Check against delivery
STATEMENT BY AMBASSADOR ARYE MEKEL,
DEPUTY PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF ISRAEL,
AT THE GENERAL DEBATE
OF THE UN COMMITEE ON INFORMATION
DURING ITS 26TH SESSION
28 APRIL 2004
At the outset, please allow me to express my appreciation to you, H.E. Ambassador Chowdhury, for your impressive stewardship as the Chairman of the Committee on Information (COI).
We would also like to convey our gratitude to Mr. Shashi Tharoor, Under-SecretaryGeneral for Communications and Public Information, for his insightful statement and his continuing leadership of the Department of Public Information (DPI) during this vital period of change. We congratulate the DPI and the members of the COI for their work this year and express our gratitude for the reports of the Secretary-General on these important issues.
The task of the DPI is a straightforward one: it is to tell the world its own story.
There can be no more important mission than this, because the age in which we find ourselves is one that exists within the currents of a torrential flow of information.
Information is the blood in the world's circulatory system. Modern society lives and dies by it. Our progress is fueled and defined by it, and our deficiencies and weaknesses are propelled by it. In fighting global scourges like AIDS and international terror, it is the free access to information that is our best tool. By allowing information to reach the billions of people who populate our world we can take preventative steps against disease and violence. We can teach proper health practices and we can remove the shrouds of ignorance and hatred from the minds of our fellow global citizens. To accomplish these lofty goals, however, information has to be free and unencumbered. As in the circulatory system, there should be no blockages or obstructions. Communication must be neutral and unfettered.
It is the DPI's job to be the United Nations' information circulatory system - to bring to the people of the world the tale of their own lives.
Often it is successful at this task. Israel applauds the work done this year by the DPI to facilitate substantive issues such as the fight against AIDS, peacekeeping missions in Africa and the efforts to raise the profile of the campaign for the Millennium Development Goals.
Israel views with interest the plans made and actions taken towards the rationalization of the network of United Nations information centers. The decision to establish different models for the information hubs situated in developing countries from those based elsewhere makes sense. Further, accommodating these centers to the social conditions in which they are situated is an imperative of logic. Nuances in local societies demand nuances in global information.
We regret, however, that the DPI has chosen not to establish an information center in Israel, despite our requests, and despite the fact that there are information centers in nearby Arab countries. Establishing an information center in Israel would serve not only to educate Israelis about the UN, but also to help substantiate the claim that the UN is indeed objective and impartial regarding our part of the world.
Israel commends the efforts directed towards the continuing reorientation in public information and communications, the increasingly effective United Nations website and the modernization of the United Nations library system. Although the report on the "continuing reorientation" states that, "reform is a continuing process, not an event," this process has already enjoyed success. A vast amount of progress has been made in reorganizing and making better use of the logistics of communication that are at our disposal.
The modernization that the DPI has undertaken and continues to push forward is significant. We are continually striving to use tomorrow's tools, today. Through technology and, perhaps more importantly, through a fluid awareness of the possibilities inherent in that technology, we are seeking to meet the vast and diverse demands for information in every medium.
The medium, however, is not always the message.
Last year, in his introductory comments, Under-Secretary Tharoor informed us that to many members of the world public, the United Nations is seen only as a "stage," instead of as an "actor" in and of itself. He remarked, "when DPI speaks for the UN, it represents the Organization as a whole - you, the Member States, included."
Unfortunately, this is too often a prescriptive desire rather than a descriptive truth.
While the DPI's mandate, like the UN's mandate, is one of fairness and international neutrality, it is regularly steered by the voices and interests of certain groups of states.
Israel is gladdened by the DPI's achievements, and impressed by its stated goals, but it is also weary of the disheartening politicization that clings to, and sometimes even swallows, many of its initiatives and activities. It is unjust and inappropriate for the DPI's conferences, summits, and reports to push the narrow political objectives of certain member states. It is wrong and misguided for the DPI to allow individual states to be repeatedly and unwarrantedly singled out in its documents and forums. The DPI should provide a system for the free flow of unbiased information. Any deviation from this path is detrimental to the DPI, to the United Nations and to the world community.
We are disappointed that Israel is still singled out by the DPI in various seminars and publications. We recognize the efforts of Under-Secretary Tharoor to make these seminars and materials more objective and evenhanded, but we continue to be the only member state that is singled out for unfair treatment. Further, we also believe that the time has come to abolish the "Palestinian Section" of the DPI, and to instead put those resources towards the goal of peace in the Middle East. And finally, we are disheartened by the fact that, among its scores of staff members, the DPI does not have even one Israeli employee.
The DPI's resources and energy should not be harnessed in the service of one party to a conflict, or as vehicles for political attacks on member states. By allowing itself to be hijacked by the political whims of groups, it is surrendering to its own delegitimation in the eyes of the world. The United Nations' status as a neutral and positive force on the world stage depends upon its use of information. And its use of information depends upon the DPI.
This is a tremendous responsibility, and Israel urges the DPI to be continually aware of all that is at stake.
We would also like to stress that not only the DPI, but the UN in general, should make sure that its organs and its officials treat member states fairly and objectively: Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Earlier this week, Israel was compelled to send a letter to the Secretary-General in protest of recent anti-Israel statements by a senior UN official.
On Monday we will commemorate World Press Freedom Day. On this day it is fitting for us to pay tribute to the protections given to a free press in some quarters of the world, and to condemn the controls imposed on it in others. By fostering a fair and open flow of information, the DPI should take it upon itself to help to combat government-orchestrated hatred within the world press.
By combating biased information of all kinds in the world's communication matrix, the DPI can lead the march towards harmony within its own sphere of influence - the domain of information.
The DPI is a conduit for the flow of information between the United Nations and the people of the world, and each of its actions put the UN's own integrity on trial. In every act of communication, the DPI tells as much about its own character as it does about the information that it is conveying.
Let us not forget this.
We are in a period of rapid change, both in information technology and in the world's geopolitical structure. The DPI stands at the nexus of these two forces and is in a position to influence how they interact with one another at this crucial intersection.
There is plenty of room for optimism. As the DPI continues to modernize its logistical framework, this will only lead to a more unbiased informational environment. Information is naturally free, and the more we allow it to be ideologically unfettered, the more honest and useful it will be.
I would like to now devote a few words to the scourge of Antisemitism. In the struggle against this seemingly eternal plague, the DPI has made modest progress, but it is not enough. More effort needs to be made to combat Antisemitism, now growing increasingly virulent throughout our global community.
To this end, the DPI must work to educate against hatred and against the provocation to hate. Incitement is endemic and rampant throughout the world. Too many schoolchildren are taught the language of extremism and violence, instead of the language of hope and peace. Incitement makes soldiers out of children, and makes peace impossible for yet another generation. This phenomenon is especially noticeable in the Middle East, and particularly among our Palestinian neighbors.
We believe that the DPI should act to counter this negative force in the world today. Let us use the immense power of information to combat racism, Antisemitism, sexism, and every other form of intolerance.
Let us better inform the world's citizenry in order to better the world.
Israel is proud to have been a member of the COI for a number of years, and we are once again participating in this discussion with the hope that our call for greater fairness and evenhandedness will be heard and heeded. In closing, we would like to again commend Under-Secretary Tharoor, and the members of the DPI for their continuing efforts. We hope that by next year's session we will be able to confer to the DPI our more hearty congratulations.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.***