Ron Prosor may no longer be Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, but he still has a flair for both the dramatic and the diplomatic, as he proved on Nov. 22 at a talk in downtown Toronto that was hosted by Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University and the Lone Soldier Centre.
Before working at the UN, Prosor served as the director general of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. He spoke for just over 20 minutes about his experience representing Israel on the world stage, before answering questions from the audience.
A main theme of Prosor’s talk was that Israel is improving bilateral relationships with many countries under the radar, even if those improved relationships have yet to make a significant impact on voting patterns at the UN.
“My whole strategy was looking at the UN like economics,” said Prosor, who served as UN ambassador from 2011 to 2015. “Demand and supply. There’s demand at the UN for demonization and delegitimization against Israel. But there’s also demand for Israeli knowhow. So let’s supply the knowhow. We’ll never reach equilibrium, because Israel does amazing stuff.”
Another facet of Prosor’s strategy was applying for as many UN leadership positions as possible. Until the early 2000s, Israel wasn’t allowed to hold positions or join committees at the UN, because it wasn’t part of a regional group. In 2000, Israel was invited to become a temporary member of the Western Europe and Others Group, which includes the United States, Canada and Australia, and as of 2003, it has been allowed to hold positions and join committees.
Prosor wasn’t going to take the belated privilege for granted. He even ran for vice-president of the General Assembly.
“When they heard that in Jerusalem, they said, ‘OK, we lost him. The guy was OK, but we lost him. He’s lost any sense of reality,’ ” joked Prosor.
In spite of the low expectations for success, Prosor took his candidacy seriously. After giving a speech that he said was one of his best ever, and which he likened to Emile Zola’s J’Accuse, Prosor was voted in as vice-president.
“Of course I used the gavel. I don’t think there was ever such an industrious vice-president,” he said. “The most boring meetings that you can ever imagine, Israel was chairing. I was the most active vice-president for a year, and then it was over.”
Israel also passed two of its four UN resolutions under Prosor, one about agricultural technology and the other about small businesses.
Prosor pointed to the vote on the Americans moving their embassy to Jerusalem as an example of how geopolitics and under-the-radar diplomacy contributed to voting patterns. The final tally was 128 supporting the resolution condemning the move, to nine against and 35 abstentions. But Prosor pointed to the 21 absent countries that were “navigationally challenged,” as he put it, or not present to participate in the vote. A no-show is better than a vote against, he said.
Prosor also spoke about how the Iranian threat is uniting Israel’s interests with those of the Persian Gulf countries, most notably Saudi Arabia.
“They feel that the rope is tightening around their necks because of the Iranian issue. The Saudis always reminded me of the two elderly gentlemen in The Muppet Show sitting on the balcony and shouting things about the show. Suddenly, they are pulling up their sleeves and having to do and moving. They are moving, which is amazing. And we shouldn’t miss this opportunity,” he said.
Prosor knows it’s easy to get mired in all the negative news of the day, but he ended his talk on an optimistic note about Israel’s future.
“We’re sending satellites up into space that say shalom to very few other satellites. Instead of oranges, we’re exporting Orange mobile phones. Instead of apples, we’re designing Apple computers. We’re exporting gluten-free pasta to Italy. There’s a kibbutz in the north that exports caviar to Russia,” he said. “It’s an amazing, amazing country.”