Authorities are investigating death threats posted on the Internet against UN General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, his spokesman acknowledged on Monday. The spokesman, Enrique Yeves, did not identify the bloggers or their specific threats against D'Escoto.
He revealed the threats, which he said occurred within the past week, during a series of complaints about the Israelis, but he later denied there was any connection.
The threats are being taken seriously by UN security officials, who have called in US authorities for help in investigating, Yeves said.
"Very serious threats have appeared on the Internet against the life of the president of the General Assembly. This matter is being looked into by the pertinent authorities," he said. D'Escoto, a Roman Catholic priest from Nicaragua, has openly leftist views that have privately riled some of the UN's 192 member nations, but his spat with the Israelis is his first open clash.
He has long been a supporter of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, who once allied himself with Fidel Castro and the Soviet Union and won re-election as Nicaragua's president in 2006. D'Escoto was foreign minister of Nicaragua when the Sandinistas ruled in the 1980s.
Since assuming the General Assembly presidency, d'Escoto, who was born in Los Angeles, has not ceased to be a stern critic of the United States.
The sour relations between d'Escoto and the Israelis date to at least November, when he was quoted in The Jerusalem Post as saying that the international community should consider a boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel similar to those used against South Africa decades earlier.
The newspaper quoted d'Escoto saying that "Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories appear so similar to the apartheid of an earlier era, a continent away. I believe it is very important that we in the United Nations use this term. We must not be afraid to call something what it is."
Tempers flared up last week when the General Assembly commemorated the U.N.'s first worldwide proclamation that people have a right to live without being oppressed by their governments. Yeves noted Monday there had been several stories in the media saying that the president of the General Assembly tried to prevent the permanent representative of Israel from speaking. "This is a malicious and absolute lie that could best be characterized as 'slander' and in any court of law this is a criminal act," he said at routine press briefing. "Information from the media attributes senior diplomatic officials in the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations as the source for this irresponsible accusation."
Upon hearing D'Escoto's "latest outrageous statement," Gabriela Shalev, who is Israel's first woman UN ambassador, immediately called off her plans to meet with D'Escoto on Monday afternoon and try to make up, according to Shalev's spokeswoman, Mirit Cohen. "The role of the president of the General Assembly should be to unite the international community and promote shared interests and values. However, since his first days as president of the General Assembly, Mr. D'Escoto has been divisive and controversial, abusing his position," Cohen said.
Shalev, a 67-year-old law professor who speaks Arabic and spent her working life on university campuses in the US, Canada and Europe as well as in Israel, became Israel's top diplomat to the UN in early September.
D'Escoto's spokesman, Yeves, also made a point of reminding reporters Monday of the "arbitrary detention" of a UN human rights envoy for the Palestinians, Richard Falk, who was expelled Monday morning from Israel after landing at the airport Sunday. "He was attempting to carry out the obligations of his U.N. mandate," Yeves said, adding that Israel's action "reflects a dangerous decision."
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, said Falk has ready-made conclusions "and those conclusions are of course extreme, methodic criticism of Israel and only of Israel." Last week Falk called on the UN to pressure Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip, which he called "a crime against humanity."
Falk, a former professor at Princeton University who wrote an introduction to a book that questioned the Bush administration's explanation for the Sept 11 attacks, could not be reached for comment on Monday.