The government of Israel will be losing a key and effective diplomat in New York just when it needs her most.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, highly praised for her low-key, thoughtful and compassionate work these last two years, is returning to Israel and her academic life at the end of this month on the eve of what some Israeli officials here are already predicting will be a “Black September” for the Jewish state at the UN.
That’s because next month’s General Assembly is expected to take up such difficult and contentious issues as the Goldstone Report on Israel’s alleged war crimes during the Gaza invasion of 2008, the flotilla incident earlier this summer, and the coming end of the Netanyahu government’s freeze on West Bank construction — plus the annual visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In an interview with The Jewish Week, Shalev acknowledged that “politically, Israel is more isolated than ever before” at the UN, “the only country in the world whose existence is challenged” there.
Defying logic, Israel chooses to appoint a new ambassador to the UN just prior to the most important event on the world body’s annual calendar, the General Assembly, which brings in international leaders for key presentations and consultations.
Ask Israeli officials why the government couldn’t make the transition months earlier, to give the new diplomat time to meet key personnel and gain experience, and they simply shrug.
To make matters worse, the open political wrangling between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman plays out on a grand scale when it comes to key diplomatic appointments, under the authority of the Foreign Ministry. The top posts in New York are a case in point. The two leaders couldn’t reach consensus so Meron Reuben, the new appointee who most recently served as ambassador to Colombia, is here on an interim basis. A veteran but little-known diplomat, he is a native of South Africa and apparently impressed Lieberman when the foreign minister visited South America last summer.
Similarly, a Netanyahu-Lieberman impasse has resulted in Lieberman assigning Ido Aharoni, a Foreign Ministry official who served more than ably as consul for media and public affairs in New York from 2001 to 2005, to be temporary consul general here. He succeeds the popular Assaf Shariv, who is also returning home.
Our complaint is not with the appointees but with the timing and method of their selection, which burdens their already difficult assignment by keeping them in limbo in terms of tenure. When the personal and political disputes between the prime minister and foreign minister jeopardize Israeli policy, matters have gone too far.
Aharoni made his mark here and in Israel with his efforts to brand the Jewish state in a positive light in the media; his first assignment might be to convince his superiors that their dysfunctional behavior is harming not only Israel’s image but its course of action.