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United Nations: Israel & the WEOG

Within the confines of the United Nations, all member states are unofficially divided into one of five regional groups that help facilitate elections of states to U.N. bodies and form common fronts for negotiations and voting.

Formed in 1961, the five regional groups are: Asian Group, African Group, Eastern European Group, Latin America & Caribbean Group (GRULAC) and the Western European & Others Group (WEOG). Of these, the WEOG is the only group which is not purely geographical but rather based on a geopolitical breakdown, namely states that share the Western-Democratic common denominator.

For nearly four decades, however, Israel was the only member state with a permanent representative at the U.N. that was excluded from all of the regional groupings, a result of the rejection by Arab states of Israel’s membership into the Asian Group, Israel’s natural geographic regional group. As a result of this exclusion, Israel could not sit on any U.N. body where membership in a regional group was required, including the Security Council, Human Rights Council or the Economic & Social Council.

Furthermore, Israel could not be elected to leadership positions on the vast majority of bodies in the U.N. system, where voting is based on membership in a regional group. Thus, Israel was unable to serve in a variety of positions, including President of the General Assembly or on any committee or programme bureau where representation was based on regional distribution. Israel’s exclusion was a clear violation of the principle of sovereign equality enshrined in the U.N. Charter.

In May 2000, this discrimination against the Jewish State began to change. At that time, Israel became a temporary member of the WEOG in New York and its membership in this body was granted a permanent renewal in May 2004. As a result, Israel has been able to be nominated for inclusion on the Security Council and other important U.N. bodies based in New York.

While Israel's admission to WEOG New York helped to partially rectify an obvious anomaly, the positive implications of the move were softened because Israel would still be excluded from the regional group system at other U.N. locations such as Geneva, Nairobi and Rome.

In November 2013, Israel was finally admitted to WEOG Geneva, an important move that allows Israel to join WEOG meetings in Geneva and exert some influence on the Human Rights Council.

"For far too long Israel has been unfairly excluded from regional bodies at the United Nations," U.S. Ambassador Samatha Power said in a statement. "This long-overdue decision brings Geneva in line with the decision to admit Israel into WEOG in New York in 2000, which continues to pay dividends more than a decade later."

Israel's U.N. Mission said that "after decades of discrimination, a historical wrong has been corrected. Israel's voice will finally be heard loud & clear in WEOG in Geneva."

Sources: Israel's Mission to the UN; Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; JTA (May 25, 2004); ABC News (December 2, 2013)