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Shalev as ambassador

Will Netanyahu keep first woman in UN post?

By Rhonda J Spivak, B.A., L.L.B.

While in New York last month, I met Gabriella Shalev, Israel's new ambassador to the United Nations (UN), who sat next to me at a small dinner gathering.

Shalev, 67, who took over from ambassador Dan Gillerman, struck me as a thoughtful, trustworthy and serious person, whom I rather immediately liked. Shalev is not a career diplomat. In fact, she is a jurist who has served as the rector of the Ono Academic College, was a law professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and is considered a world-renowned expert on contracts law. She told me she "wrote the leading text in contract law" taught in Israeli universities.

Shalev, a Kadima supporter, said she could have "run as a candidate for Kadima, but chose not to." She also had the opportunity to become Israel's attorney-general, replacing Benny Mazuz. Instead, as fate would have it, she became Israel's ambassador to the UN not long before Israel's military operation in Gaza began in December 2008.

"I've never had to work so hard in my life," Shalev told me, noting that she was used to working very hard. "This is a very difficult time for Israel at the UN," she said.

"We've gone back to the old days, when members of Arab states won't even look an Israeli in the eye in the UN General Assembly," she added.

Shalev, who was appointed by Kadima's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, smiled when I asked if she had voted in advance in Israel's elections. "You can guess who I voted for," she said.

Shalev, who is the first woman to serve as Israel's UN ambassador, raised her two children alone, after her husband died in the Yom Kippur War.

When I asked her about Livni's position of wanting to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority's Mahmoud Abbas, Shalev answered, "She [Livni] is serious about it." (Of course, there is no clear answer of how that could be done with Hamas at the helm in Gaza, and Shalev did not offer one to me.) On Sept. 8, 2008, Shalev presented her diplomatic credentials to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. She said, "as a woman, a professor and above all as a proud Israeli, I am happy for the opportunity given me to contribute to the state in the complex international arena of the United Nations.”

On Oct. 2, 2008, the Jewish Chronicle reported that Shalev was angry with UN General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, who hugged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following the latter's anti-Israel speech. Shalev said Brockmann "is known for his dislike for Israel, to put it mildly, and those who heard the speech could think that Israel is the most important country in the world, as if there are no other problems or hotbeds of terrorism in the world.”

In her address to the UN Security Council on Jan. 6, Shalev, said in regard to Israel's operation in Gaza, "This conflict will not end when terrorism is appeased or accommodated, but when the international community stands determined and united against it.

"It is not enough to support peace; we have to confront those who work to destroy it. For this reason, the current military operation is not an obstacle to peace; it is a prerequisite for peace.”

When Shalev's appointment was announced, Ha'aretz reported that sources in the foreign ministry expressed their disappointment that Livni had not appointed a professional diplomat. But Livni's associates countered that, for the task, more than just diplomatic know-how was required. "It was important to me to appoint a woman to represent Israel in such an important place.... Prof. Shalev is internationally respected; she has fulfilled many public positions in Israel," Livni told Ha'aretz.

George Alan Baumgarten, a Jewish correspondent stationed at the UN, explained that Shalev lacked charisma. "The content of Shalev's speeches at the UN is brilliant, but she isn't considered to be much of an orator," he said.

When Binyamin Netanyahu becomes Israel's new prime minister, will he keep Shalev? Baumgarten ventured, "It is possible that, at some point, Netanyahu will want to appoint someone with whom he has more affinity – possibly someone such as Dore Gold, whom he appointed to the position before. It's not clear to me how long Shalev will last.”

But Uriel Heilman, managing editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, stationed in New York, said, "I think Shalev will keep her position even if Netanyahu becomes prime minister, especially if Livni remains foreign minister. But even if Livni isn't in the new Israeli government, I think Netanyahu will keep Shalev here for a while.”

After all, Shalev has just moved to New York – it wouldn't look very good for Netanyahu to tell Israel's first female ambassador to the UN to start packing so quickly.

Rhonda Spivak is a Winnipeg writer and the editor of Winnipeg's Jewish Post and News.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.