Yehuda Lancry, Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations, assumes his post at a critical, roller-coaster moment for the Jewish State. Within days, Israel’s efforts to be included in a regional grouping appeared to collapse after months of positive preparation, but then the UN Secretary General spoke out strongly on Israel’s behalf.
On Sunday night, Kofi Annan criticized the world body’s continued exclusion from an internal regional group, and his words were welcomed by Lancry, who hoped Annan would ‘continue with his just and courageous stance."
"I believe in him," Yehuda Lancry said of Annan, to whom he presented his credentials two weeks ago.
In an interview with The Jewish Week, his first with an American newspaper since assuming his post, Lancry said he hoped Annan would use his contacts with ambassadors of member states to continue championing Israel’ís right to full participation in the United Nations.
Lancry, who succeeded Dore Gold, was referring to Annan’s remarks at an American Jewish Committee dinner here honoring Morris Abram, a civil rights lawyer and former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
In his address, Annan said he realized that to the Jewish community "it has sometimes seemed as if the United Nations serves all the world’s peoples but one: the Jews."
"The exclusion of Israel from the system of regional groupings, the intense focus given to some of Israel’s actions while other situations sometimes fail to elicit similar outrage: these and other circumstances have given a regrettable impression of bias and one-sidedness."
Annan said that although the General Assembly nine years ago rescinded its 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism, "deep and painful scars remain" for the United Nations and the Jewish community. He said one of his priorities as secretary-general has been to "try to heal these wounds and find our way to mutual understanding and partnership."
In addition, Annan pledged to continue "encouraging all concerned to find a solution" to Israel’s exclusion from a regional group in order to "uphold the principle of equality among member states."
Israel is the only member nation denied admission to a regional grouping, which means it can never be elected to serve on the Security Council and other important bodies, such as the Economic and Social Council and the World Court. Israel would naturally belong to the Asian bloc, but its Arab members have shut it out.
Efforts in recent years to have Israel temporarily join the Western European and Others Group have regularly been rebuffed. Although the WEOG consists of 28 nations, 15 are members of the European Union and they are seen as pivotal in Israel’s admission.
At a Nov. 26 meeting of the EUís political directors in Brussels, the subject was raised anew and Spain reportedly vetoed Israel’s membership. Unanimity is required for admission.
Observers insist that supporters of Israel were not blindsided by Spain’s opposition, even though expectations were high among some that the EU was finally prepared to support Israel’s admission following France’s decision to drop its opposition.
It was noted that Spain has been critical of Israel in the past and was known to have had reservations about Israel’s WEOG membership, as did Italy, Portugal and Ireland. But Spain was said to have been the only nation to have voiced them at the meeting.
Sources familiar with the session said three issues were raised:
# Israel’s admission would actually hurt the country because it would validate Arab allegations that Israel was an alien entity in the Middle East.
# It would increase competition among WEOG nations for coveted UN posts.
# It would have encouraged other nations to request admission to WEOG, such as Estonia, which does not want to be in its regional grouping to demonstrate its independence from the former Soviet Union.
Since the meeting, various Jewish groups, including the Presidents Conference, have reached out to Spanish officials to discuss Spain’s reservations. "The sense we have now from a number of people is that the Spanish are the major roadblock," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference. "But all of WEOG is responsible to see that it happens, and we have been in touch with other EU members as well."
Some of these groups are said to be ready to tell European officials that unless Israel is admitted to WEOG, the EU cannot hope for a greater role in the Middle East peace process because its objectivity would be suspect. And they are also ready to argue that UN resolutions critical of Israel are devoid of moral authority as long as Israel is barred from a regional grouping.
In the interview, Lancry, 52, a previous ambassador to France, said Israel must have a "larger role in the UN" than merely dealing with Arab and Palestinian issues. "We have the spirit and genius of Israel (modestly I say that) in various fields, with much to contribute, and we have to realize our potential in the UN," he said.
Lancry said he plans to try to change Israeli’s perception of the United Nations as a "hostile arena." "In terms of votes, that is surely the situation," he said, "But we have to transcend the political, and engage the international community in positive areas."
He pointed out that the Torah described the Jews as a people who dwell alone. But today, Lancry said, "We also have to rise to modern challenges, participating in the international arena. We have to fulfill our ideal of being a light unto the nations."