Stony Brook students toured the United Nations (U.N.) Headquarters with members of the Israeli Consulate on Friday, Nov. 8.
Hasbara Fellow and senior journalism major Anna Correa organized the trip, embracing the aim of the Hasbara Fellowship — leading pro-Israel activism on campus. Fifteen students from Associate Professors of Sociology John Shandra’s SOC 248 class on “Social Problems in Global Perspective” and Timothy Patrick Moran’s SOC 374 class on “Global Issues in the United Nations” participated in the tour. Moran and Gallya Lahav, Associate Professor of Political Science who teaches “Immigration and Refugee Politics,” also joined.
“Overall my motive was to educate people about Israel, not about [Benjamin Netanyahu] and the typical politics, but what the country and the people is about as a whole,” Correa said over Facebook Messenger. “There’s a lot of stuff not covered in the media about Israel, such as hospitals taking in Syrian refugees and giving them medical care, or even their humanitarian efforts across the globe, sending people to [respond to] natural disasters or helping with water crises.”
Organizing the trip was her way of “showing people the other voices and showing how diverse Israel is,” she said.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to a nationalist movement that motivated Jews to move back to what they see as their native country in modern-day Israel. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Holy Land was divided into three parts — West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the State of Israel.
Though the U.N. nominated land for both Jewish and Palestinian states, West Bank and the Gaza Strip — Palestinian territories — became occupied by Israeli control after a series of wars initiated by neighboring countires. The two-state solution would divide two states for two people by establishing an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel.
After Netanyahu announced in September that, if re-elected, he planned to annex all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and move to annex the Jordan Valley, U.N. human rights experts raised concerns because international law prohibits annexation. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was launched in 1949 to support the human development of Palestine refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods during the Arab-Israeli war.
Legal Advisor for the Permanent Mission of Israel to the U.N., Sarah Weiss Ma’udi, led a discussion before the student tour, mapping out her experiences as a negotiator in international law and Israel’s relationship with the U.N.
A former director of the General International Law Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ma’udi talked about her efforts in reaching bilateral agreements, where she led discussions about international borders, maritime law and policies with Israel’s neighbors. In 2010, she negotiated an energy agreement with Cyprus about their transboundary energy reservoirs to facilitate offshore gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean. Since energy reservoirs are not equally divided between Cyprus and Israel’s border, they negotiated how they were going to divide gas resources before drilling.
“I can tell you when you’re in a bilateral situation, you know the people very, very well in the room. You know what makes you tick,” she said. “When I sit with Cyprus, I need to know about their conflict with Turkey and that Turkey has been occupying the north of their islands since 1974. Without that, I’m really not an effective negotiator.”
Though Ma’udi said she developed strong bilateral relationships, she talked about the difficulty in entering a multilateral setting like the U.N., where many different countries come together to vote on resolutions and reach a consensus.
She critiqued the election process of the Security Council for not accurately representing the world today when its five permanent members — the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China — have the power to veto resolutions. Additionally, Ma’udi said that because the votes are driven based on geographic regions, Israel, which was not a regional group until the 2000s, is misrepresented.
“It’s very much like a school cafeteria, and [if] you have someone to sit with. And Israel often times does not have [someone] to sit with,” Ma’udi said.
She explained that there have been numerous U.N. resolutions, whether adapted or rejected, that were against Israel’s political interests. Ma’udi listed the U.N.’s failure to adopt the General Assembly resolution, introduced by the U.S., that condemned Hamas — a Palestinian Islamist militant group in Gaza — for terrorist activities in Israel, as an example.
A part of Ma’udi’s talk was devoted to discussing the challenges Israel tackles because of negative media representation and skewed narratives about the Jewish state.
She said that public discourse surrounding the Israeli struggle and their rights to land are sometimes misconstrued, emphasizing that more than 60% of Israelis are not European Jews and 20% of the country is not Jewish.
“Framing of our conflictory, colonial or post-colonial conflict, where you have casting only one side of the Palestinians as the native, indigenous people versus outside Europeans who’ve come post-Holocaust, very much skews the picture,” Ma’udi said. “You’re actually talking about two native peoples to the land. The Jewish people have had roots in the land for thousands of years.”
Aside from unpacking misconceptions projected in the media and U.N. that hurt Israel, Ma’udi also stated that Israel embraces humanitarian work as a devoted party to human rights treaties, including the rights of women, children and people with disabilities.
Moran has taken other groups of students in his “Global Issues in the United Nations” class to the U.N. over the years.
“With regards to Israel, I think that people in the United States, especially students, just need to be better informed about what’s going on in terms of on the ground situation in Israel and in Palestine,” he said.
Since it can be a polarizing issue, Moran said it is important for students to “learn the facts on their own and come to their own conclusion about what’s happening there and have a more open mind about what the other side is arguing.”
Ashley Mensch, a senior political science major who attended the tour, said she hopes that the trip to the U.N. enlightens students about Israel’s impact on international affairs and how Israelis are making strides to do good things in other places of the world.
“I feel like there are always negative connotations involving Israel, which I hope that being as we went on this trip and we were educated more on Israel’s stance and approach to solving worldly issues, people can see that Israel is doing their best to navigate through their tensions with other countries and trying to find their place in the U.N.,” Mensch said.