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September 14, 2011

Jewish group lobbies in L.A. against UN vote

http://www.jewishjournal.com/los_angeles/article/jewish_group_lobbies_in_la_against_un_vote_20110914

United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City.  Photo by Patrick Gruban/Wikipedia

United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City. Photo by Patrick Gruban/Wikipedia

When general debate begins at the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 21, the eyes of all Israel supporters will be focused on New York City, to see what becomes of the Palestinian Authority’s plan to unilaterally declare statehood.

For now, however, ongoing efforts by American Jewish organizations to stop this resolution from being brought to the floor — or at least minimize its potential to degrade Israel’s international public image — haven’t been limited to the East Coast.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) has been leading the diplomatic push by Americans Jews against the unilateral declaration and has been engaging with representatives of certain countries wherever they are — including in the consulates in Los Angeles.

Staff members and lay leaders from AJC here say the group has held between 30 and 40 meetings with members of Los Angeles’ consular corps in just the last few months.

“We know that most consulates will report back to their embassies as well as to their own countries what took place in our meeting,” AJC Regional President Cliff Goldstein said.

To get in the door, AJC relies on years of work building relationships with diplomats.

“Modesty aside, we’re the only organization that’s able to do this, aside from the Israeli government and the United States government,” AJC Los Angeles Regional Director Seth Brysk said. “We’re able to do this because we’re able to create and maintain relationships with individual consuls general, consulates and countries.”

Brysk said AJC was focusing its efforts on meeting with representatives from countries that were not members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation or the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), as most of those countries were unlikely to be receptive to the AJC’s message.

Representatives from the Greek, German and French consulates in Los Angeles confirmed that AJC representatives had met with members of their offices in the last few months to discuss the anticipated Palestinian move at the United Nations.

AJC and most of the consular offices declined to offer details about the meetings, but a representative from the French consulate offered some indication of what happened behind those closed doors.

Five AJC representatives, including Brysk and Goldstein, sat down with French Consul General David Martinon on Aug. 25. The AJC side presented the group’s position on the Palestinians’ plan — namely that it would hurt the chances for a negotiated peaceful settlement with the Israelis. And according to the French consulate, the consul general responded with his government’s official position on the unilateral declaration.

The representative in the Los Angeles office would not say more, but the French position on this matter — which is, as of press time, still the subject of speculation and curiosity — was outlined by a spokesperson in a press briefing in Paris on Aug. 26.

“We can only reaffirm what we’ve already said: Firstly, France will assume its responsibilities in a few weeks at the U.N. General Assembly,” reads translated text of the day’s briefing posted on the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs Web site.

The spokesperson went on to push for a resumption of talks and expressed hope that an “unproductive” diplomatic fight could be avoided.

“The status quo is intolerable,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve been saying so for a long time now, but it’s high time that those directly concerned and those directly affected by this status quo start to realize that it is, in fact, intolerable.”

Brysk is sanguine about the potential impact of the AJC organizing effort.

“We’ve gone into this process with our eyes wide open,” Brysk said. “We understand, and have understood all along, that if it comes to a vote, it’s almost guaranteed, preordained, that the Palestinian initiative will pass.”

AJC’s goal, Brysk said, was not to defeat the Palestinian declaration outright, but to inform decision-makers of the group’s position. Realistically, Brysk said, the best that could be hoped for was that AJC and others could “either dissuade [the Palestinians] from taking the action or at least blunt their success by denying them the quality of the victory, if not the victory itself.”

Gary Jacobs, a member of AJC’s national board of governors who lives in Los Angeles, said he knew that meetings with consular officers might not be enough to change a country’s policy. But that wasn’t stopping him from traveling to New York for the AJC annual “diplomatic marathon,” a series of meetings that take place every year alongside the U.N. General Assembly.

And although the stakes in New York are high — some legal scholars have speculated that a newly recognized member state of Palestine could bring Israel to the International Criminal Court — Jacobs said he didn’t expected any pounding on tables in the meetings in New York.

“You know the AJC style, which is not at all confrontational,” Jacobs said. “These are kind and cordial meetings.”

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