Former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Visits Suffolk


Gareth Jones  Journal Staff

Gabriella Shalev, the former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations (2008-2012) spent the last week touring Suffolk University, hosting and guest-speaking in a lecture series as well as visiting classes. As a former United Nations Ambassador, she brought to the table unique insight into both the inner machinations of the United Nations itself, as well as the situation Israel finds itself in on the modern international scene.

She served as the guest speaker for a series of lectures and discussions whose topics span most of what Israel makes the headlines for these days, specifically the Iranian nuclear threat and the Palestinian situation, as well as internal Israeli politics. What she said was never less than insightful, and sparked plenty of discussion on issues that were already relevant; all of her lectures saw impressive turnout rates, and audiences still had hands raised for questions and discussion long after the allotted time in every case.

Some of the highlights of her tour here at Suffolk included description of her background and how she approached the difficult role of the Israeli representative to the United Nations when speaking to Professor Beshimov’s International Organizations class last Tuesday. At one point, while discussing Israel’s approach to foreign policy, she went so far as to describe Israel as a militaristic state.  Israel does have a mandatory draft for military service for every eligible citizen aged 18 and over, one of only about 50 nations worldwide to facilitate such policy.

Furthermore, Israel is one of less than ten nations to be actively involved in a border war, and is number five on the list of national military expenditure as percentage of GDP at 4.5 percent, behind only Eritrea, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. By most standards, Israel is considered a militaristic state. However, Israeli rhetoric on the subject tends to be much less straightforward, and officials in general tend to favor vague and noncommittal language when discussing Israeli foreign policy at all.

Ambassador Shalev described Israel as militaristic, and it showed both her ability to cut straight to the issue while maintaining a diplomatic atmosphere in what could easily have turned into a contentious environment.  The diverse nature of the Suffolk student body and the lack of international consensus on the Israeli-Palestine situation could have made her initiatives more volatile.

All of this came to a head during the question and answer part of her lectures, specifically after her Iranian Nuclear program discussion. In this discussion, she maintained steadfast diplomacy throughout what was undoubtedly an active, engaged, and at times direct audience. Ambassador Shalev began by pointing out that the title of the lecture, “Iran’s Nuclear Program, Containment or Pre-emption?” was somewhat vague, and that Israel’s approach to the situation was never so stagnant as to be simplified to an either/or. And was right to do so.

Though it has never been proven, there is widespread speculation that the unusually high number of accidental delays in Iran’s sluggish approach to nuclear capability has been no accident at all. Many fingers point to the Israeli equivalent of our CIA, the Mossad. If these allegations were true, Shalev states, it would suggest that Israel is not unfamiliar with a pre-emptive style approach to the Iranian nuclear situation. These are not unlike the blitzkrieg tactics adopted during the 1967 war with Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, which saw a swift and decisive victory for Israel.

However, consider the recent turmoil that Iran’s currency, the Rial, encountered. In the last week or so, the Rial has dropped more than 40 percent against the American Dollar. This was an unprecedented plummet that has the Iranian people in an uproar. Both the international community and Iranian President Ahmadinejad as the future of Iranian economic security looks more and more bleak in the eyes of the people.

The plummet of the Rial is largely a result of a series of stricter tariffs and embargoes that Iran has seen in recent years. These conditions were imposed by the international community at the behest of the United States, and thusly Israel.

All this suggests that Ambassador Shalev has led us to believe that both the current Israeli approach to Iran’s nuclear program and perhaps an answer lies at the hands of a diverse, adaptable policy. This opposed the black or white nature of the talk that Ambassador Shalev guest starred in last Tuesday.

Ambassador Shalev also sat in on a panel discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where she was more diplomatic, and less willing to indulge in non-official rhetoric. Ambassador Shalev continued her habit of straying somewhat from official policy rhetoric, by repeating several times the idea that, to use her words directly, “they are attacking us. We do not wish conflict with anyone. They attack us.” Several sharp questions were thrown her way once more, but Ambassador Shalev reverted back to a diplomatic restraint more typical of people in her position. Nevertheless, she stuck to her guns, and was unwilling to discuss or acknowledge any serious transgressions on the part of Israel, while admitting several times that “the situation was complicated.

Perhaps the toughest question that Ambassador Shalev handled directly, would be a very specific query into the nature of successful embargoes Israel had implemented in the past. After some dialogue with the professor who asked the question, Shalev admitted that Israel herself did not have the buying power or the economic sway to truly affect Iran’s economy.

She went on to discuss the importance of international cooperation (a fitting comment from the former United Nations Ambassador of all people,) and outlined what she hoped to see accomplished in the vein of oil embargoes in the near future. This discussion came on the very eve of the current Iranian Rial crisis, and thanks to insight from Ambassador Shalev who predicted the very embargoes that are now largely responsible for Iran’s economic strife in response to the question asked last Tuesday. Thus, thanks to Suffolk University’s excellent visiting scholar program, students can say they heard it here first, as they scan the international news headlines of newspapers around the world.