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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Diplomatic anecdote

From TNR, by :
I was 25 years old, downtown-bound on the four train, when I recognized a girl further down the subway car. It's hard to say why--it wasn't romantic, and I'm not a big subway talker--but I found myself walking toward her. I had a secret.

Although I lived and worked in New York City, this woman--I'll call her Heather--was one of the few Americans I interacted with during the course of a typical workday. While in law school, I had applied for an internship at the Israeli U.N. Mission. Instead, despite not even being Israeli, I was offered a full-time job as the Mission's speechwriter. I spent my evenings in law school, my nights frequenting bars with my American friends, my weekends playing softball in Central Park--and my days engaged in diplomatic warfare with half of the Arab world.

One of the perks of being a U.N. "diplomat" was free lunchtime language lessons, and I elected to take Arabic. I chose it simply because it seemed interesting, and at the time I was naïve enough not to anticipate that someone from the Israeli delegation taking Arabic classes at the U.N. might encounter some awkwardness. When the course started, I found that--save a couple of Scandinavians and Heather--everyone else served on delegations that refused to speak to Israel: Malaysia, Pakistan, Iran.

We all wore U.N. passes listing our countries, but I would tuck mine behind my tie, turn it backwards, or push it beneath my suit jacket. I wouldn't blame Israelis for finding that unfair or cowardly, but all I was trying to do was study a language, and I didn't relish the idea of bringing international politics into it. In truth, I was tired of international politics. I'm actually from Toronto, and had barely spent any time in Israel, but when I was at the U.N., the tag around my neck made it impossible for certain other diplomats to interact with me. During tedious meetings, I would sometimes amuse myself by looking in the direction of the Syrian or Lebanese diplomats just to see the efforts they would make to avoid eye contact with the Zionist entity.

Once, I was sitting alone at Israel's seat at a U.N. committee, and because of the absence of the Irish delegation, Iran was slated to sit directly beside me. When they broke U.N. protocol by refusing to do so, I mentioned it to my Israeli superiors. Accustomed to U.N. dynamics, they jokingly suggested that Iran had no problem sitting beside Israel, and simply didn't want to sit beside me.
The article goes on to have a somewhat happier ending.