Stars and gripes: how Israel's man at the UN is making a spectacle of himself

Gilad Erdan's confrontational style, forged by decades as a Likud political operator, has not gone down so well in New York

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan said the stars were 'a symbol of pride' and a reminder of history. Reuters
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When UN Secretary General António Guterres said last month that the October 7 Hamas attacks “did not happen in a vacuum” and came after 56 years of “suffocating occupation”, Israel's ambassador to the world body was quick to call for his resignation.

A fuming Gilad Erdan told the Israeli Army Radio: “The time has come to teach [the UN] a lesson.”

Three weeks later, Mr Guterres is still in his job and Mr Erdan has continued to draw attention for high-profile incidents that have raised eyebrows among fellow diplomats.

At a recent UN Security Council meeting on the Israel-Gaza war, Mr Erdan wore a yellow Star of David by his left lapel, emblazoned with the words: “Never Again.”

The Nazis forced Jews to wear similar patches during the Second World War.

Mr Erdan said the stars were “a symbol of pride, a reminder that we swore to fight back to defend ourselves”, adding that anti-Semites had been empowered and hatred of Jews was growing in many countries.

Dani Dayan, chairman of Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem, criticised Mr Erdan for wearing the patch, saying in a Hebrew post on X that the ambassador was dishonouring “both the victims of the Holocaust and the state of Israel".

Mr Erdan in September was escorted from the General Assembly by security officers after staging a protest as Iran's President Ibrahim Raisi began his address to the UN's annual gathering.

He held up a placard with a picture of Mahsa Amini, who died in morality police custody last year after being arrested in Tehran, and a message that read: “Iranian women deserve freedom now.”

Israel’s ambassador escorted from UN

Israel’s ambassador escorted from UN

Mr Guterres has sought to contextualise his comments on the situation in Gaza, saying they have been “misinterpreted”. But many in Israel saw the remarks as proof of anti-Israeli bias at the UN.

According to Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow at Chatham House, Mr Erdan's reaction to the UN chief's comments had been “way over the top".

He is known for “jumping the gun in his statements”, Mr Mekelberg told The National.

Mr Erdan's office declined requests for an interview.

One senior Israeli official told Haaretz that Mr Erdan “thinks more about the Likud party primaries than about Israel's political and diplomatic efforts".

Likud is the right-wing political party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Political analyst Karim Bitar told The National that the Arab world perceives Mr Erdan's behaviour at the UN as “completely ludicrous”.

“He is a typical example of Israeli propaganda on steroids … he wanted to make a splash at the United Nations but these gimmicks no longer influence public opinion at large,” Mr Bitar said.

"Considering the pressure and disproportionate scrutiny that he is put through as he defends his country, he has one of the toughest jobs in the world because the UN system acts as the foreign ministry of the Palestinian cause," a former western UN diplomat told The National.

Born in 1970 in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Mr Erdan has built a political career marked by unwavering opposition to Palestinian statehood and a strong backing of Israel's expansionist policies.

His early political involvement goes back to the 1990s, when he actively opposed the Oslo Accords, a series of agreements intended to lay the groundwork for Palestinian statehood.

His political trajectory gained significant momentum after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

As he was preparing to join the Mossad intelligence agency, Ariel Sharon, a renowned right-wing former general and Likud party member, invited Mr Erdan to join his political team in preparation for the 1996 elections.

He later became an adviser to Mr Netanyahu.

Mr Erdan later assumed the position of chairman of the Young Likud faction and secured his own election to the Knesset in 2003.

When Ariel Sharon left Likud, Mr Erdan emerged as one of the most vocal critics of Israel's 2005 disengagement from Gaza, even opposing his former mentor.

He was chosen by Mr Netanyahu in 2020 to serve as Israel’s envoy to the UN and Washington, but resigned from the latter post after Mr Netanyahu was ousted from power in June 2021, saying he felt the government led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid should select its own envoy.

Now, Mr Erdan occupies the same desk where Mr Netanyahu once attracted international recognition during his term as the UN ambassador in the 1980s.

Of his future aspirations and the possibility of becoming prime minister one day, Mr Erdan who is serving as Israel's UN ambassador until 2024, told the Israeli media outlet Forward in 2021 that his current role at the UN “will assist me in determining whether I have the capability to do so in the future".

"He prefers straight forward talk and enjoys using the Israeli Hutspa that may rob some people of their comfort but it always comes with a charming smile that gets you to listen and eventually agree with him," journalist Tsipi Ben Haim told The National.

Updated: November 18, 2023, 2:14 PM