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'US won't turn a blind eye anymore'

April 07, 2017 08:34 IST

'I wear heels. It's not for a fashion statement.'
'It's because if I see something wrong, we're going to kick them every single time.'
'If you challenge us, be prepared for what you're challenging us for, because we will respond.'

Nikki Haley AIPAC

IMAGE: US Ambassador Nikki Haley at the AIPAC Conference in Washington, DC.
Photograph: Kind courtesy PolicyConference.org.

 

In the less than three months after she was sworn in as the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Nikki Haley has positioned herself as a champion of Israel.

After a recent UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East, Haley told the media, 'The discussion today on the Middle East was not about Hezbollah's illegal buildup of rockets; it was not about the money and weapons that Iran provides to terrorists; it was not about how we defeat ISIS; it was not about how we hold Bashar Assad accountable. Instead, the meeting focused on criticising Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East."

'I'm here to say the United States will not turn a blind eye to this anymore,' she added.

Haley, who is firmly against the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement, also successfully mounted pressure on the UN secretary-general to have a report against Israel retracted.

Her actions made her a particularly popular speaker at the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference in Washington, DC.

Edited excerpts from her remarks at the conference:

That statement you made following the Security Council meeting on the Middle East. Were you surprised what you saw about the attitudes and discussions on the Middle East at the UN? What could be done to change it?

You know, I was confused. It was totally bizarre because in my first month, talking about the Middle East, there's a lot to talk about. And whether you're talking about Hezbollah or ISIS, all the issues in Syria, which is a problem, that's what I expected us to talk about.

I didn't expect an Israel-bashing session. And literally, listening to each member say the same thing over and over again, I knew they said it was bad, but until you hear it and you see it, you just can't comprehend how ridiculous it is.

So a lot of people here are just getting to know you for the first time. The theme of our conference this year is Many Voices, One Mission, celebrating the diversity of the pro-Israel cause. Can you talk a little bit about how you started to learn about Israel, your affinity for Israel?

Well, I am the daughter of Indian parents who reminded my brothers, my sister and me every day how blessed we were to live in this country. And the truth is, I have seen so many similarities between the Israeli culture and the Indian culture.

We're very close-knit. We love our families. We have a strong work ethic. We believe in professionalism and philanthropy and giving back. It's very true. So that's all the good things.

We're aggressive. We're stubborn. And we don't back down from a fight.

You recently said that any resolution of the Syrian civil war should not leave Iran in any control of territory, or influence in territory, where it could pose a threat to America's allies, including Israel.
So, from your perspective, at the UN what is the attitude about the enforcement of the Iran deal and how to hold Iran accountable?
Most importantly, how do we hold Iran accountable for the deal and for the threats it's posing?

It's concerning. And the reason it's concerning is because when the Iran deal took place, all it did was empower Iran, and it empowered Russia. And it emboldened Iran to feel like they could get away with more.

You can put sanctions on a country. To take sanctions away, it's very hard to go back and put sanctions back on.

So, what we have said is we're going to watch them like a hawk. We're going to make sure that every single thing they do is watched, processed, and dealt with.

But my concern is, you are seeing a lot of love for the Iran deal in the Security Council. And that's unfortunate. And why that was ever allowed to go through, why that was ever passed, is beyond me. I mean, it's terrible.

I want to quote from your first remarks -- your first public remarks as ambassador.
You said, regarding those countries, those nations, that don't have America's back at the UN -- I think everyone was sort of stunned when you said this because you said, 'We're taking names and we will make points to respond to that accordingly.'

So, specifically, what can the US do, what can the ambassador for the US do, to hold countries accountable to, as you said, don't -- to address the fact that many of them don't have America's back at the UN?

You want to see my list, don't you?

You know, basically what it comes down to is I'm not there to play. And what I wanted to make sure of was that the US started leading again. And leading isn't saying and doing things when it's comfortable.

Leading is saying and doing things when it's not comfortable.

So the goal was have the backs of our allies. Never again do what we saw happen with Resolution 2334 (stating that Israeli settlements in 'Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem' violate international law) and make anyone question our support.

When Resolution 2334 happened, and the US abstained, the entire country felt a kick in the gut.

We had just done something that showed the US at its weakest point ever. Never do we not have the backs of our friends. We don't have a greater friend than Israel. And to see that happen was not only embarrassing, it was hurtful.

So, what I can tell you is everyone at the UN is scared to talk to me about Resolution 2334. And I wanted them to know that, look, that happened, but it will never happen again.

So to answer the question on what can we do at the UN, we can do a lot.

The power of your voice is an amazing thing. So one, changing the culture of the UN is very important. And the way you change the culture of the UN is the US tells them what we're not going to put up with. We start to change the culture to what we should be talking about. And then we actually act on what we say.

I wear heels. It's not for a fashion statement. It's because if I see something wrong, we're going to kick them every single time.

So how are we kicking?

We're kicking by, number one, putting everybody on notice, saying that if you have our back -- we're going to have the backs of our friends, but our friends need to have our back too.

If you challenge us, be prepared for what you're challenging us for, because we will respond.

The next thing we did was we said, the days of Israel-bashing are over.

We have a lot of things to talk about. There are a lot of threats to peace and security.

But you're not going to take our number one democratic friend in the Middle East and beat up on them.

I think what you're seeing is they're all backing up a little bit. The Israel-bashing is not as loud. They didn't know exactly what I meant outside of giving the speech, so we showed them.

When they decided to try and put a Palestinian in one of the highest positions that had ever been given at the UN, we said no and we had him booted out.

That doesn't mean he wasn't a nice man. That doesn't mean he wasn't good to America.

What it means is, until the Palestinian Authority comes to the table, until the UN responds the way they're supposed to, there are no freebees for the Palestinian Authority anymore.

So, then they tested us again.

A ridiculous report, the Falk Report, came out. I don't know who the guy is or what he's about, but he's got serious problems. Goes and compares Israel to an apartheid State.

So the first thing we do is we call the secretary-general and say, this is absolutely ridiculous. You have to pull it.

The secretary-general immediately pulled the report. And then the director has now resigned.

Last thing. So, for anyone that says you can't get anything done at the UN, they need to know there's a new sheriff in town.

The session with Nikki Haley was moderated by Dan Senor, and investment professional and co-author of Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle.

The Rediff News Bureau / Rediff.com