On behalf of Jewish Federations from across North American, 32 Jewish leaders representing 11 communities gathered in New York on May 8 for a series of high-level meetings at the United Nations.
The visit began with a foreign policy briefing from New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who spoke about the role of the U.N. in world affairs, Israeli and U.S. domestic politics, and a host of global issues.
The federation leaders also met with ambassadors from Russia, Israel, Germany, Ethiopia and the United States, as well as the U.N. Secretary General.
David Brown, chair of JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council and past JUF chairman of the board, delivered opening remarks reminding the group that Federations operate in 70 countries globally and work tirelessly to support the State of Israel.
Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO Jerry Silverman spoke about the critical importance of the work of the Jewish Federations, and thanked the delegation for their leadership.
Ethan Felson, co-director of Jewish Federations' Israel Action Network (IAN), offered some background on how the U.N. has been used to delegitimize Israel. He discussed IAN's work to counter the Israel boycott movement on campus, in churches, and by coopting socially responsible investment (SRI) efforts.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke about his appreciation of Jewish communities' ongoing commitment to global human rights. Specifically, he mentioned JUF's refugee resettlement efforts as hallmark examples of Jewish humanitarian work. He also addressed the return of anti-Semitism around the world.
"We see it online and we see it on the streets; and it's disturbing. The reemergence of anti-Semitism needs to be fought. I am aware of it. We are aware of it," said Guterres. "What I can do from good office I will do. My agenda is peace and solutions."
Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon's main message was to "be optimistic about the U.N. Even in this place where there is an obsession with passing resolutions about Israel, you can make a difference and we are making a difference."
Danon said he is proud to be the first Israeli Ambassador to chair a U.N. committee (the General Assembly's legal committee), a move that was supported by nearly 100 countries. He also praised Guterres' recent remarks addressing U.N. bias against Israel.
Vladmir Safronkov, deputy permanent representative of the Russian Federation to the U.N., led the group in an off-the-record discussion about bilateral relations with Israel, U.N. sanctions and diplomacy, the new U.S. administration and events in Ukraine.
Jurgen Schultz, charge d'affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany, said, "Our relationship with Israel is among our top priorities, and when it comes to Israel we are amidst a change." He largely credits the new Secretary General for the "breath of fresh air" and is optimistic about what we may see from the UN in the near future.
Anxious to learn the details of the new U.S. administration's U.N. policy, the Jewish Federation delegation concluded their meetings with a briefing from two senior officials at the U.S. Mission, who said that they were cautiously optimistic about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. While the challenges are many, they conceded, this is a unique point in time given the level of uncertainty in the region. They reiterated the Trump administrations' commitment to Israel and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley's personal commitment to Israel.