Israel is “disappointed” at reports that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon backtracked on Monday from comments he made late last week according to which Israel faces “bias” and “even discrimination” at the world body.
“We were disappointed when we saw these reported remarks,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “It’s clear that Israel has been systematically discriminated against at the United Nations and the way to start dealing with that issue is first of all to recognize that there’s a problem.”
On Friday, Ban told Israeli students in Jerusalem that Israel “has been weighed down by criticism and suffered from bias — and sometimes even discrimination” at the UN.
But asked by a reporter at UN headquarters in New York on Monday if he believed “there was discrimination against Israel” and what he “intend[s] to do about it,” he said he did not believe there was discrimination, but also insisted Israel should not face bias at the organization.
“No, I don’t think there is discrimination against Israel at the United Nations,” Ban replied, according to an official UN transcript of the conversation.
He added: “There may be some, what I can say… the Israeli government in fact, you know, raised this issue that [there’s] some bias against Israel. But Israel is one of the 193 Member States, thus Israel should have equal rights and opportunities without having any bias, any discrimination. That’s a fundamental principle of the United Nations Charter and thus Israel should be fully given such rights.”
The senior Israeli official praised Ban’s earlier remarks. “The secretary’s comments on Friday in Jerusalem about the UN’s bias against Israel showed moral leadership, and we hope we’re not seeing backtracking,” the official said.
“We would welcome real moral leadership from senior officials at the United Nations on this issue,” the official added.
Ban’s comments last Friday were delivered at the UN’s local headquarters in Jerusalem to students participating in the Rishon Lezion College of Management’s Model UN program.
“Unfortunately, because of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, Israel’s been weighed down by criticism and suffered from bias — and sometimes even discrimination,” Ban told the group. He was responding to a student who claimed Israelis felt their country was discriminated against at the UN.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Ban said, adding that Israel should be treated equally to all the other member states.
The secretary general also told the group that his visit to the region, his sixth, was his way of showing support for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
He noted that a peace process was more than just a “piece of paper,” referring to the failed Oslo Accords.
“This time, I expect real peace,” Ban said, stressing that negotiations are the best way to reach a two-state solution. “The Israeli and Palestinian people are neighbors and have no choice but to live in harmony and peace, side by side.”
Ban’s comments came just hours after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier Friday. Netanyahu told the UN head that Palestinian refusal to recognize that Israel is a Jewish state is the core issue keeping the sides from reaching a peace agreement — deflecting claims that settlement construction was the main roadblock.
On Monday, Ban reiterated his optimism about the restarted peace talks.
“There is at last a fresh opportunity for real progress towards a peace agreement,” he told reporters. “Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders must seize this historic opportunity. There is no time to lose. Achieving an agreement will require vision, statesmanship and courage. It will take sacrifices, understanding and leadership from both sides. The negotiators and leaders will have to make tougher decisions and even more difficult choices. This is not a zero-sum game. It is possible, and indeed necessary, to arrive at a solution that clearly benefits both Israelis and Palestinians — and we will continue to support all efforts to meet that goal.”
Michal Shmulovich contributed to this report.