Thank You, Guatemala
Guatemala’s vote last month against the United Nations resolution opposing the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, has since earned the South American country little but opprobrium — and worse — from the Palestinians, their supporters and a host of others.
The secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Saeb Erekat, vowed that the Palestinians would “punish” Guatemala for its vote. The Palestinian Authority termed the vote a “shameful” act, with its comrade-in-arms, Bolivian president Evo Morales, charging Guatemala with “having sold its dignity to the empire [the United States] to not lose crumbs from USAID.” Hamas, not to be outdone, called Guatemala’s action “a grave offense against our people,” and a “flagrant violation … of our rights.”
Eight other countries, led by the United States, voted against the resolution; 128 voted for it, 35 abstained, and 21 were absent for the vote, which took place on December 21. Headlines around the world called the vote a “repudiation,” a “condemnation” and a “dramatic rebuke” of the Trump administration.
Still other critics wrote off Guatemala’s vote as being influenced only by President Jimmy Morales’ evangelical Christian faith.
The fact that 128 countries supported the resolution — many of which, like Germany, France and the United Kingdom could have, at the very least abstained — doesn’t make it right.
Guatemala’s vote, which is being characterized by Evo Morales and many others as simply a play to curry favor with the Trump administration, is unfounded. Guatemala’s record as a friend of Israel dates to the very founding of the Jewish state. Seventy years ago, Guatemalan Ambassador to the United Nations Jorge Garcia Granados assembled a group of Latin American countries to back the UN partition plan.
His commitment was on full display when, at one of the debates at the UN Special Committee on Palestine, he said: “The Jewish state is the reparation that humanity owes to a people that, for 2,000 years, without guilt and without defense, have suffered humiliation and martyrdom.” Indeed, Granados cast the very first vote for the establishment of the state of Israel, and Guatemala was the first Latin American country to recognize Israel after her statehood was declared in May 1948.
In 1956, Guatemala became the first country to open an embassy in Jerusalem (with Granados appointed as its first ambassador). Guatemala and Granados are already memorialized in Israel; a number of cities, including Jerusalem, have streets named after them.
While Guatemala did move its embassy to Herzliya in 1980, in the midst of the oil embargo and intense pressure from the United Nations and the Arab world, it has now announced the relocation of the embassy back to Jerusalem.
With the UN Human Rights Commission (now Human Rights Council) zeroing in on Palestinian-inspired one-sided resolutions against Israel some 20 years ago, it was Guatemala’s ambassador to the UN, Antonio Arenales, who consistently resisted immense pressure and voted against those measures, often together with the United States and a few other countries.
Arenales also represented Guatemala at the infamous 2001 Durban Conference on Racism, where Israel was the subject of an unprecedented hate fest.
Between 2006 and 2014, reflecting changes at its foreign ministry, Guatemala did an uncharacteristic diplomatic U-turn and was supportive of the Palestinian narrative at the UN, and in other international forums. That changed in 2015, and has been on a positive track since then.
No doubt, with its December 6 vote on Jerusalem, and with its embassy move in sight, bilateral relations between Israel and Guatemala will surely take another leap forward. Cooperation in many fields has long marked relations between the two countries. In the 1960s, an Israeli cousin of mine — a veteran kibbutznik — served as an agricultural advisor in Central America, based in Guatemala.
Clearly, even the 35 countries that abstained on the vote had misgivings about endorsing a resolution that blasted Israel’s right to name its own capital. After 70 years, it was the right thing to do.
At the UN General Assembly, Guatemala did not only what was diplomatically correct, but what was morally correct, as well. Guatemala has been a good friend of Israel, and has stood against the tide of political correctness and the usual herd mentality at the United Nations. It has now come under unjustified, withering criticism and bullying for doing so.
Instead, Guatemala should be thanked for its contribution to sanity and decency in the community of nations, a group woefully short on both.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the executive vice president and CEO of B’nai B’rith International. As the organization’s top executive officer, Mariaschin directs and supervises B’nai B’rith programs, activities and staff around the world.