No Holds Barred: Interview with Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan
By Sara Lehmann
This week, the United Nations crossed a red line against the Jewish State that even Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan could not have envisaged. When U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated that “the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum” and exonerated the terrorists, Erdan condemned Guterres for showing “compassion for the most terrible atrocities committed against the citizens of Israel” and demanded his resignation.
Sadly, Erdan is accustomed to protesting iniquities at the U.N. against the State of Israel. After October 7th, however, the ambassador finds himself protesting iniquities of an unspeakable nature against his own people. The unparalleled viciousness of the Hamas massacre and the international fallout that followed highlight both the challenges an Israeli ambassador faces at the notoriously anti-Israel U.N. and the fortitude he needs to confront them.
Erdan, who has served as Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. since August, 2020, concurrently served as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States from January to November 2021. He was previously a Member of Knesset for 17 years, and a Senior Minister for 11 of those years.
At his U.N. position, Erdan was the initiator of a crucial resolution combatting Holocaust denial, one of only two Israeli-led resolutions that passed at the U.N. Last July, when Erdan was elected as a Vice-President of the 77th session of the U.N. General Assembly, he said his new role will provide a platform for Israel to confront “ongoing lies of the Palestinians and others at the U.N.”
I sat with the ambassador for an exclusive interview in the heavily guarded offices of the Israeli Consulate in New York. We discussed the massacre that has irrevocably altered the Jewish State and how he fights relentlessly for Israel at the U.N. and for Jews around the globe.
The U.N. Security Council does not designate Hamas and Hezbollah as terror groups, unlike al-Qaida and ISIS, allowing worldwide money to directly fund these organizations through UNRWA. What will it take for the U.N. to reverse course, if at all?
I spoke about this yesterday, while looking into the eyes of the Russian representative, because it’s mainly because of that country. We believe that the political structure of the U.N. that allows veto power for Security Council resolutions makes it almost paralyzed. The U.N. was founded mainly as a reaction to the Holocaust and World War II, but today they can’t really prevent conflicts or advance peace. They can maybe be effective regarding humanitarian needs and fighting pandemics, because those are consensual topics. But once you have conflicting interests, it’s paralyzed.
Right now, whatever the U.S. does, either China or Russia will immediately find an excuse to veto it. Hamas or Hezbollah aren’t designated as terrorist organizations by the Security Council because the Russians found themselves working with Hezbollah in Syria because of their connection to Assad. Regarding Hamas there are other interests.
After this horrific attack against our civilians, there’s no way that anyone doubts that Hamas is a terrorist organization similar to ISIS. We have all the footage and videos, which they themselves distributed. That’s how a terrorist organization behaves — they film what they’re doing to terrorize other civilians because they know they cannot defeat us on the conventional battlefield. If the world won’t unite against these atrocities, not only will it happen again, but it will happen in the U.S. and many other Western countries. Regardless of the interests and distorted values within the U.N., I think all like-minded countries in the free world must unite to support Israel in our fight to eradicate Hamas.
Russia is in a unique position regarding Israel. Does Netanyahu’s outreach to Russia, mostly before the war in Ukraine, count for nothing?
No. Diplomacy is not zero or nothing. There is the issue of Hamas’s designation within the Security Council, but there are many more interests for Israel relating to Russia. They became the most dominant power on our northern border with Syria. Our second strategic goal after preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power is to prevent Iran from entrenching itself in Syria and building another Hezbollah there in addition to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Since 2016, we are striking Iranian forces that try to smuggle in weapons and build military bases there. We have a big conflict with Russia because we don’t want to kill Russian troops, so maintaining this deconfliction mechanism is important to us. Also, hundreds of thousands of Jews still live in Russia. There are many important Israeli interests and achievements that are being maintained by this diplomacy.
You mention power struggles within the U.N. However, with the exception of the United States, none of the U.N. countries have ever really been reliable Israeli allies. Israel is grateful for the staunch support of American Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, but the Jewish country is almost always on the defensive. What are the advantages of Israel remaining in the U.N. and do they override the disadvantages of quitting it?
That’s a very important question. First of all, my approach is always to be on the offensive. When we are being criticized and attacked, I am not apologetic. I know I represent the most moral country and military in the world and I always find creative ways to expose the lies, hypocrisy, and double standards against Israel.
I think I succeeded many times to draw attention to how they support terrorism and how the U.N. ignores different kinds of terror attacks that take place in Israel, etc. This included passing a historic resolution that isolated Iran, supplying practical tools to fight Holocaust denial and distortions, and demanding accountability from internet giants. There are many things that we did on the offensive.
Despite the uphill battle, is it worthwhile for Israel to remain in the U.N.?
It’s not that we have a choice, because we live in the internet era, where every lie that is being spread here and every anti-Israel resolution that is adopted here is done in the speed of light. We have to be here. Otherwise, our enemies will exploit it and pressure companies like Ben and Jerry’s and Airbnb. They will say the U.N. decided Israel is a human rights abuser, so we have to boycott Israel. Then they’ll go to the International Court of Justice in the Hague and go after our soldiers. Or it can spark antisemitic attacks here like we saw during Operation Guardian of the Walls, when the U.N. tried to pass resolutions portraying Israel as murdering Gazans.
We should be present and fight against lies and evil and try to minimize the damage. In addition, with 193 countries here, it’s an opportunity to present Israel’s technological capabilities and solutions for many challenges that the U.N. tries to address — like water scarcity, food insecurity, agriculture and cyber defense. Also, it helps many Israeli companies. But it’s not going to happen overnight.
People ask me how the U.N. voted to establish a Jewish state in 1948. It was a miracle, but there were only 57 member states at the time. Some of them were big occupiers like the U.K., France, Spain, Portugal. After they liberated their colonies, it grew to 193 countries, one third being Muslim countries that work as a group, like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. This includes the Arab League, made up of 22 countries.
There are 1.3 billion Arab Muslims spread all across the world and their political and economic influence dwarfs the one Jewish country of Israel. But Israel is a miraculous success story and countries want to collaborate with us, like African countries. President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu did great things with their teams, but the fact that the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco normalized relations with Israel resulted from a process that was also built here over many years of watching and admiring Israeli achievements, military might, and technological capabilities. It’s an opportunity that we must leverage here. But it’s very frustrating. You have to be mentally immune.
It seems this immunity led you to publicly rebuke Secretary-General Geterres for accepting the Gaza hospital lie. Whether the truth is spoken or not, the result always seems to end in Jew-hatred. In that case, should Israel ignore public opinion and forge ahead militarily?
In every speech that I give I say that there is one principle that is more important than any U.N. agency, official or decision and that is that the State of Israel wasn’t founded thanks to the U.N. It was founded thanks to the strong beliefs and deeds of many Jews throughout history.
When Ben Gurion was Minister of Defense in 1955, there was a discussion, believe it or not, about how to deal with the terrorists in Gaza. He suggested Israel enter the Gaza Strip and cleanse it from the terrorists. Prime Minister Sharett said, “We can’t just expand our borders. Without the U.N. there would have been no Israel.” To which Ben Gurion famously replied, “Oom shmoom.” When it comes to our survival and security, we shouldn’t listen to anyone. We abide by the law. Nobody has the authority to reinterpret international law and force it upon us.
Israel is very grateful to President Biden for his strong show of support for Israel, especially after the administration’s appeasement and funding of Iran and its reinstatement of funds to UNRWA. In light of Biden’s recent trip to Israel and statements alluding to restraint, do you feel that Israel is in any way being made to fight with one hand behind its back?
I am not aware of any price that Israel is paying for its alliance with the U.S. or the U.S. veto [in the U.N.] or U.S. arms. I don’t know of any limitation or restriction imposed by the Americans on Israel. I think Biden is saying publicly something that is important for the president to say, which is that Israel should abide by international law. We have our own legal advisors.
Do you think the brutality of the Oct. 7 attack might be driving some of this strong support?
Sadly, yes. People saw the footage and were shocked. But we know the trajectory. Hamas wrote a script. They know they cannot defeat Israel, so they terrorize Israel in order to achieve their long-term goal of annihilating it. They try to make Israelis feel that life is not safe in Israel and they should leave. They kill citizens through terror tunnels and missiles, and they invade Israel and slaughter people. Then they immediately come with lies about hospitals and recruit naïve countries who are not really committed to fighting terrorism and try to pressure Israel to stop its military operations without totally eradicating Hamas capabilities.
But now I feel for the first time ever that we are all united to eradicate Hamas. There is no difference between right and left. I speak with my family and friends. People are scared. They truly feel it’s about their safety and security.
Among those “naïve countries” we have many anti-Israel agitators here in politics, media, corporations, and especially on our college campuses. You praised the Wexner Foundation for cutting ties with Harvard over their refusal to condemn Hamas. What more can we do?
There are many rich Jews who are funding these colleges. We have to boycott these places. We have to stop with the political correctness. Hamas was exposed as Nazis who want to eliminate all the Jews. During the Holocaust we didn’t have the internet, so people could maybe stick their heads in the sand and say they weren’t sure what’s happening. I heard many lectures about how the Jews didn’t play a crucial role in saving our brothers and sisters who were being slaughtered in Europe. Now there’s no excuse not to be outspoken and not to act.
There are Jews here who send their kids to Ivy League colleges and still sit on boards and give money to get kavod. It’s not kavod to sit on the board of a university whose president cannot condemn people who slaughter babies. Whoever sits on such a board should be ashamed of themselves.
People here should understand that. Never Again is now. Worse things will happen here if it’s legitimized. This is not about two perspectives. After September 11, we didn’t say there’s the al-Qaida narrative and the American narrative. The Jewish people here should understand that we are the first target of radical Muslims. We have to fight against it together. If we are united with all our influence and resources then it’s possible. We should also boycott outlets and newspapers that distort the truth and support baby killers.
We have to send a clear message and this message is not clear. Now we see who our real allies are. You can’t complain that the NY Times is antisemitic and helps terrorists to kill innocent Israelis or that Harvard allows pro-Hamas and pro-terror students to rally inside their campuses and then continue to give them money and send your kids there. This is suicidal. Remaining silent is the most destructive way to fight it. People should stand up for the truth but also for their own safety.
American Jews are frightened. Israel has fought other wars before, but there weren’t people going out in the streets or on college campuses shouting “Jewish genocide.”
After the Holocaust, Holocaust survivors and their first-generation children were aware of the dangers. We were more vigilant and sensitive about responding to it. Little by little, as the State of Israel became a success story and we felt there is no existential threat against us, except maybe Iran in the long term if they acquire nuclear capabilities, and American Jews became so successful, we became complacent. Now we should realize that this complacency might cost us a lot of blood. This is the moment to fight against it.
Much of the antisemitism focuses on the so-called humanitarian plight of the Gazans. However, even Egypt and Jordan don’t want them because they pose a security threat. Is this enough of a reason to conclude that perhaps there aren’t really many innocent Gazans?
I say it publicly. First of all, let’s make something clear. The fact that President Biden (and we are very grateful to him) and his administration are supporting Israel so strongly doesn’t mean that some disagreements that we have with the administration disappeared. We have some disagreements. They haven’t disappeared. Many people, and I am among them, believe that even though many leaders are saying today that Hamas doesn’t represent the Palestinian people, I think Hamas does represent the Palestinian people.
The people voted Hamas in.
Yes, they were elected. I am saying it in every speech. In every poll Hamas is still very popular there.
Isn’t Hamas popular in Judea and Samaria too?
Yes, they are. Of course. That is the reason why elections were not held in the Palestinian Authority for the last 18 years, because the world doesn’t pressure the PA because they know what might happen. If Hamas gains popularity they will be elected also in Judea and Samaria. I believe of course that the problem with the Palestinians is much more fundamental. The hate, the indoctrination, the antisemitism are much deeper and more widespread. It’s not only the political leadership of Hamas. Hamas is a very popular party. It’s a terrorist organization but it’s sadly also a political party.
Then how should Israel respond to Biden’s continued support for the two-state solution, which he even expressed on his trip to Israel? What is the endgame here?
I think that right now, in a time of war, you want to emphasize and highlight the things that are uniting us and not the disagreements. So, it’s not in my interest now to discuss it.
What about Hezbollah? If Israel is not able to eradicate Hamas, won’t that embolden Hezbollah and endanger Israel’s northern border?
No question. We all understand that we are fighting for our future and survival. It’s either us or them. Israel cannot deliberately kill civilians; that’s not morally what we should do. But we all understand that Hamas should be eradicated totally this time. We won’t have another chance. The world is watching. The terrorists are watching. All our neighbors will be inspired by this success if we are not going to restore our deterrence.
In the neighborhood of the Middle East, where strength is respected above all, will a failure to eradicate Hamas cause the Saudis to reconsider allying with a country they consider weak?
That’s exactly how we analyze not only the Middle East but the world. People want to have strong friends and allies. Countries want to have relations with other powerful countries. Hamas, I believe, was pushed by Iran to stop the normalization process between Israel and Saudi Arabia. It was an attack on both Israeli and American interests. MBS [Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia] is a very smart leader. I hope the Saudis understand that Iran is also behind it and fully coordinated with Hamas and Hezbollah. This is the head of the octopus.
What is the long-term goal for Gaza after Hamas is eradicated? Isn’t there a fear that another Hamas-like entity will take its place?
I think that for so many years we have postponed [eradication] because we didn’t know what “good” might mean in Gaza. However, I think it [eradication] comes first. There’s no pure science as to what will happen there next, but first of all we must send a clear message of eradication because the cost, as we tragically experienced, is too high.
You publicly severed relations with U.N. Middle East Envoy Wennesland after he met with Iran’s Foreign Minister without condemning Iran. Has October 7th affected your relationship with others at the U.N. and how isolated do you feel there as a Jew?
I don’t feel isolated at all. If the Special Envoy to the Middle East can meet the Foreign Minister of a country that publicly wants to annihilate Israel and the envoy cannot criticize him, but can criticize Israel for supplies that he believes should be given to Gaza, then he’s not a real interlocuter for me. I don’t need to waste time meeting with him.
Really there are two U.N.s. There is the political U.N., which is comprised of the 193 member states. Some of them are cowards or are prevented by their interests from publicly expressing their opinions, but we know that they think Israel is the right side and the other side is evil. We should try to continue to put pressure on them. Then there’s the professional U.N., the Secretary General and all the senior U.N. officials that are supposed to be impartial. But clearly, they are being influenced by the Arab group. I also blame the Secretary General for not allowing any Israeli to get a senior position in the U.N.
But I always voice my opinion regardless of who is present. I know who I represent and I know what I’m fighting for. Even if I remain alone and no U.N. official will speak with me and I won’t speak with him, I don’t care.
Do you ever get discouraged or feel that the challenges become insurmountable despite your best efforts to overcome them?
It gives me more energy to fight and expose the truth. I will continue to speak out and hopefully others will join. That’s what leadership is all about. To try and lead others to do things that they are not doing by themselves.
Any final comments of chizuk about the situation in Israel?
Israel is still the most powerful country in the Middle East. G-d willing Hamas will be eradicated. It might take weeks, it might take a few months, but it will be eradicated. And the Jewish people will continue to thrive. We can do it quicker and with less casualties if we unite and demand of others to stick to the values that they publicly take pride in supporting.
I hope everyone understands that these savages don’t differentiate between Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, secular, right wing, left wing.
They want to annihilate all of us.
It’s exactly the Nazi ideology. We need to understand that unity is now the most important thing for the Jewish people. There will be no better time in the future to fight for our values and security. n
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