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During Geraldine Ferraro's 19941996 stint as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, she was one of the few delegates to oppose a host of popular initiatives championed by African and other nonwhite nations. There are also indications--contrary to claims she is making in her campaign for the U.S. Senate--that Ferraro resisted efforts to condemn anti-Semitism in a historic UN resolution.
Her opposition to a ban on the international export of hazardous wastes, the calling of a world conference on racism, affirmative action in the staffing of the Centre for Human Rights, and the inclusion of a national "right to development" in the UN pantheon of rights put her at odds with the overwhelming majority of the 53 nations that make up the commission at Geneva. Were her positions widely known now, they might also put her at odds with black, Latin, Asian, Jewish, and other liberal voters in the September 15 primary. Mark Green, who is also running in the primary, told the Voice he would have backed the UN resolutions; Ferraro's other challenger, Chuck Schumer, did not respond to inquiries.
While Ferraro was hardly free to make U.S. policy on these issues, she did play a role in shaping it, and in some instances her stance differed from her Clinton-connected predecessor's or successor's. In a written response to Voice questions, her press office insisted that her UN positions were "the administration's point of view, not always her own." She has, however, often cited actions she took as ambassador that could help her with New York voters, such as her insistence in campaign literature that she successfully "fought against singling out Israel for unfair criticism at the UN." If she takes credit for Clinton policies supported by most local voters, she can expect blame when they are not.
Her reported reluctance to back the anti-Semitism amendment is drawn largely from an account by New York Post columnist Ed Koch, who accused her in March 1994 of "weeks of disinterest" on the issue. "She only pushed after receiving a telephone call from Washington reading her the riot act," Koch wrote. Edgar Bronfman of the World Jewish Congress and Morris Abram of UN Watch pressed her to include anti-Semitism among the forms of racism listed. But, according to Koch, "she declined, indicating she was more concerned with women's issues and supporting a positive message on the Israel/PLO peace process."
UN minutes indicate that Ferraro, who Koch says was "outraged
that the Jewish community had brought her inaction to the State Department's attention," did add a second reference to anti-Semitism to the Turkish resolution. But the minutes disclose no U.S. role in the placement of anti-Semitism in the resolution's preamble.
Nonetheless, Ferraro's literature says that "under her leadership, the U.S. delegation successfully initiated the first resolution" on anti-Semitism, fulfilling the Koch prediction that Ferraro "will claim it as her victory." Koch, who says he stands by his story, would "not attack her now on the issue" because she is a "supporter of Israel" but noted that "other people can."
One Jewish leader appointed to the UN delegation by Ferraro, Howard Squadron, takes issue with the Koch version, insisting that she asked him "in the very beginning" to do a speech on the issue. Squadron, who has endorsed Ferraro, said there were "complaints to the State Department about supposed foot-dragging," but it was "a bum rap on Gerry." Though Squadron is very specific about approaches he made to get the resolution passed, he can't point to a single Ferraro action.
Squadron attributes the passage of the amendment to the temporary "lovefest" that followed the September 1993 Rabin/Arafat handshake on the White House lawn. Nonetheless, Ferraro has not only laid claim to the anti-Semitism amendment, but to winning the "first positive resolution about the peace process," even though the UN General Assembly passed its endorsement 155-3 months before the Human Rights Commission.
Ironically, one of the excuses Ferraro is said to have given Bronfman and Abram for not pushing the resolution on anti-Semitism--namely, that she was "more concerned with women's issues"--also comes up in the context of a speech she delivered at the commission in 1996 against a third global conference on racism. Critics point out that she and Hillary Clinton headed the U.S. delegation to Beijing in 1995--amid great fanfare--for the Fourth World Conference on Women.
UN minutes indicate that Ferraro "did not support" a racism conference because of its estimated $2 million cost, adding that she did not favor any more UN gatherings until the recommendations of the far more costly women's event were implemented. One Ferraro concern might've been that U.S. policies, particularly on immigration and the death penalty, were slated for conference review. This year, however, a black American delegate, Betty King, spoke positively about the conference, set now for 2001, saying the U.S. "planned to participate actively."
Ferraro's three-year, part-time UN post was her only public service since she left Congress at the end of 1984, and she frequently cites it as "foreign policy experience" that her opponents lack. She mentioned it in the third paragraph of her announcement speech in January, recalling "the ideals I fought for in that forum" and saying it taught her "what America at its best means to all the world."