I recently had the opportunity to join Jeff Finkelstein, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and leaders from Jewish federations across North America to visit the U.N. headquarters in New York City at the end of March. We met with several ambassadors to the United Nations, including Israel’s Danny Danon, as well as representatives from Canada, France, Ukraine and the U.N.’s Middle East and West Asia Division, to discuss a variety of world issues affecting Israel, the Middle East and diaspora Jewry. We are grateful for cooperating with the American Jewish Committee, the organization that works at the United Nations to enhance the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel, and to advance human rights and democratic values around the world.
Members of our visiting group of Jewish federation leaders discussed issues including the status of Israel in the United Nations, implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, the plight of displaced Ukrainians, the Middle East refugee crisis and European anti-Semitism. I came away with both an understanding of why we need to be involved with the United Nations and a reconfirmation of how important the worldwide nature of the Jewish federation movement can be in the context of international diplomacy.
The makeup of the United Nations reflects the reality of the world — significantly for us as Jews — that there are more than 30 Arab states and more than 50 Muslim countries, but only one Jewish state. This may help those who feel that Israel may be unfairly singled out for criticism to understand why it happens.
We know that Israel faces a hostile environment in the United Nations, and we applaud the Israel Mission and Ambassador Danon and our friends in the U.N. and world community for striving to improve what we know is an extremely difficult situation. We were gratified to learn that although the public “noise” feels relentlessly anti-Israel, in fact there are ongoing positive informal meetings quietly taking place among many nonnaligned nations that have increasingly found common ground with Israel around issues of security and economic development.
Given the situation, why should we continue to be involved? First and foremost, we should participate because, as Ambassador Danon asserts, Israel believes in the United Nations, wants to continue to use this venue to resolve problems and understands the value of international cooperation that can result from U.N. dialogue. As American Jews, we have an unusual powerful opportunity to help Israel at the United Nations to develop relationships with the many countries that would not have an obvious or stated agenda against the Jewish state. The Jewish federations, through our overseas partners including the American Joint Distribution Committee, World ORT and Jewish Agency for Israel, contribute to this effort by providing humanitarian aid in crises and through emergency, development and educational support in more than 70 countries.
Along with AJC, our Pittsburgh Jewish community, via the Jewish Federations of North America, also participates in lobbying efforts and concomitant influence that results in access to diplomats in key countries. In these meetings, our lay leaders and professionals drive the message that Israel is not alone in the world and that the global Jewish community stands proudly by Israel’s side.
Our meeting with the Ukrainian diplomat was a case in point. We took the opportunity to remind Deputy Chief of Mission Yuri Vitrenko that Ukraine is a country with a long and important Jewish history, home to the fifth largest Jewish community in the world; that the Ukrainian Jewish community feels particularly vulnerable given the number of recent anti-Semitic incidents; and that Jewish federations, along with our partners, have maintained a strong presence in the former Soviet Union states even when other countries reduced support.
Our ties to Ukraine through federated philanthropy — the power of giving as a group — enabled us to use this platform to call on Ukraine to take a balanced approach to the Middle East and to help end the consistent singling out and demonization of Israel in the United Nations.
In an era of increasing isolationist sentiment, the work of Jewish federations on the national and international level rises in importance. In this context, the value of federated giving through Jewish Federation rises as well.
Cynthia D. Shapira is chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.