When Dan Gillerman was in the fifth grade, a reporter for the school newspaper asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.
"I want to be Israel’s ambassador to the United States," Gillerman recalls replying.
Last month, Gillerman, 58, who was born in Tel Aviv and still has a home there, became Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.
His wife, Janice, has not yet joined him here because their son, David, 30, and his wife, Karin, were expecting their first child in London. Karin gave birth Saturday to the Gillermans’ first granddaughter, Liya, the same day Gillerman was introduced to American audiences when he appeared on television to speak about the accomplishments of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who had been killed earlier that
day in the space shuttle disaster.
The Gillermans’ daughter Karen, 32, gave birth two months ago to a son, Jonathan. But it was Karen’s oldest son, Ron, 4, who Gillerman said "figured prominently in UN history." When Gillerman presented his credentials Jan. 15 to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, "I said I was presenting them in behalf of a nation, a people and a child," he recalled. "The nation is the State of Israel, the people are the Jewish people and the child is my grandson who attends a kindergarten in Tel Aviv. I said that as a devoted grandfather, I used to rush to his kindergarten to pick him up. Every time I did, my heart broke at the sight of the armed guard outside the kindergarten. Israel is the only country in the world where schools are guarded and it is something I refuse to accept."
Gillerman said he wants to bring that message to the other 191 ambassadors at the UN.
"Israel is a country that today is fighting the world’s war against terror on its own doorstep," he said. "Israel’s war is not a private war. The fact that it is on our doorstep is our tragedy. And if we donít stop it, it will spread all over the world to the streets of Paris, London and Rome, just as it has unfortunately to the streets of New York, Bali and Mombassa.
"Some parts of the world, especially the Europeans, are trying to appease and legitimize [terrorists] and find causes for their brutal terror and suicide missions. The world must understand they can’t be appeased and must be totally eradicated."
Speaking recently to the French ambassador, Gillerman said he told him that he had been in Paris a few weeks earlier and had enjoyed how peaceful it was.
"I said that as long as coffee in Paris costs $2 or $3 and a cup of coffee in Israel costs the lives of two or three children, the Europeans will never understand what we are up against. When I said that, I could feel it hit his gut. … We have to make it [terrorism] personal; numbers don’t mean anything."
In his office are pictures of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, a longtime friend who recommended his appointment to Sharon.
Gillerman, who previously served for 15 years as chairman of Israel’s Chamber of Commerce, is the country’s first UN ambassador from the business community.
"In my role in the Chamber of Commerce, I established relations with countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel," he said. "I established business ties and official economic relations with Indonesia, China and the Soviet Union. Maybe this is one of the experiences that made the prime minister believe [my skills] would come in handy now."
Asked his assessment of the UN, Gillerman said it is now "undergoing one if its major trials. Its morality, fiber and resoluteness will be tested in the way it reacts to the Iraqi crisis and in its fairness in the Middle East crisis. The UN has an opportunity to prove more than ever before why it was founded."