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1st Israeli on panel wins rare support from some Arab reps

Israeli with muscular dystrophy elected to UN committee for disability rights

Netanyahu, Rivlin congratulate art therapist Odelia Fitoussi for clinching 1 of 9 slots on prestigious panel; Israeli UN envoy hails ‘true triumph of the human spirit’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Odelia Fitoussi at the UN headquarter in New York (courtesy Israeli Mission to the UN)
Odelia Fitoussi at the UN headquarter in New York (courtesy Israeli Mission to the UN)

An Israeli woman with muscular dystrophy was elected Monday to serve on a United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, garnering praise from Israeli leaders.

Odelia Fitoussi, 43, is the first Israeli to serve on the committee. She was elected to one of nine available spots, receiving support from 109 countries, according to Israel’s Mission to the UN in New York.

“I am sure your important voice at the UN will be a positive influence for people with #disabilities around the world. We are so proud of you!” President Reuven Rivlin tweeted on Tuesday morning.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Fitoussi, who was born with a genetic neuromuscular disorder known as SMA2, telling her that he appreciates her “abilities and skills that led her to be elected to a significant and important position in the international arena,” according to a readout of the call provided by his office.

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or CRPD, is a body of independent experts tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was signed by nearly all countries in the world.

“I feel privileged to be a member of the CRPD, the place where Israel was a partner in creating a new language for people with disabilities, a language of rights, of pride in who you are, in our uniqueness as people with disabilities who enrich society with all the good we have built,” Fitoussi said in a statement.

An art therapist for children based in Bat Yam, Fitoussi has long advocated for the rights of people with disabilities, including by working toward greater inclusion of teachers with disabilities in the education system.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said her selection had “moved him greatly,” and brings great pride to Israel.

“It represents a true triumph of the human spirit,” he said in a statement. “Israel’s extensive experience in the field of rights for people with disabilities will contribute greatly to the committee’s activities and will have a positive influence on the lives of many around the world. I am sure that Odelia will be an excellent ambassador and achieve great things.”

Odelia Fitoussi, in wheelchair, with FM Gabi Ashkenazi, standing, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem (courtesy MFA)

According to a joint statement issued by the New York mission and the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Fitoussi’s candidacy was the result of a massive diplomatic effort.

“Fitoussi herself met with more than 100 diplomats from around the globe. Erdan discussed her candidacy in his meetings with other UN ambassadors and even succeeded in garnering support from representatives of some Arab countries, which usually refrain from supporting Israeli candidates in UN bodies,” the statement read.

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