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Q&A with…Aaron Jacob

Former diplomat says UN often fails to live up to the principles enshrined in its charter

By Cindy Mindell

Ambassador Aaron Jacob

Aaron Jacob is associate director of international affairs for the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Beginning in 1977, he worked for the Israeli Diplomatic Service, specializing in UN
affairs. In his last assignment, from 1998 to 2002, he served as Israel’s deputy permanent representative to the UN at the rank of ambassador.
In 2005, he took early retirement from the Foreign Service and joined AJC as a full-time staff-member. Jacob is now based in New York and covers international affairs, including the UN.
Jacob and Ambassador Guillermo Rishchynski, ambassador and permanent representative of Canada to the United Nations, will present “Inside the United Nations: Israel, Iran and Beyond” on Tuesday, Oct. 30 at Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford.
Born in Mumbai, India, Jacob immigrated to Israel with his family in 1957. A veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a combat soldier in three wars, he earned a BA at Ben-Gurion University and completed advanced studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute for Contemporary Jewry.
Jacob spoke with the Ledger about AJC’s work and what American Jews need to know about the UN today.

Q: How does AJC keep tabs on the UN and bring to light the most critical issues?
A: AJC was in the forefront of non-governmental organizations that welcomed and supported the adoption of the United Nations Charter in 1945. AJC contributed to the drafting of human-rights provisions of that charter. AJC also played a particularly active role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the creation of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
Unfortunately, over the years, the world body has too often failed to live up to the principles enshrined in its charter. Inefficiency and lack of accountability impede the UN from carrying out its core missions. Programs and activities face little scrutiny and continue long after they outlive their usefulness. The world’s worst human rights violators sit on the UN Human Rights Council. Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, has been singled out for censure and institutional bias for decades.
For many years, AJC has played an active role in the efforts to reform the UN and rectify the institutional bias against Israel. We monitor the developments at the UN by following UN sessions, maintaining contacts with diplomats and UN officials and carefully studying UN documents and media reports.

Q: Your presentation in Stamford is entitled “Inside the United Nations: Israel, Iran and Beyond” — what does “beyond” refer to?
A: As the hundreds of items on the UN agenda show, there is more to the UN than just Israel-related issues and Iran. Today, entire countries and continents are ravaged by poverty, the AIDS pandemic, and other conditions – with severe human, political, and security consequences.
International peace and security are imperiled by the rise in global terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In our view, terrorism is one of the greatest challenges facing the international community today and must be rejected in all its forms and manifestations, irrespective of the declared cause. Similarly, the world body must redouble its efforts to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the danger of such weapons falling into the hands of rogue states and terrorist organizations. The issue of human rights, which figures prominently on the UN agenda, is particularly important to us. AJC’s Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights monitors the human-rights situation in various parts of the world. The director of the Institute, Felice Gaer, is a member of the UN Committee on Torture. I know that Canada, whose ambassador to the UN will be the other speaker in the event, attaches great importance to these issues. I hope the format of the discussion will enable us to touch upon some of them.

Q: What is most important for the American Jewish community to understand about the UN today?
A: Iran is at the top of our list of priorities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is the UN watchdog on nuclear proliferation, has repeatedly confirmed that Iran continues to carry out enrichment activities, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. Meanwhile, the last three rounds of talks between the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – and Iran ended in a stalemate. There is also a stalemate in the UN Security Council, where two permanent members block any further action. In our view, the UN Security Council should take immediate and meaningful measures to address the threat emanating from Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.
The second item is Palestinian attempts to achieve UN resolution for a unilaterally declared Palestinian state. Last month, Palestinian leader Abbas declared his intention to seek a General Assembly resolution that would upgrade the status of “Palestine” in the UN from observer entity to observer state. In our view, unilateral Palestinian attempts to acquire attributes of statehood outside the negotiating process violate existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Only through direct negotiations with Israel can the Palestinians realize their national aspirations. Furthermore, endorsement by the UN of a Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood will set a dangerous precedent that could exacerbate domestic and international tensions in other countries and regions.
The third item is the institutional bias against Israel in the UN. Israel is the only UN member not fully included in the regional grouping system. It is subjected, each year, to a series of biased resolutions in the UN General Assembly and to relentless scrutiny by entities within the UN whose specific mandate is to promote the Palestinian cause against Israel. In addition, Israel has been repeatedly censured and singled out by the UN Human Rights Council. We have repeatedly called on the UN to rectify this situation.

Q: Given that understanding, how can American Jews take action in support of Israel at the UN?
A: For many years, AJC has played an active role in the efforts to rectify the institutional bias against Israel at the UN. In 1993, AJC actively participated in the diplomatic campaign that brought about the revocation of the infamous resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with Racism. In 1999 we posted a full-page ad in the New York Times calling to end the exclusion of Israel from the UN grouping system. That ad served as a catalyst to a diplomatic campaign that led to the admission of Israel as a full member of the West European and Others group at the UN. More recently, AJC used its advocacy tools to counter and thwart Palestinian efforts to achieve a full UN membership for a unilaterally declared Palestinian state.

Q: Give us a glimpse of your Oct. 30 talk.
A: In my remarks I will provide the audience with a historical background on the UN-Israel relations, explain the different strategies that Israel and its adversaries employ in the international arena, provide details about Israel’s numerical predicament in the UN and outline some of the challenges facing Israel in the immediate future. I will also try to explain the importance of the UN and, consequently, the importance of Israel’s membership in the UN. This last point is particularly important and, in my view, is a necessary condition to any effective advocacy vis-à-vis the UN.

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