For Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu she is no less than a “Maccabi,” perhaps the ultimate praise for heroism in the Jewish world. At AIPAC conferences, she wins over the crowd which responds with lengthy standing ovations no other speaker can dream of receiving. And at the Israeli-American Council’s latest gathering, she was crowned as “the real, real, real wonder woman.”
In less than two years, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has become the unrivaled superhero of the pro-Israel mainstream in American Jewry. Her willingness, if not eagerness, to go to the mat for Israel time and again in the toughest of international arenas, her plain spoken yet fiery delivery and a sharp focus on reversing a double standard in the UN’s treatment of Israel have made Haley a breath of fresh air in the world of pro-Israel advocacy, which has been struggling in recent years to overcome doubts raised from the progressive side and difficulties defending certain Israeli policies.
Haley entered the the UN headquarters in New York with a storm, announcing from the get go that she would not go along with its disproportionate focus on Israel and pointing out some of the most egregious asymmetries between resolutions and meetings discussing Israel and those dealing with other global hotspots such as the civil war in Syria, Iran, or North Korea’s human rights record. “The days of Israel bashing are over,” she announced shortly after, later adding that “If there’s anything I have no patience for, it’s bullies—and the UN was being such a bully to Israel, because they could.”
In her term thus far, Haley has missed no opportunity to speak against singling out Israel and has taken several actions to try and move the needle in a body in which roughly two thirds of the 193 member countries vote automatically against Israel. Her most notable actions include initiating a June 13, 2018 General Assembly resolution condemning Hamas after the latest flare up with Israel on the Gaza border; moving to kill a Security Council resolution criticizing Israel on the same issue; withdrawing the U.S. from the UN Human Rights Council because of its anti-Israel bias, and supporting ending U.S. aid to UNRWA, a UN agency that provides Palestinian refugees with healthcare, education and work relief.
“I went to Israel to see firsthand the country the United Nations spends half its time on,” Haley said in a 2017 speech. “Unfortunately, I’m not kidding, it’s ridiculous. It seems like the rough breakdown at the UN is half the time on Israel and half the time on the other 192 countries.”
Haley took office as the pro-Israel community was reeling from a blow delivered by the previous administration in its final days. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and UN ambassador Samantha Power decided the U.S. would abstain on resolution 2334 which condemned Israel’s settlement activity. This was Obama’s parting message to Israel—a reversal of America’s policy of backing Israel under any circumstances—in order to send Israel a message of disapproval of its settlement expansion policy, and perhaps with Netanyahu’s treatment of Obama throughout his 8 years in office.
Cashing in on the bitter taste left by the resolution, Haley launched her pro-Israel campaign, which touched the hearts of many pro-Israel advocates who had felt left out in the cold. One of her first moves was a successful push for the resignation of Rima Khalaf, the UN under secretary general, because of a report she issued in which Israel was described as an “apartheid state.” Then she managed to block the appointment of Salam Fayyad as the UN’s special envoy to Libya. Fayyad, a former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, was seen in the U.S. and in Israel as a pro-Western moderate seeking to reform the PA. Haley’s move, motivated by a wish to punish the Palestinians, was later criticized as being out of step with both American and Israeli priorities.
But for the flurry of action and public comments on Israel, when it comes to results, Haley’s tenure so far is not all that different from that of her predecessors, in either Republican or Democratic administrations. In general, U.S. policy has always been to use American veto power to block anti-Israel resolutions in the Security Council, and in most cases, these attempts were dead on arrival. Haley’s move to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council is merely a repeat of a similar move taken by the Bush administration (Obama decided the U.S. should return to the body), and depriving funds from agencies that criticize Israel unfairly is also nothing new—the Obama administration withdrew funds from UNESCO after it granted Palestine full membership. The previous administration has also pushed for resolutions and statements condemning terror attacks against Israel, similar to those Haley has been working to advance. Furthermore, in 2012 the Obama administration used all of its diplomatic might to successfully fight off a Palestinian statehood campaign which would have led to full recognition of Palestine as a UN member state.
The bottom line is that at the UN, as it will clearly be on display this week with the annual New York gathering of the General Assembly, victories and defeats are relative terms, especially when it comes to Israel. With the numbers fixed against Israel, U.S. administrations, as supportive or critical as they may be, have limited space to maneuver. Nikki Haley had a chance to learn this lesson when America recently failed to help get Israel a seat on the UN Security Council. She also learned during the General Assembly vote condemning Hamas that sometimes a victory is actually just managing to get a smaller-than-usual defeat. The numbers supporting Israel were better than ever before, but still not enough to get the resolution adopted.
The key to success in battling the United Nation’s built-in anti-Israel bias is continuing the mostly ungrateful work of fighting the entire world, literally, on a daily basis. Haley is doing just that, as did her predecessors. But as opposed to the women and men who occupied the seat before her, Haley has made this issue the face of her public work in the UN. And for this, for the talk rather than the results, she has won the title of “real superwoman.”