First Israeli elected to UN rights committee for the disabled

Odelia Fitoussi, disabled herself, has been an activist in the field for years in Israel.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Odelia Fitoussi on Monday became the first Israeli elected to serve on the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Fitoussi, 43, is herself confined to a wheelchair, as she was born with muscular dystrophy. An art therapist and a strong advocate for others with disabilities, fighting especially for the hiring of more disabled teachers in Israel’s schools, she has pushed the government to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“I feel privileged to be a member of the CRPD, the place where Israel was a partner in creating a new language for people with disabilities, a language of rights, of pride in who you are, in our uniqueness as people with disabilities who enrich society with all the good we have built,” she said in reaction to her election to the four-year term.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry and UN mission have been advocating for Fitoussi over the past year among their colleagues from around the world. Her candidacy for one of the nine positions on the committee was supported by 109 countries, getting her in on the first round of voting.

“It represents a true triumph of the human spirit,” said Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan, who convinced even some Arab countries to vote for Fitoussi. “Israel’s extensive experience in the field of rights for people with disabilities will contribute greatly to the committee’s activities and will have a positive influence on the lives of many around the world. I am sure that Odelia will be an excellent ambassador and achieve great things.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called to congratulate Fitoussi “for this important achievement,” saying that he appreciates “her ability and talents, which led to her election to a significant and important position in the international arena.”

“All of Israel is proud of you,” he said as he wished her success in her new position.

Fitoussi described herself as an optimist “who believes that things can be better” in a Foreign Ministry clip that presented her candidacy for the post.

“My true passion is to find a connection between people,” she explained. “I believe that there is something about disability that is a bridge to other people. And I want to use that value, that inspiration, to other groups of people.”

“The most important message that I want to send to the world is: Don’t be afraid to bring your uniqueness, the thing that only you in your own point of view can see…and it is something that enriches the world. It gives to the world another perspective.”

Her main aim on the CRPD, she said, is to advance the concept that disabled people should live in, and be part of, the normative community without needing “to spend a lot of money to have this simple right in life.”