It’s easy to see why John Bolton, the controversial U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was the honoree at the annual Zionist Organization of America dinner Sunday night.In a straightforward speech to the 1,000 attendees — announced as the largest ZOA dinner ever — he pledged to “try for a new standard of honesty and truthfulness” at the United Nations regarding its treatment of Israel, and asserted that an underlying sense of anti-Israel, anti-Zionism and anti-U.S. feelings “persist” at the world body.His goal, Bolton said, is to “change the culture at the U.N.,” where the claim that Israel “can be treated as a normal state” is a “fantasy.”
As a case in point, he spoke of the annual International Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People held Nov. 29 at the U.N., and addressed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which had as a backdrop on the stage a large map of the Middle East that featured “Palestine” but not Israel — an omission that went without mention at the event.
Bolton said, by way of apology, that he had concentrated his efforts on improving a “wretched” statement about the plight of the Palestinians. He also noted that it is difficult at the United Nations to step back and question why things are done as they are.
When told that the solidarity day takes place each year, Bolton said he should have responded “not this year” and fought the effort.
The “fundamental flaw” in the U.N.’s treatment of Israel, he told his audience, is that the leadership of the world body does not recognize anything unusual about a map of the Mideast with no Israel represented.
“We are going to do something about this,” Bolton asserted, saying that the United States would investigate who authorized the map and make sure such an incident does not take recur.
He pointed out that since America pays 22 percent of the U.N. budget, “you paid 22 percent of the cost of that map,” and urged his audience to “keep up the struggle.”Bolton, 56, is a former undersecretary of state whose appointment this year to the top U.N. post by President Bush was opposed by many Democrats who argued that the United States can best improve its relations with European countries through consultation rather than confrontation.
Bolton has been an outspoken critic of the world body’s effectiveness, and has said that the high point of his career was his role in 1991 in repealing the 1975 U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism.
He noted Sunday night, in receiving the ZOA’s Justice Louis B. Brandeis Award, he was naive in thinking that Israel’s lot would improve at the United Nations after the repeal of the resolution.While pointing out that some strides have been made in the past year, including the unanimous U.N. resolution instituting an annual Holocaust remembrance day, “the deep-seated feelings against Israel did not dissipate,” he said.Bolton has been credited by Israeli diplomats with the passage of a strongly worded resolution naming Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group, as responsible for a recent suicide bomb attack. And Bolton said Sunday night the U.S. sought to name Syria and Palestinian Islamic Jihad for their roles in the Dec. 5 suicide bombing in Netanya, but was thwarted by Algeria and Russia, so the U.S. released its own statement of condemnation.“We have no intention of fuzzing up or toning down” statements, he said, adding that if the Security Council “can’t summon the courage, we will do it on our own.” Bolton said he tires of “dumbing down diplomatic mush.”
Such blunt talk struck a chord with the audience, made up primarily of Israel supporters who view themselves as persevering in their opposition to territorial concessions by Jerusalem, despite being a numerical minority.Addressing other policy developments, Bolton said the president would see his Iraq policy “vindicated” this week with the Dec. 15 national vote, adding that “this is not the time to cut and run on democracy in Iraq.”On Syria, Bolton said the U.S. has worked with France and England in seeking to pressure Damascus to stop its support of Hezbollah and ensure that Lebanon become a truly independent state.“We have to be unrelenting in our pressure on Syria,” he said.Insisting that the U.S. has “real interest in a stronger and more effective U.N.,” Bolton said he would like to reform the world body’s human rights work in part by abolishing a Human Rights Commission that has had Libya as its president. But he acknowledged that he was “pessimistic” about that happening soon.American-led efforts to convene an international conference on terror have been stymied, he said, because “some in Europe say that there is good terror and bad terror, but we say that … all terrorism is bad.”
Following Bolton’s remarks, emcee Ben Brafman reminded the ambassador that he is a criminal defense attorney and that “sometimes you need a little muscle” in addition to diplomacy.
“So when they find the guy who drew the map,” Brafman said, “give me his name” and he would notify “three guys from Bensonhurst. … It’s hard to draw a map without arms.”