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In meeting with Guterres, Bennett raps UN institutions for ‘anti-Israel bias’

In sit-downs with both secretary-general and US ambassador to UN, PM also raises issue of Israeli civilians and soldiers’ bodies being held captive by Hamas

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with UN General-Secretary Antonio Guteress at UN headquarters in New York, on September 27, 2021. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with UN General-Secretary Antonio Guteress at UN headquarters in New York, on September 27, 2021. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

NEW YORK — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett used a Monday meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York to tear into the international institution over its “discrimination” against Israel.

The premier said that if the UN wants Israelis to take its institutions seriously, its members must start treating the Jewish state as an equal partner, as opposed to attacking it disproportionately, a diplomatic official said after the meeting.

The official readouts from the two leaders’ offices were light on details, with Bennett’s only stating that the meeting took place, while Guterres’s said that “Bennett updated the secretary-general on the situation in Israel. They exchanged views on regional developments, including the Middle East Peace Process.”

In his subsequent meeting with US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Bennett told the envoy, “I think that the reengagement of the United States with international institutions is a good opportunity to bring balance to these institutions vis a vis Israel.”

“Many times we feel these institutions are slanted and sometimes unfair and I think the new spirit between America and Israel can be brought to bear and we can do great things together,” Bennett said, according to a statement from his office released on Tuesday.

The Biden administration has moved to rejoin the UN’s Human Rights Council and World Health Organization, which former US president Donald Trump’s administration abandoned due to disputes over Israel and China.

The previous administration also substantially cut funding to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which US President Joe Biden has largely restored. Washington is also facing calls to return to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which Trump left in 2018, also citing anti-Israel bias.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) meets with US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield in New York, on September 27, 2021. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

In seeking to rejoin UN institutions, the Biden administration has argued that it loses the ability to influence them when it doesn’t have a seat at the table.

Bennett was in New York to give his first address as premier before the UN General Assembly on Monday morning. He used the opportunity to urge member states to work with Israel rather than discriminating against it.

“Every member state in this building has a choice. It’s not a political choice, but a moral one. It’s a choice between darkness and light. Darkness that persecutes political prisoners, murders the innocent, abuses women and minorities, and seeks to end the modern world as we know it. Or light — that pursues freedom, prosperity and opportunity,” Bennett said.

“Over the past 73 years, the State of Israel — the people of Israel — have achieved so much in the face of so much,” he added.

In both his meetings with Guterres and Thomas-Greenfield, Bennett raised the plight of Israeli civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed along with the bodies of fallen soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, all held by Hamas in Gaza.

The diplomatic official briefing reporters said that Bennett emphasized to Guterres that Mengistu and al-Sayed suffer from mental illness and that Goldin was kidnapped by Hamas during a UN-brokered ceasefire. “These are clear humanitarian cases,” the official said Bennett stressed.

Clockwise from top left: Oron Shaul, Avera Mengistu, Hadar Goldin and Hisham al-Sayed. (Flash90/Courtesy)

Bennett urged Thomas-Greenfield to “continue raising the issue in various forums, as she has done since meeting Leah Goldin,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Thomas-Greenfield met Hadar Goldin’s mother over the summer when the latter accompanied then-president Reuven Rivlin during his farewell visit to the US.

“The prime minister thanked the ambassador for her activity on behalf of the State of Israel at the UN and for the unswerving US support of Israel, and invited her to visit Israel,” the PMO readout added.

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