AJCommittee fights for Israels U.N. rights

On Tuesday, Knox said the catalyst for his action on Israel's behalf was a full-page AJCommittee ad placed in the New York Times in the fall, saying that Israel is the only one of 185 U.N. member nations ineligible to serve on the Security Council.

The Security Council is made up of 15 member nations, of which five — the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom — hold permanent seats. The other 10 are elected for two-year terms by the U.N. General Assembly.

While Knox, who is Jewish, has been on the executive board of the AJCommittee's Los Angeles chapter for 15 years, his initial reaction to Israel's ineligibility to serve was, "It's just stunning. It's appalling."

Historically, Israel has been denied membership on the Security Council and other key U.N. bodies over a technicality: It is not a member of one of the U.N.'s five regional groups.

During its 47 years of U.N. membership, Israel has been excluded from the geographically appropriate Asian Group, which includes Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria.

Israel can't join a regional group without receiving an invitation, which depends upon the group's approval. That has yet to happen.

"It's clearly a boycott," said Arthur S. Berger, the AJCommittee's national public relations director. "The Asians and Arabs have blocked Israel and will continue to do so as long as there is one Arab country that does not have peace with Israel."

The AJCommittee campaign is designed to bring awareness to the issue on both a grassroots level and to key foreign ministers.

The current strategy involves helping Israel gain temporary membership in the U.N.'s regional European division, the Western European and Others Group, which also includes the United States, Turkey and Australia.

Before running the ad in the New York Times, the Herald Tribune, the Washington Post and Jewish publications including the Jewish Bulletin, the AJCommittee held meetings with numerous foreign ministers in the European regional group.

"There has to be consistent pressure and Israel needs to have the support of those democratic countries," said Ernest Weiner, executive director of the AJCommittee's San Francisco office.

The ads, designed to elicit both e-mail and coupon responses, are being forwarded to the U.N. secretary general, the European regional president and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Berger said.

The response of more than 15,000 e-mails and 15,000 coupon letters has exceeded the AJCommittee's expectations, Berger said. "It's like in the movie `Network.' People are metaphorically shouting out their windows saying, `I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.'"

Since the October ad ran in the Jewish Bulletin, the local office of the AJCommittee has received more than 300 responses. "People must be passionate on this issue," Weiner said. "It's an indication that people won't sit back and allow this kind of calculated pre-judicial exclusion without a reaction."

For Knox, who is urging other legislators across the country to introduce resolutions similar to AJR 44, the goal is U.N. equality for Israel.

The resolution's text reads, "The United Nations Charter provides for `equal rights…of nations large and small,' but Israel, a democratic nation and member of the United Nations since 1950, is denied the right to be elected as a temporary member of the Security Council, unlike any other member of the United Nations."

"It is imperative that Israel have a seat at the table where the decisions are being made that affect its very existence," Knox said. "This is a small step. But if it becomes apparent that there is broad support, it will be more seriously considered by the European regional group."

Berger said the e-mail campaign has expanded to college campuses, including U.C. Berkeley. The AJCommittee is also initiating postcard drives in communities throughout the country. And in early March, Congress is expected to vote on two resolutions on the issue.

"We're not going to give up until Israel is an equal member of the U.N. system," said Berger. "This is just another hurdle for Israel to jump over before it can become a member of the club of Western democracies, which is only right."