NEW YORK: Dozens of American rabbis disrupted a meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday to demand that Washington stops preventing the UN Security Council from taking urgent action in support of an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza.
During their protest — led by the organization Rabbis 4 Ceasefire and co-organized by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jewish Voice for Peace, and IfNotNow — the 36 rabbis, who came from several states, sang, prayed, recited excerpts from the UN Declaration of Human Rights and staged a memorial service. They carried banners that read “Biden: The World Says Ceasefire” and called on the US president to “stop vetoing peace.”
After they were escorted from the premises by security staff, they held a press conference outside the UN. Rabbi Alissa Wise, the founder of Rabbis 4 Ceasefire, said they have been watching in horror as the US government has “single-handedly blocked efforts to stop Israel’s bombing and starvation of Gaza.”
She added: “We know there is no military solution to this violence. We’re praying here because the UN is where meaningful, diplomatic action to stop the violence can take place, and because prayer is how we, as rabbis, know how to express our fears, dreams, hopes and despair.”
Rabbi Abby Stein, a member of Jews For Racial and Economic Justice, said the UN was created in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Nazi Holocaust that targeted Jewish people, with the intention of ensuring that such an atrocity would never happen again.
“I am here as a Jew, as an ordained rabbi, as the granddaughter of three Holocaust survivors, to urge the UN to follow through on this noble mission,” she said. “‘Never again’ means never again for anyone.”
Rabbi Elliot Kukla said: “The US is defending the indefensible at a General Assembly, using its veto power to single-handedly block the UN from taking meaningful action for a ceasefire.
“I am here as a rabbi because Jewish tradition demands that we do everything in our power to save lives, which means getting humanitarian assistance to Palestinians who are being displaced, are starving and have nowhere safe to shelter as bombs rain down.
“Our government refuses to represent this overwhelmingly popular demand; we came here directly to represent ourselves and our Jewish values.”
Tuesday’s meeting came after the US vetoed a proposal by Russia to amend a Security Council resolution to include a call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
On Dec. 22, the council adopted a resolution, drafted by the UAE, calling for increased aid to the Gaza Strip, including urgent steps including safe, unhindered and expanded humanitarian access to the territory. The US abstained from the vote among the 15-member council but did not use its power of veto and so the resolution was adopted.
Russia had proposed an amendment to the resolution calling for “an urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities.” The US vetoed this proposed change.
A General Assembly resolution dictates that whenever a member of the Security Council uses its power of veto, it triggers a meeting and debate in the assembly to scrutinize and discuss the move.
Robert Wood, the US deputy permanent representative to the UN, said that although the US had abstained from voting, it had nonetheless worked “in good faith” to help forge a strong resolution.
“This work supports the direct diplomacy the US is engaged in to get more humanitarian aid into Gaza and to help get hostages out of Gaza,” he added.
Alluding to the Russian amendment, Wood accused Moscow of putting forward ideas that were “disconnected from the situation on the ground.”
He said it was “deeply troubling that so many member states seem to have stopped talking about the plight of the more than 100 hostages being held by Hamas and other groups. The United States remains committed to bringing all of the hostages home. Every single one.”
He added: “It is also striking that even as we hear many countries urging the end to this conflict, which we would all like to see, we hear very few demands of the initiator of this conflict — Hamas — to stop hiding behind civilians, lay down its arms and surrender.
“This would have been over if Hamas’s leaders had done that. It would be good if there was a strong international voice pressing Hamas’s leaders to do what is necessary to end the conflict that they set in motion on Oct. 7.”
Riyad Mansour, the permanent observer of the State of Palestine to the UN, said he stood before the General Assembly “representing a people being slaughtered, with families killed in their entirety, men and women shot in the streets, thousands abducted, tortured and humiliated, children killed, amputated, orphaned — scarred for life.”
It is incomprehensible, he added, that the Security Council is still being prevented from calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire even though 153 member states in the General Assembly, and the UN’s secretary-general, had called for exactly that.
Israel’s “war of atrocities” is without precedent in modern history, Mansour said. “This is not about Israeli security, this is about Palestine’s destruction,” he continued. “The interests and objectives of this extremist Israeli government are clear, and incompatible with the interests and objectives of any country that supports international law and peace”
He asked: “How can you reconcile opposing the atrocities and vetoing a call to end the war that is leading to their commission?”
Called for “this schizophrenia” to stop, he added: “Don’t call for peace and spread fire. If you want peace, start with a ceasefire. Now.”
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, denounced the calls for a ceasefire while Israeli hostages are still held captive.
“How morally bankrupt has this body become?” ha asked. He said that “despite the UN’s moral rot,” the citizens of Israel are resilient, with the faith, hope and unbreakable resolve to defend themselves.
He accused the UN of ignoring the Israeli victims of the conflict, caring only about Gazans, and becoming “an accomplice to terrorists,” and said the organization had lost the justification for its existence.
The UN “has been obsessed only with the well-being of people in Gaza,” those who put Hamas in power and supported the group’s atrocities, Erdan said, adding: “You ignore all Israeli victims.”
Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Anna Evstigneeva, said that when Washington it used its veto in the Security Council on Dec. 22, it was guilty of playing an “unscrupulous game” in its attempts to protect Israel over its actions in Gaza.
She said that through the use of blackmail and arm-twisting, the US had given Israel a license to carry on killing Palestinians and its blessing to “the ongoing extermination of the Gazans,” which was why Moscow had proposed its amendment.