Arab, Islamic Campaign to Isolate Israel at U.N. Dealt a Setback As Israel Wins Key Post

By Patrick Goodenough | June 15, 2016 | 4:20am EDT
Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon is the first Israeli in the history of the United Nations to be elected to chair one of the six key General Assembly committees. (AP Photo, File)

( – Arab and Islamic countries have witnessed a major setback to an effective, decades-long campaign to isolate Israel at the United Nations, as the reviled Jewish state was elected to head a key U.N. committee for the first time.

Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon was elected Monday to chair the General Assembly’s legal committee (aka the sixth committee), which deals with matters of international law and issues such as the long-stalled effort to establish a comprehensive international terrorism convention.

In line with the process of rotation among geographical groups, the Western European and Others group (WEOG) had the right to nominate a candidate to chair the sixth committee for the coming session. The group, which includes such non-European democracies as the U.S., Canada and Australia, put forward Israel’s ambassador as its candidate.

Requiring 77 votes to get the post, Danon won 109. Twenty-three countries abstained and in 43 cases countries wrote in on their ballots other members of WEOG, none of which was standing for the chair.

The achievement for Israel – a first in the history of the U.N. – did not come without a fight.

The Arab group sent letters earlier to national delegations urging them to oppose Israel’s candidacy. Israel’s opponents also insisted on a secret ballot vote, even though the chairs of General Assembly committees are commonly endorsed “by acclamation,” or consensus.

Ahead of the vote Yemen’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Arab group, said he wished to “express our complete refusal of the candidacy of Israel.”

The representative of the Assad regime declared that a country that was “occupying the Golan Heights” could not possibly be in a position to combat international terrorism, while Iran’s delegate took the floor to describe the nomination of the “Zionist regime” as “deplorable.”

Kuwait’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), announced that the bloc of Muslim states “rejects this candidature as a matter of both principle and protocol.”

Israel was “in flagrant contempt of international law” and “unqualified” to chair the committee, he said, calling its nomination by WEOG “provocative and offensive.”

“Candidates that undermine the U.N.’s credibility and deliberately obstruct the implementation of its resolutions should be considered invalid by the General Assembly.”

Even Gaddafi’s Libya got the chair without a secret ballot vote

It is rare for Israel to get the better of its foes at the U.N., where the Palestinian question has long been viewed as a sacred cause.

Israel’s isolation has been unique in the history of the United Nations. Even its membership of WEOG did not come easily.

Israel’s obvious U.N. geographical grouping is Asia, but due to the hostility of its neighbors it was shut out of that group for decades. Eventually in 2000 it was admitted to WEOG, although even that only applied at U.N. headquarters in New York – not in Geneva, where agencies including the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) are located. Eventually in January 2014 Israel became a member of WEOG in Geneva as well.

Group membership is important because it is on the basis of geographical rotation that regional groups put forward candidates for posts across the U.N. system.

OIC delegate Shaher Awawdeh said Israel’s election to the chair of one of the U.N.’s six key committees represented a “decline in morality” and was akin to appointing the Mafia to head an international committee that fights crime.

Palestinian U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour complained that Israel’s candidacy demonstrated a “lack of sensitivity to our concerns.”

He told reporters after the vote that WEOG should have nominated a “responsible, qualified candidate and not a big violator of international law.”

U.S. representative David Pressman in a statement to the committee noted the unusual request for a secret ballot vote on Israel’s candidature.

He pointed out previous chairs had always been elected “by acclamation” – noting that even Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya had got the post in that manner.

“This pattern of bias needs to change,” he said. “We need a United Nations that is a model of equal treatment and non-discrimination. We need a United Nations that includes Israel, that brings Israel closer, not one that systematically pushes Israel away.”

In his comments to reporters after the vote, Danon said Israel was “a world leader in international law and in fighting terrorism.”

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to share our knowledge with the countries of the world.”

Danon said that one of his priorities would be to seek progress on the comprehensive international terrorism convention.

First proposed by India back in 1996, the convention initiative has failed to come to fruition ever since, due to abiding differences among member states.

A key problem has been the U.N.’s failure to agree to a definition of terrorism. The main hurdle has been the stance of the OIC and its allies that the fight against foreign occupation should be exempted.

This would be in line with the OIC’s own anti-terror convention, a 1999 document which states explicitly that “armed struggle against foreign occupation … shall not be considered a terrorist crime.”

Given the OIC’s founding focus on Israel, it would be the main target of any such exemption, although it has also been cited at times to apply to India’s rule in disputed Kashmir – and even to the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

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