Last week, the IsraMUN conference, the first academic international MUN (Model Uniited Nations*) in Israel, takes place in Rishon LeZion, Israel. This year’s IsraMUN theme is “Modernity and Traditionalism," when the aim of the conference is "to raise awareness to the importance of science and technology and the human rights to gender equality and education in the face of the claims for tolerance and understanding of traditionalist faiths, religions and cultures."
Between making statements at the MUN and meeting the actual UN Secretary-General who came for a visit, two well-known Israeli MUN delegates, kindly agreed to interview to Israelife, and tell us all about their MUN experience and its contribution to real-life politics and diplomacy:
Roee Snir (28) is senior in the Tel Aviv University majoring in political science and East Asian and the current President of the Tel Aviv MUN Society. This year, Snir participated in tow delegations abroad, one the Harvard National Model Conference and another to the European championship, EuroMun, in Maastricht, the Netherlands where the Israeli delegation won 2nd place.
Danya Avner (27) is a Photographic Communications student at Hadassah Academic College. This past March, she joined the IMUNA (Israel MUN Associations) delegation to the NY-GYLS Summit in Manhattan, where she and her group were the only Israeli representatives at a conference of over 600 students from all over the world. A small delegation, of 4 women, they managed to take home the Best Delegation award.
Why did you join the MUN?
Danya: "MUN is a very new in my school. In fact, most students will hear of it for the first time this fall when we introduce the Hadassah MUN Society to the student body. I joined the Hebrew University MUN society last fall, because there was no society at my school. I fell in love with the program, and felt it was a shame that there was no society at my school, that I decided to establish one.
I joined MUN because I wanted to grow my circle of friends and work on my public speaking. When I first started, I couldn't even stand up and introduce myself to a room full of people and now I will be teaching MUN to a classroom full of people and some of the best people I have met, I met through MUN."
Roee: "My MUN activity started in my first year as a student, I received an email from our Student Union explaining about tryouts for this program, which I knew nothing about I did the tryouts was accepted and the rest is history. International politics were always one of my field on interest, and MUN that involves fascinating topics, debate, politics, simulations and using a wide array of tools and skills was exactly the extra-curricular program that I was searching. In the end of the first, I ran for the position of vice president of my society, and after a year I became the president."
Tell me about your MUN experience
Danya: "My experience has been life changing and I’m not exaggerating. When I began, I had no confidence and I didn’t really think I was capable of much. A year later, I not only managed to establish the Hadassah MUN society, but I will also be teaching the course to a roomful of 30 students. The people I have met are the best of the best. They have ambition and are driven to make change and they inspire me to do the same. The people I have met abroad, I am certain I will meet again in our respective careers. As for my future, The skills I gained are invaluable. The contacts I have made are even now proving to be essential as I have been asked by a friend I et in NYC, to help organize one of the most respected international conferences. I am still in touch with my frends from the different conferences I participated in and I know that if I ever find myself in their country, they would show me around, and vice versa.When I first started studying, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to ‘be when I grew up’ and now I know exactly where I see myself and I have the confidence to say that I am capable of doing anything I set my mind to. MUN is not just for Poli. Sci. majors, its for every student in every field and it opens you up to experiences you wont get in any other program. I can promise you this, my year would not have been the success it has been, was it not for MUN and the same goes for my future."
Roee: "I took part in all the MUN conferences in Israel in the past year and a half, 7 in total, half as a delegate and half as a chair, IsraMun 2013 will be my eight conference. I addition I was the head delegate of the first Israeli delegation to Harvard Nation MUN conference in February this year. I have learned that Israelis do not know the wide array of UN work around the globe and its importance to many people every day. Usually we know only the UN bodies, and agencies dealing with the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Some are biased, but in many places around the world the UN saving lives on a daily basis. From MUN I’ve learned a lot of skills, how to research, how to debate, how to deliver a message effectively in a short time, dealing with countries and topics that normally doesn’t come to mind, and many more. I also believe that MUN will contribute to my future goal to be an Israeli diplomat or to work in the UN, representing my country.
I got to meet a lot of people. In Boston I even met students from countries that Israel does not have diplomatic relations with like Malaysia or Venezuela. Some became my friends, because as co delegates it does not matter where you are coming from. I met one of the head delegates from Venezuela was originally from Lebanon, we spoke about our area and how sometime in our “game” we can solve problems that a very complicated in real life. Most of the time we figure that in the simulations it’s easier."
Usually, you represent several different countries while participating in NUM events, but do you still feel like an Israeli ambassador?
Roee: "Always. When I went to Harvard I had an Israeli flag as a lapel pin on my suit. I also hung the Israeli flag at the opening ceremony at the Park Plaza hotel in Boston and it was very exciting and honoring."
Danya: "When I went to NYC this past spring, my delegation represented China. We studied the culture and politics of China for weeks before we arrived, and during sessions, I was the Distinguished Delegate from China; but when sessions were out, I was Danya from Jerusalem. Whenever I am out of Israel for any reason, I am an ambassador for Israel. For a lot of people, I am not only the first Israeli they met; I am the first Jew they met. They are so intrigued to hear that we have beaches and nightlife, because they were always sure we live in a desert, hiding in bomb shelters, and that we ride a camel to school each day. It’s important for me to show people that what they see in the news doesn’t paint an accurate picture by a long shot. This past spring, we participated in a conference with about 600 students from all over the world. We had people from all backgrounds and from every religion, and in the end we were a bunch of students who wanted to end the day with good conversation and good people. I am still in touch with the friends I made, and their opinion of Israel is how they perceive me."
Have you ever had to deal with attacks on Israel coming from delegates from other countries? How did you cope?
Danya: "I grew up in the states, and I guess I led a sheltered life, because I never experienced anti-Semitism. On a recent trip to Boston, I was on a bus to NYC with my cousin. In front of us were two Muslim college girls. I was telling my cousin about how school was going and how Jerusalem had changed since she last visited, when one of the girls in front of me wrote on the window 'Free Palestine, Israel + Racism.' That was my first experience with anti-Semitism and I was stunned. I had no idea how to respond, because the act was so passive aggressive. Luckily they managed to offend quite a few people on the bus who did speak up. That time I didn’t say anything, and I decided then that I don’t ever want o be in a situation where remain quiet when someone makes an attack against me; even something of no consequence such as writing offensive messages on the window of a bus."
Roee: "No. In Harvard it's strictly prohibited to attack a fellow delegate based on his or hers nationality. However, I had a very difficult conversation with one of the head delegates from Venezuela. He was originally from Lebanon, and we spoke about the conflict, he was arguing about the Israeli aggression towards Lebanon and the Palestinians. As a response, I spoke mainly about the message that he gets through the media, which is most of the time biased. We also agreed that Hezbollah started the war in 2006."
Do you believe the actual UN can learn something from you?
Roee: "Yes, to judge the solutions that countries offer in different committees mainly the political one, based on plausibility and not pure politics."
Danya: "I do believe the UN has what to learn from me. I see it at every conference I attend. The students I met along the way are the future leaders of the world and the way we solve problems in our simulations, will be the way we solve problems for real. It’s no coincidence that some of the most influential leaders participated in MUN programs when they were in University. We all have what to learn from everyone and the UN is no exception. MUN is Israel is a relatively young endeavor in Israel, but the people who finish the program go on to the most coveted internships and positions in the UN and our involvement, in my opinion, will change Israel’s involvement in the United Nations in a positive wat."
How do you think the Peace Talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority should end?
Danya: "In Model UN, we put our personal opinions aside and I choose to do the same for this question."
Roee: "It should end with two states between the Jorden River and the sea, with mutual territorial exchange, or else in 20 years’ time, we will have a huge demographic problem. Also, the Holy Basin should be under the UN supervision."
There is some serious criticism on the way the UN works. It is claimed that it is biased against Israel, almost blindly. Ban Ki-moon, who visited you at the conference, even admitted it himself. What is your opinion on the matter?
Roee: "In My opinion there is a direct connection between the committees and the member states forming those bodies, the HRC (Human Rights Council) has a majority of Arab countries and non-aligned states. This is one of the main reasons this body is biased. On the other hand, the ECOSOC, the Economic and Social Council of the UN, has a different set of member states and the Israeli Mission is doing great things in there. For example you can see resolution 67/202 of the UN general assembly regarding entrepreneurship. That was a success of our mission, so it's hard to say the entire UN is biased against Israel."
Danya: "My opinion is that the statement is true, however I think it's changing. I may come off as naive, but I actually believe that the Model UN activity in recent years, within Israeli universities is going to change the way Israel operates in the UN, and how the UN perceives Israel. I believe that our generation has a voice and I see around me,how active my peers are about making changes in local and foreign politics. The fact that Model UN has become such a popular and in-demand program on Israeli campuses only solidifies my argument. Before, students weren't really exposed to the UN, because of how we are viewed there, but now, more and more Israeli's are looking to enter the UN arena and work towards making positive changes from within. I may be an idealist, but I truly believe that our generation is going bring about a shift with how Israel is viewed in the UN and the rest of the World."
* Model United Nations Conference (MUN) is a simulation of various international political, economic, and social organizations. During a MUN, participants from all over the world have the opportunity to take on the role of diplomats and ambassadors, representing different countries and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO).