The government of Israel will be losing a key and effective diplomat in New York just when it needs her most.
Israel’s UN Ambassador 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 Ahmadinejad.
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 UN post is 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.
In an interview this week, Ambassador 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.
Shalev was effusive in her praise of the U.S. as the staunchest of allies, and on both a personal and professional level, of American Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.
“She is a wonderful friend,” she said of Rice, who she said was instrumental in convincing China and Russia to sign on to tougher UN sanctions on Iran.
Rice, in turn, recently described Shalev as “one of my favorite people,” and ranked her “as among the best representatives that Israel has ever had at the United Nations for her dedication, her skill and her extraordinary heart.”
But Shalev observed that as a result of President Obama’s “new policy of engagement” and attempt at dialogue with Iran and the Muslim world, the “American mission is more popular now at the UN, people feel it; the U.S. tries to be more balanced.”
Shalev had good relationships with a number of diplomats, including those from the Arab world. That didn’t mean she persuaded them to change their views, but she felt they listened to her with respect.
Her advice to her successor? “I hope he has more time to focus on the Israel beyond the conflict.”
That was her intention two years ago, but circumstances – most notably the Goldstone report, which she said took up “so much energy” – intervened.
Shalev plans to return to academia and work on two books on legal issues like contract laws, her expertise.
She will be missed.
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