“When Mahmoud Abbas came out the entire room was cheering like Jesus himself had just got up on the stage, like a rock star had just come out.”
This is the description Natalie Solomon, manager of the Israel Programs of Taglit-Birthright‘s Alumni Community, gives of Mahmoud Abbas’s entry into the UN General Assembly Hall Thursday. She was the leader of the small group of young Israel supporters who were originally refused admission to the assembly hall at Thursday’s “The Question of Palestine” debate that concluded in a vote to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority to non-member status.
In the end the group was allowed into the hall–sort of.
Anne Bayefsky, the director of the Touro Institute, the umbrella organization offering the Taglit group entry, and who was also denied entry, told the Algemeiner in an email: “After multiple calls to UN officials from the missions of at least two countries, as well as members of the media, the Touro Institute was notified 90 minutes before the start of the afternoon session in the General Assembly that they had been granted a total of 11 passes – enough for half the group.”
Solomon and her group immediately felt marginalized once they were given entry. “We were a group of 12 and that was it, everybody else was visibly, you could tell once the cheering started, was not in a pro-Israel frame of mind,” Solomon said. “If there were any other pro-Israel groups there they didn’t identify themselves –I didn’t see or hear them.”
“We found ourselves in a sea of Palestinian supporters – including the 100 brought in by the UN’s own Division for Palestinian Rights. (In total there were about 320 seats in the visitor’s gallery, with some reserved for members of the press),” Bayefsky added. “Revealingly, during Abbas’ lengthy speech the outbursts of clapping across the gallery would commence before the translation of the Arabic sentence into other languages had finished. It was an exercise in what one might call Benghazi-style spontaneity,” she concluded.
Solomon said that while the crowd cheered for Abbas, “when the Israel ambassador was speaking you could hear a pin drop. There were two or three points when we clapped and afterward we stood up and gave him a standing ovation.”
“Seeing just how many supporters there were of Mahmoud Abbas was really overwhelming,” said Solomon, but she emphasized that ultimately the group felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to be there. “The twelve of us were there knowing how much had gone into making sure that we would not be there; they were trying to prevent any moderate or neutral voice from entering. It was awkward, it felt like once again it was us against the world, it felt like that in such a pronounced way, understanding just how much the court of public opinion is against Israel. It was just us, in terms of what I believe, and our organization believes is the voice of reason.”
“It really hit home how much the cards are stacked against Israel,” Solomon concluded, stressing “The impact that this had on the birthright Israel Alumni, to feel the bias in the international community, surrounding you for three hours.”