Matot and a Meeting with the UN Secretary General
We all appreciate the power of words. Whether for individuals, communities, or nations, words-as opposed to intentions-are part of our public record. In the case of Israel, for example, her neighboring nations may secretly convey an intent to consider peace; yet their public statements suggest otherwise. At the United Nations, the words conveyed by member nations suggest that Israel is the most world’s most nefarious nation-and often the only nation guilty of egregious human rights violations. Whenever any leader or spokesperson publicly defends Israel; we take note because such occurrences are rare.
Because of our global realities, I welcomed the comments of new UN Secretary General Antonia Guterres; with whom I met last week in private session with a dozen NY area rabbis. Certainly, SG Guterres will not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will not interfere with the endless series of anti-Israel resolutions introduced by member nations. However, within the limitations of his position, Guterres has already made refreshing statements; far beyond the words of his immediate predecessors. He is an outspoken critic of anti-Semitism; referring to (mainly European) anti-Semitism as demonic. Even as he takes an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he contradicts anyone who denies a link between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount. He recognizes that connection as historical fact. He denounces the Zionism is racism ideology and will not hire anyone connected to terrorist groups like Hamas. For any documents of Middle East concern, which required the Secretary General’s imprimatur; the SG checks for accuracy and balance. He will not authorize any document which exhibits inaccurate bias against Israel. As a Catholic, Guterres still scolds his native Portugal for its expulsion of Jews during the Inquisition; an expulsion which still resonates today. Finally, in calling for a two state solution (which I heartily endorse), he has publicly declared that Israel has the right to exist within secure borders. Even though many of his comments reflect historical accuracy and not political inclinations; he has been criticized by Arab nations for merely speaking truthfully about history.
Certainly, there is a long way to go in order for Israel to be respected as an equal at the UN. We asked Guterres about the UN appointing Israelis to major committee positions; as Israel has always been bypassed for such honors. He gave a general response but left the door open for such a possibility. Although organizations like UNRWA (more focused on Palestinian refugees) demonstrate a strong anti-Israel bias; the SG believes that UNRWA is moving in the right direction; denying participation to anyone affiliated with Hamas. The verdict is still out on this subject…
It was encouraging that a group of Rabbis sat around a table with the Secretary General. Too often in the past, we were forced to speak from outside the UN building; without serious access to the inside.
Secretary General Guterres’ words-and his initial actions-suggest a UN leader who has potential to help initiate a new era in the UN. Again, the verdict is still out…
In this week’s portion of Matot, the Torah conveys the power of words. When a person for example, made a vow or oath; one was obligated to fulfill the words. Breaking a vow was considered an egregious offense. Words have meaning. We can only hope that the pledge made by the new UN Secretary General to fight anti-Semitism throughout the globe will be a vow he will honor consistently and aggressively.