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Defending Israel Inside The UN Mission

Ambassador Prosor felt it was very important to be heard, and to be heard you have to be different.

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Aviva Klompas

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At the United Nations, Israel has few friends – the US being one of them – as it is constantly being barraged by one-sided condemnations, biased resolutions, decades-long enmity and global indifference. 

One thing that Israel cannot do is stand quietly, as that would be accepting the false narrative from its enemies. On the world stage, Israel protests, speaks out and exclaims to the nations that it is being treated unjustly. But what occurs with regard to their responses, in the lead-up to the podium, is largely unknown. Until now.

Aviva Klompas has the inside story, having served as the Director of Speechwriting for Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York City. Klompas crafted highly acclaimed speeches for Ambassador Ron Prosor, that advanced Israel’s policies and informed public opinion.

During Klompas’ time at the UN, several major events occurred, including the collapse of four Middle Eastern states, the international “Iran deal” that gave the Islamic state $150 billion, countless anti-Israel resolutions, the Palestinians’ bid to join the International Criminal Court, the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, and fifty days of war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and on and on.

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Her just-released book, Speaking for Israel: a speechwriter battles anti-Israel opinions in the United Nations, is a memoir about her time as speechwriter for Israel at the United Nations.

It is a fascinating look inside the inner workings of the UN, as only a speechwriter could describe, a candid and surprising examination of how the Israeli delegation—and Israel as a whole—is perceived, and treated, in the international body.

The book includes a preface by Alan Dershowitz, one of America’s most famous lawyers, authors and Israel defenders. 

Klompas, a Toronto native, is currently the Associate Vice President of Israel & Global Jewish Citizenship at Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston, and previous to her speechwriting for the UN, had worked for the Ontario government.

TheJ.ca asked Klompas to talk about the trials and tribulations of her speechwriting  job, and Israel’s struggles in the UN.

Aviva Klompas

Why did you decide to write the book?

Aviva: I wrote this book, partially, to tell my story – the current events of what was happening in the Middle East while I was doing this job were pretty interesting. 

The other reason I wrote this book is that there are so many people working in the Israeli Foreign Ministry or representing Israel and Embassies or Missions around the world and it’s tireless and thankless work. These are not well-paying jobs. 

It’s hard to be relocated to a new country – especially to a place like the UN. This is stressful work, where you always feel like you are reacting to something in the world. It’s long hours. It always feels like it is an uphill battle by the nature of the bias at the UN. They came to work and did the job. I think, it’s a little bit my story, but it’s really our story. I guess I wanted to tell that story of the people doing this. It’s very few people that make the headlines – the ambassador, maybe the deputy ambassador, maybe the foreign minister – but what about everyone else that is doing it day in and day out? 

What was the office culture like? 

Aviva: I recall that if I wanted to get a speech reviewed, it’s not like you could book time to come at this time. It was, sort of, come to the office and see if you could squeeze yourself in. 

Certainly, Israelis are much more direct in their feedback which is, for better or for worse. At first it is startling, but then you get to understand that it’s not personal, this is just what I think. There is a certain freedom once you can understand that. But it certainly took some getting used to. 

Could you give me a specific example on a time where you locked horns with your Israeli counterparts. 

Aviva: There is an example that I write about in the book where we were giving a speech for an event that was to raise awareness in of efforts in Israel by a particular NGO to support children with autism. There was an exhibit of paintings by children set up by the UN. I was writing remarks for a reception that the ambassador would be attending. It happened to also be when there were elections for Israel’s president. 

Our spokesperson had been interested in revising the remarks wanted to add a more political note to it. I felt it wasn’t the right thing to do. We don’t have to always politicize everything Israel does. There is plenty of good news stories and apolitical situations and this could be an opportunity for that. 

On the other hand, the spokesperson thought that nice stories don’t always make news, and if there is an opportunity to garner attention for our work, then take the opportunity. So, we were coming at it from two different perspectives. I remember we were totally at odds about which way it should go. The chief of staff happened to come by and say, ‘Here’s a compromise. Why don’t we say we will invite the President of Israel to come to the UN, and be able to see the amazing work that is going on.’ So, it was halfway in between having this political note, and not making it all about sensationalizing the politics of it all. 

Aviva Klompas

 

What would you say is the toughest part of the job? 

Aviva: Learning to write in someone else’s voice, and to learn the things they wanted to say and didn’t want to say. If it was me speaking, I’d want to say it one way. As a speech writer, you have to learn to appreciate that’s the person that is going to be live and on the record. That’s the person that is going to be archived and be on the news. That is the person who has to be able to stand by what they are saying. So, your own opinions or personal style has to take a back seat to the person you are writing for. It’s not always easy. It took me a long time to be able to write well for Ambassador Ron Prosor – he has a very distinct style. He is, by his own rights, extremely articulate, funny, charming, and intelligent. To be able to write for somebody like that takes time. 

Tell me about a backfire, something you thought would go one way but really did not. 

Aviva: Lots. One example was very early on, as I’m learning to write his style, I kept being told, ‘Be more direct. Be more assertive about things.’ I couldn’t really figure out when, where, or how. There was one instance where there had been an incident in Israel with its neighbor where Syria had fired on an Israeli post. It wasn’t the first time. It has happened before. The natural course of events is that Syria will write an outrage letter to the UN telling their side of the story, and Israel will do the same thing. I took it to the ambassador to review. He read it quietly to himself and said, ‘I believe that you have declared war on Syria in this letter.’ Then, he continued, ‘To be clear, you don’t have any authority to declare war.’ All the time, I didn’t get it quite right. 

What was most unexpected?

 Aviva: My boss. He, certainly, took an unexpected approach to diplomacy. One example is that I nicknamed him ‘The Singing Diplomat’. He’d be all too happy to break out into song in the middle of a speech, whether it be a song about African nations –which got him a standing ovation from some of the African nations in the General Assembly. That was an unexpected way to see someone approach diplomacy. His perspective was that there were so many countries at the UN, speeches given. Most countries don’t have a full time speech writer on staff, so they are written by a technical expert. They can be dry and not entirely lively. Ambassador Prosor felt it was very important to be heard, and to be heard you have to be different. He really leaned into it because he wanted people to listen to what he was saying. He knew he had to capture attention to get people to listen. 

With all these dictatorships in all these countries –could you, in theory, have a congenial relationship with the staff of Saudi Arabia? 

 Aviva: It is important to know that at the United Nations, there is what you see on the surface and then what’s going on behind closed doors. Certainly, diplomats had relationships would countries that don’t have formal political or diplomatic ties with Israel. Now, would they want to be photographed on the front of the New York Times? Absolutely not. But did that preclude them from getting together to have discussions? No. 

 Could you, as speechwriter, hang out with an ‘enemy state’ in the lunchroom? 

 Aviva: The first mistake in that question is the premise that I actually have time to sit for lunch. We’ll never know because I was far too overworked. 

 Tell me about an emergency session for you and how you coped with it. 

 Aviva: You can get a phone call any time of day or night, weekend and be told the Security Council is convening a special session, come down to the office we have to get writing. On the one hand, it didn’t happen very early on in my job. It happened when I had a little more experience. And it got to the point that I could write pretty fast. So, it wasn’t an absolute disaster. But still, you realize that you only have a few hours to pen what is going to be said, and emergency sessions tend to get a lot of publicity. So, it’s more than likely going to be live broadcast somewhere – certainly in Israeli media. 

Did any of your views of Israel change based on your newfound knowledge? 

 Aviva: I wouldn’t say my views changed. I’d say that my experience gave me a greater sense of what happens behind the scenes in international diplomacy and the ways in which Israel is working to find equality in the family of nations.

Is speech-writing for Israel a job you’d recommend to others? 

 Aviva: I write in my book that there is a certain mindset needed to work for Israel at the UN. You can’t be easily deterred by situations that seem unfair or unreasonable. You need a courage of conviction to deflect the constant attacks and brush aside the fact that systems and processes aren’t as simple as one might hope. It’s chaotic and haphazard. It’s hard work, long hours, and considerable stress. And you’re going to need to learn to write an endless number of quasi-funny one liners. 

Dave Gordon is the managing editor of TheJ.ca. His work has appeared in more than a hundred media around the world, including all of the Toronto dailies, BBC, Washington Times, and UK Guardian.

 
 
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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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