Why Israel is Drinking From Juice Cans at the UN

JUSCANZ (pronounced “juice cans” — really!) is UN-speak for a collection of non-European Union states that often form a negotiating bloc at UN bodies and committees. The acronym stands for Japan, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which were the original members. Over the years, its membership was extended to Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and Switzerland.

And now, JUSCANZ can add another member to its bloc at a key UN committee: Israel.

Today, for the first time, Israel joined the JUSCANZ bloc at the UN’s Third Committee, which is a committee of the General Assembly that deals with social, humanitarian and cultural issues.

This is a big deal for Israel and for the UN. Let me explain.

At UN committees and conferences like-minded countries often form negotiating caucuses to collectively advance their mutual interests and goals. These caucuses include the European Union, the aforementioned JUSCANZ, and the “G-77” (a collection of developing countries), among others. Negotiating caucuses  are not to be confused with “regional groupings” at the UN, which are (mostly) geographically-linked countries.  A set number of seats at UN bodies like the Security Council and Human Rights Council are reserved for specific regions based on the number of countries in that region. These groups are Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and “WEOG” (which stands for Western Europe and Others and includes the USA, Canada, Australia)

Israel is a special case at the United Nations. For most of its history it was excluded from membership to a regional group and negotiating bodies. It should be in the Asia regional group, but Arab countries in the region block it from membership for political reasons. In 2000, then-Ambassador Richard Holbrooke helped secure Israel membership to WEOG for UN bodies headquartered in New York (like the Security Council). In 2013, the Obama administration helped secure Israel membership to WEOG for UN bodies in Geneva, like the Human Rights Council. Theoretically, Israel is now capable of becoming a member of the Human Rights Council and Security Council, whereas before joining WEOG it had no pathway to membership.

Israel has also historically been excluded from joining  the informal negotiating blocs, which undermined its ability to contribute to deliberations in various UN committees. This began to change in 2009 when the Obama administration convinced other members of JUSCANZ to let Israel join the bloc. (This leaked memo offers insight into how the Obama administration pressed the last holdout–New Zealand–into letting Israel join).  But being a member of JUSCANZ at one committee does not automatically make a country a member of JUSCANZ for another committee. So although Israel joined JUSCANZ for the first time in Geneva for the Human Rights Council in 2010 it was not until today that Israel finally joined JUSCANZ in all relevant UN Committees in New York and Geneva.

This is a big deal for Israel and the UN. Membership to JUSCANZ helps Israel advance its national interests as part of a negotiating bloc of like-minded countries, which is a privilege that every other UN member state enjoys.  For the UN, this is significant because it undermines the perception that the UN is systematically anti-Israel.  To be sure, many countries around the world use UN forums to air their grievances and concerns about Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. But the clear trajectory is toward a UN system that is becoming more welcoming of Israel to its formal bodies and informal negotiating blocs.