UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly elected Israel to chair one of its six major committees for the first time on Monday, a decision denounced by the Palestinians and Arab nations.
In the secret ballot election in the 193-member world body, Israel received 109 "yes" votes. Nobody voted against Israel but there were 23 abstentions, 14 invalid ballots, and 43 votes for other countries in the Western European and Others group which nominated Israel to chair the assembly committee dealing with legal issues.
"This is a historic achievement for Israel," said Israel's U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon. "I am very proud to be the first Israeli to serve as the chairman of a committee."
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour strongly objected, saying the group should have nominated "a very responsible qualified candidate, not a big violator of international law."
Danon "represents occupation" and is not qualified to chair the committee, Mansour said. "This is negative. This is destructive. This is showing lack of sensitivity to our concerns."
The Israeli ambassador said "it was a pitiful moment" to see some Arab countries trying to block Israel.
"As the chairman of the committee I will work with all member states, including those who didn't vote for me today, and they will have to decide whether they will come to promote the real goals of the United Nations," Danon said.
The legal committee deals with U.N. activities related to international law and the Israeli ambassador said one of his first tasks will be to advance the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.
Israel, the United States and others have for years decried what they see as an entrenched bias in United Nations institutions against Israel and an obsession with the Palestinian issue at the expense of other crises around the globe. They point to numerous resolutions targeting Israel in the Geneva-based Human Rights Council and in the General Assembly.
So Monday's action in the assembly was a rare victory for Israel, though it won in a vote while the five other committee chairs were elected by consensus.