Hadassah Wins Against the UN Odds
By Bonnie Lipton
May, 16 2001
Following the recent vote to remove the United States from membership on the United Nations' human rights and narcotics control panels, the media are still rife with analyses, columns and Monday-morning quarterbacking. Was the US adequately prepared? Has the UN been hijacked by rogue and rejectionist states? Why would people of good reason and conscience even want to sit at a table with this group? We think the answers lie behind the headlines.
The same day that the US lost its seat on the Human Rights Commission, Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, an organization of more than 300,000 women, gained special consultative status to the UN's Economic and Social Council, known as ECOSOC. A major arm of the UN, ECOSOC oversees the World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNESCO, the Commission on the Status of Women - and the Human Rights Commission.
Hadassah is a non-governmental organization that runs the most advanced medical center in the Middle East and has helped build hospitals in countries throughout the developing world. In 1998, we applied for a place at ECOSOC's NGO table. We felt that with our expertise - not only in medicine, but refugee absorption, education, and land development - that it was essential that we be able to exchange information in various UN forums for the betterment of all concerned. And we imagined that with our 89-year history of humanitarian activity that we would be encouraged to join - and be welcomed to the table.
We couldn't have been further off the mark.
It soon became clear that this was a UN not inspired by the goodwill of the Oslo Accords, but a UN that took us back 25 years to the bad old days when Zionism was equated with racism. Our application was debated and redebated over the course of three years. Because the word Zionist is part of our official name and is our credo, during these discussions we were subjected to endless rounds of name calling. We were told that we couldn't possibly be humanitarian because we were Zionists.
We were asked to answer endless lists of hostile questions. At one point, we were even asked the names and addresses of each Palestinian patient we have treated since 1967. We declined to answer based on medical confidentiality issues, but the answer would have run into the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands, since our Arab caseload is as high as 40 percent. It was clear to us that this question - and others, like the one asking us if our medical center in Ein Kerem is "a settlement" (it is not) - was nothing more than an attempt at harassment and provocation.
In short, we realized that "Zionism is racism," the hateful resolution passed in 1975 and rescinded in 1991, is far from dead. Such tactics have successfully rebuffed many Jewish organizations' bids for UN consultative status up until now. Hadassah made the decision to confront our detractors, to answer the questions, and to defend our record of Zionist activity proudly. We were determined not to be marginalized or intimidated by our foes.
From the first scurrilous remarks made nearly two years ago, we mustered support for our candidacy because it was the right thing to do. We worked in concert with the US Mission to the UN, the Israeli Permanent Mission, with graduates from our schools and hospitals in influential positions in world capitals, with leaders of the American Jewish community, and with both Houses of Congress. In the US Senate Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, and Gordon Smith, a Republican from Oregon, had sponsored a letter supporting our candidacy. By the time we were accepted with special status, 62 senators had signed on - from both sides of the aisle.
In short, we built broad coalitions, reaching out to those who could best champion our cause. We did our homework, never taking anything for granted up until the last hour before the vote - if a country said it was supporting us, we gave it as much attention as those we knew opposed us.
Hadassah won this victory against the odds because we take the UN seriously. We firmly believe that the it is still the most important address for solving the world's economic and social problems. Despite the distractions of a politicized application process, we can finally roll up our sleeves and begin the real work that lies ahead.
(The writer is the national president of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America.)
See also Arabs Attack Hadassah Organization
©2001 - Jerusalem Post