Israeli MD Patient to Serve on UN Disabilities Committee

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin being interviewed by Uri Yitzhaki, who works at Shavim, which uses mass media to advocate for the million and a half Israelis with
disabilities. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

An Israeli woman with muscular dystrophy has been elected to serve on a U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, following a long campaign for her candidacy led by the foreign ministry.

Odelia Fitoussi, 43, issued a statement on Monday, acknowledging the appointment: “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.”

The New York mission and the Foreign Ministry in Yerushalayim hailed it as a diplomatic triumph:

“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,” they said in a joint 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 educational system.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan congratulated her, the latter calling it “a triumph of the human spirit.”

Rivlin’s office released on Tuesday a preview of an interview to mark December 3, the International Day for People with Disabilities.

The interview was conducted by Uri Yitzhaki, 26, who works at Shavim and is on the autistic spectrum. Shavim uses mass media to promote the million and a half Israelis with disabilities.

The president spoke about the way his wife Nechama, a”h, dealt with disabilities for most of her life, about the committee established at Beit HaNasi following the tragic death of Iyad al-Khalak to improve how law enforcement deals with people with disabilities, about the splits within society and the president’s plans for the ‘day after’ he leaves the job.

“Next year, you will finish your term as president. What are your plans for the day after and is there a chance that you will return to a position of political leadership?” asked Uri.

“When I am ‘released’, I will be 82 years old. I think I deserve a bit of time off, no?” said the president to Uri.

“I think that dealing with politics at the age of 82 is a bit far-fetched. I owe my family some time and there are the grandchildren who I need to ‘compensate’ for the fact that their Saba [grandfather] was president for seven years, and before that ten years as Speaker of the Knesset and before that a Member of Knesset and government minister, and so I think they deserve for me to be with them and not with politicians.”

“I nearly fainted from excitement,” said Uri at the end of the interview. “It was so interesting to hear the president talk about dealing with his wife Nechama’s illness and that he totally identifies with the difficulties faced by people with disabilities. I even got a headline out of him – that he isn’t going back to politics.”

On December 3, the ceremonial hall of Beit HaNasi will be lit up in honor of the International Day for People with Disabilities. In recent years, many countries around the world including the UK, US, Canada, Japan and others have marked the day by lighting up public and private buildings in purple, as a mark of the day. The color purple originated in the UK, where it was used as a mark of protest by people with disabilities, and has become a symbol of equal rights and opportunities.

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