That decision lies in the hands of the government that MDA is deployed to assist.
As The Wall Street Journal editorialized the day after the vote, "Israeli diplomats celebrate this deal as a great victory. We'd hate to see a defeat." The editorial continued, "If Israeli relief workers around the world or army medical corps must hide their identity and wear some 'New Age' symbol to be accorded the protection of international law, one might consider this as just another example of the gradual delegitimization of Israel as a Jewish state."
What the Journal's editorial, Bayevsky's activism and Bolton's actions at the UN have in common is that in all cases, foreigners, rather than the Government of Israel, are the ones protesting Israel's mistreatment by international bodies.
Indeed, since the outbreak of the Palestinian terror war, as Israel's international standing and the standing of Jews throughout the world have deteriorated to a level not seen since the Holocaust, the most effective actions taken in defense of Israel internationally have been conducted by private organizations and private individuals, mainly in the US. These actions run the gamut: from countering anti-Semitism on college campuses; lobbying the US Congress and the EU to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Saudi Arabia; exposing the funding arms of terrorist organizations; to monitoring the US media for distortions in Middle East coverage. The Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors and transla
tes the Arabic press, has done more to expose the anti-Westernism, misogyny, anti-Americanism and genocidal anti-Semitism that is rife in Arab culture than any government of Israel ever dreamed of doing.
In some cases, these organizations have been supported by the Foreign Ministry. In others, they have been undercut by the Foreign Ministry. But regardless, it is impossible to deny the fact that the incompetence of the Israeli government in defending Israel in the international arena, and particularly in the US, has been mitigated substantially by the valiant efforts of these organizations and individuals, many of whom work as volunteers.
RATHER THAN demand that the Foreign Ministry operate more effectively, the time has come for Israelis to simply acknowledge that, for whatever reason, the ministry is incapable of operating differently. The fact of the matter is that since the beginning of the Oslo process in 1993, the Foreign Ministry has preferred fancy, empty ceremonies to actual diplomatic achievements. Perhaps one day we'll get our own Bolton who will fix the situation. But regardless of whether one ever appears, the time has come for Israelis to start advancing private initiatives.
A reader from Florida sent me an idea this week that could potentially make an enormous contribution to Israel's strategic alliance with the US.
It has been widely reported that the greatest drag on the morale of US military personnel deployed in Iraq are their long separations from their families. Divorce rates among US servicemen and women are skyrocketing. My reader suggested that Israelis organize a program for housing US military families in Israel while their fathers and mothers are deployed in Iraq. If their families were comfortably ensconced in Israel, American soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen could see their families once a month rather than once a year.
It is true that the US Defense Department will not suggest that the families of US military personnel in Iraq should move to Israel for the duration of their family members' deployment. But no one could stop them from doing so. There can be no doubt that the project would strengthen US-Israel ties and there can also be no doubt that the initiative can be handled more efficiently and effectively by private citizens than by the government.
We Israelis spend an enormous amount of time and energy criticizing our government's incompetence. The time has come to stop complaining and start acting.
Bolton ended his address by discussing the uniqueness of American foreign policy. In his words, "Our foreign policy is not run by an elite group that sits in its foreign ministry and dictates policy without regard to what the voters and what our legislature thinks. The overwhelming characteristic of our foreign policy is that it is ultimately determined by our citizens."
Yet another example of the lessons we can learn from our American friends.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.