OTTAWA – On the eve of its hotly contested national election, Israel says it owes Canada a round of thanks for helping it gain greater acceptance within the United Nations.
Rafael Barak, the Israeli ambassador to Canada, says the Harper government was instrumental in helping Israel gain entry to the UN’s group of western nations in Geneva a little over a year ago.
The UN is divided into regional groups, but Israel was barred from the Asian group, its logical geographical fit, because some Arab and Muslim countries blocked its membership.
Having membership in a group is significant because without it a country can’t run for seats on UN bodies such as the Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, or the powerful Security Council.
Barak says Canada’s assistance means his country will be able to purse its dream of running for a temporary seat on the Security Council, a first for Israel.
It also increases Israel’s ability to defend its interests in the UN against the 20 or so annual resolutions that come before the General Assembly condemning his country, he said in an interview.
Israel will also be able to participate in the Human Rights Council, which has been highly critical of Israel and is currently investigating the conduct of the Israeli military during last summer’s 50-day war in Gaza.
“We were, in a way, in limbo,” Barak said in an interview.
“We don’t want to be a one-issue country, dealing only with our political constraints,” he added, referring to the yearly resolutions his country must confront at the UN.
Canada, along with Australia, is also a member of the so-called Western European and Others Group.
“They think we should be a player in an international forum and the multilateral community … so this makes a difference,” he said.
“We are very, very thankful to Canada.”
It is no surprise that Canada would help Israel, given that the Harper government has moved closer to the Jewish state than any previous government.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not a huge fan of the UN, having criticized the organization, including the Human Rights Council, for singling out Israel for criticism while ignoring other countries with more dubious records.
In his speech to the Israeli parliament 14 months ago, Harper welcomed Israel’s newly won membership in the western group, which had just occurred.
“Canada believes that Israel should be able to exercise its full rights as a UN member-state and to enjoy the full measure of its sovereignty,” the prime minister said.
Barak said Israel is not “always happy about the way they treat us” but his country wants to do “positive things for humanity” in the UN.
Israel will formally present its candidacy in 2017 for a temporary two-year stint on the Security Council for 2019-20, he said.
Israel will compete for one of two seats against Germany and Belgium. It’s a race that Canada lost in 2010 to Portugal, which upset Canada.
Many pundits suggested Canada’s close ties with Israel cost it much-needed votes among Arab and Muslim countries.
Barak said his country will fight a real campaign for the seat. “We’ll be working hard all over the world.”