Groups hope new U.N. Secretary General will be fairer toward Israel than Kofi Annan


Jewish officials are greeting the selection of Ban Ki-moon as the next U.N. secretary-general with cautious optimism, hopeful that the South Korean foreign minister will use the office to push for fairer treatment of Israel and more equitable application of international human rights standards.

The Security Council endorsed Ban, 62, by acclamation, choosing him from a field of seven candidates. The General Assembly confirmed him Oct. 13.

“If the selection process is any indicator, then the journey of his tenure might be smoother than what we’ve seen until now,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of American Friends of Lubavitch and Chabad’s chief envoy in Washington, who met with Ban and other U.N. candidates. “There’s something smooth, quiet, yet effective about him, and as we get to know him better, I hope it’s going to bring us closer to a better and more peaceful world.”

Ban will replace Kofi Annan of Ghana, who has a mixed record on issues of Jewish concern. U.N. observers say it’s difficult to predict whether Ban will fare any better, particularly given his reputation as a moderate who prizes consensus-building.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based U.N. Watch, says powerful groups like the Non-Aligned Movement — an alliance of developing countries that includes the 56-member Muslim bloc — could obstruct any significant changes Ban seeks to implement.

“It would be naive to expect radical change,” Neuer said. “The most important decisions are made by member states which are organized into certain powerful alliances.”

If the Non-Aligned Movement “wants to play the spoiler role, the secretary-general is limited in what he can accomplish,” he said.

Neuer’s skepticism echoes criticism aimed at Ban ahead of his selection. Some said he was too weak for the U.N.’s top job, chosen more for his inoffensiveness than his potential to reform an organization still tarnished by the oil-for-food scandal and allegations of sexual misconduct by U.N. peacekeepers.

As Ban emerged as front-runner, U.N. staff reportedly worried that the career diplomat lacked the mettle to take the organization out from under the cloud of controversy that has marred Annan’s second term. Annan will step down as secretary-general Dec. 31.

Ban earned a B.A. in international relations from Seoul National University in 1970, and holds a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Often described as soft-spoken and lacking charisma, Ban rose steadily through the ranks of South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, becoming foreign minister in January 2004. His previous postings include New Delhi, Washington, Vienna and New York, and in 2005 he became the first South Korean foreign minister to visit Israel.

“He seems to be a good man and has all the necessary qualifications to be a good secretary-general,” said Aaron Jacob, associate director of international affairs for the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee), who met with Ban in late September.

At the meeting, Ban was noncommittal in response to AJCommittee concerns about Iran, human rights and reports that U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon are narrowly interpreting their mandate. Given the Security Council’s imminent vote on his nomination, however, that reticence was to be expected, Jacob said.

“He said that he understood our concerns, but understandably did not go into details,” Jacob said.

Ban has said he would make a top priority reforming the United Nations — a cause close to the hearts of Jewish organizations over the way the world body treats Israel. He also has pledged to try to broker a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The U.N. Charter “was crafted to give the member states ample flexibility in adapting the U.N. machinery to respond to novel threats in a changing world,” Ban told world leaders in September at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. “But our tools need sharpening.”

Unlike Neuer, who would like the new secretary-general to take a bold stance on key issues, many of those who have met Ban believe a more subdued approach — unlike the very public pronouncements that have been a hallmark of Annan’s tenure — may be more effective in achieving long-term change.

“Although he doesn’t come across as a high-profile champion of causes, he does have a human rights background and has been able to advance some of those issues behind the scenes,” said Shai Franklin, director of international organizations for the World Jewish Congress. “It would be a mistake to dismiss his low-key public style as a lack of interest or resolve on human rights or other issues that we as Jews take very seriously.”

“I think he’s going to surprise the skeptics,” agreed Michael Landau, who heads the Coalition of Orthodox Jewish Organizations of the West Side, a Manhattan-based umbrella group representing 27 groups, and who attended the AJCommittee meeting with Ban. We see Kofi Annan “as being more vocal a leader than Ban Ki-moon, who will speak less and do a lot.”

Candidates for U.N. Secretary-General post consult with U.S. Jewish leaders;


Candidates for U.N. Secretary-General Post Consult With U.S. Jewish Leaders
 
As the U.N. General Assembly opens, diplomats vying to be the world’s top peacekeeper are taking time to consult with American Jewish leaders. At least three of the favored candidates to replace Kofi Annan as U.N. secretary-general have met in recent months with leaders of the U.S. Jewish groups that routinely deal with the United Nations.
 
“It’s a recognition that we’re part of the equation and the political calculus,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, who acknowledged “several” meetings with prospective candidates: “It’s clear that no candidate can win without the support of the five permanent members, and there is thinking that American Jewry would have some impact on the thinking of the United States.”
 
The United States, Russia, France, China and Great Britain are the five permanent members wielding veto power on the U.N. Security Council, the body that recommends a candidate for secretary-general to the General Assembly for confirmation.

Annan’s term lapses at the end of the year, and Jewish leaders are considering the disappointments, as well as its highlights. Many of the issues that characterized the last part of Annan’s 10-year term — the Iranian nuclear threat, the aftermath of the Lebanon War and the prospect of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks — will be high on the Jewish agenda the week that world leaders arrive to address the General Assembly during its opening session.
 
“We want to gauge the international mood toward Israel post-summer conflict and get a sense of whether there’s any traction of rumors of resumption of peace talks,” said Harris, who said his organization planned 60 meetings with world leaders this week and next. “We’ll be talking about the challenges of anti-Semitism.”
 
After two Africans in the job — Annan is from Ghana; his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was from Egypt — the assumption is that an Asian will get the job. Of the declared candidates, Shashi Tharoor, a U.N. undersecretary-general backed by his native India, and Surakiart Sathirathai, Thailand’s deputy prime minister, have met with Jewish groups. Another candidate, Ban Ki-Moon, South Korea’s foreign minister, has also met with Jewish leaders and is in the process of setting up a second meeting. Community leaders were loath to endorse a particular candidate, but Tharoor made a favorable impression.
 
“We should take him seriously as a candidate,” said Shai Franklin, director of international organizations at the World Jewish Congress. “He was instrumental in putting the Holocaust on the U.N. agenda.”
 
Celebrating 350 Years of British Jewry
 
Trafalgar Square filled with celebrants this week to mark 350 years of British Jewry. An estimated 25,000 people on Sunday visited Simcha on the Square, the centerpiece of the yearlong anniversary celebration.
 
In the weeks leading up to the celebration, increased security was necessary due to the recent rise in anti-Semitic activity in Britain. Also, the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) cancelled its participation to protest the involvement of London Mayor Ken Livingstone, a vehement critic of Israel who has been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks.
 
The involvement of Livingstone’s office wasn’t a recent decision, but it led AJEX to decide on Sept. 14 to boycott the event. In light of the controversy surrounding the mayor, Livingstone had been pulled from the celebration schedule months ago, to be replaced by his deputy, Nicky Gavron. AJEX’s last-minute decision to withdraw likely was due to a Sept. 5 press release from Livingstone’s office proclaiming the mayor’s personal support of Simcha on the Square.
 
Despite these 11th hour glitches, the event “went beyond our dreams,” Auerbach said. “To see beautiful signs up in Trafalgar Square, we just couldn’t picture in advance how that would make us feel. To have our event there in that setting, one of the most iconic spots in Britain, and to see Jews of all sects and other people all mingling and having a good time there, I think it was the best possible way we could have shown how the Jewish people have integrated into British society.”
 
The festivities included live Jewish music on the main stage, which was placed in front of the National Gallery.
 
Rallies Call for Action on Darfur
 
An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people gathered in New York to urge the United States and the United Nations to end genocide in Darfur. Sunday’s rally, which drew Jews from across the United States, was organized by the Save Darfur Coalition. North American Jewish groups have taken the lead in advocating an end to the massacre of Darfur residents in Sudan by government-allied Arab militias.The rally featured musical performances by Suzanne Vega, Citizen Cope and O.A.R.
 
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright headlined a list of 20 speakers.”All the sides in the Darfur conflict are predominantly Muslim,” Albright said. “But this is not about politics, this is about people.” She added: “We need to tell the United Nations that this is what it is here for, and President Bush has to make it clear to the United Nations that the United Nations has to get in there.”
 
Rallies took place in 31 states and 57 cities and 41 countries, as well as in Jerusalem, according to David Rubenstein of the Save Darfur Coalition.
 
Neo-Nazis Win Local German Parliament Seat
 
German Jewish leaders called extremist gains in German state elections “alarming.” Voters on Sunday in the former East German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania gave the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany 7.3 percent, passing the 5 percent threshold necessary to have a seat in the state Parliament.
 
The state is the fourth to have right-wing extremist parties in their local parliaments in a reunified Germany. Many observers say that high unemployment in eastern states plays a role in turning voters to the right.