The 1975 “Zionism Is Racism” Resolution: The Rise, Fall, and Resurgence of a Libel

, May 2, 2010

No. 97

  • The singling out of Zionism as a supposed form of racism was a device invented by the Soviet Union to justify its refusal to condemn anti-Semitism during the negotiation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in the mid-1960s.
  • The failure of the Soviet-Arab strategy to expel Israel from the United Nations and replace it with Palestine led to the adoption in 1975 of UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 (XXX), which determined that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”
  • For almost a decade, Israel and the Jewish people remained passive and did not attempt to challenge Resolution 3379. They greatly underestimated its impact and the damage it caused all over the world,  expecting unrealistically that it would fade away by dint of its sheer inanity.
  • The resolution’s revocation in 1991 was not an inevitable outcome of the end of the Cold War but was achieved mainly by convincing the United States to take the lead on the issue; the ostensible UN “automatic majority” was a manifestation of lack of leadership. Today, the efforts to undermine Israel’s legitimacy come mainly from an NGO network inspired and supported by Israel’s enemies, calling for a new counterstrategy.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 (XXX) of 10 November 1975, defining Zionism as a form of racism, was revoked by the General Assembly sixteen years later on 16 December 1991.

The story of the rise and fall of this libel teaches a good deal about the role of anti-Semitism in international politics, its paralyzing effect on both the Jewish state and the Jewish people, and how such a libel was finally challenged successfully. Since the revocation of 3379, Israel’s international standing and legitimacy have steadily improved, increasing its ability to thwart ongoing attempts to negate its legitimacy.

How It Began

The idea of having Zionism condemned by the United Nations originated with the Soviet Union in the mid-1960s, before the Six Day War. It stemmed from the Soviet refusal to have anti-Semitism condemned by the UN. Since the Soviet Union could not openly voice such a position, it conditioned its acceptance of condemning anti-Semitism on a demand to condemn Zionism and Nazism. This occurred in 1964 and 1965 during the negotiation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination within the framework of the UN Commission on Human Rights.[1]

The Six Day War inflicted a severe blow on the Soviet Union’s weaponry and prestige, and it subsequently developed a more militant policy to regain and enlarge its influence in the Middle East. This policy was based on a near-total backing of the PLO. It was expected that this backing would bring both the “Arab street” and the Arab states to the Soviet Union’s side. This scheme went well and enabled the Soviet Union to gain strongholds in the Middle East, notably in Syria and Egypt, which were on the verge of becoming Soviet colonies.

The expulsion of the Soviet advisers from Egypt, the Israeli-Egyptian disengagement negotiations of November 1973, and the Israeli-Syrian disengagement agreement of May 1974 with the active involvement of the United States, apparently led to a Soviet-PLO plan to bring about Israel’s expulsion from the United Nations, with the PLO taking its place.[2]

On 22 November 1974, the PLO obtained UN observer status as a national liberation movement. In August 1975, the Organization of African Unity explicitly referred to depriving Israel of “its status as member.” At the General Assembly on 1 October 1975, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin called upon

the people of the United States of America…to rid their society from the Zionists in order that the true citizens of this nation may control their own destiny and exploit the natural resources of their country to their own benefit. I call for the expulsion of Israel from the United Nations and the extinction of Israel as a state so that the territorial integrity of Palestine may be ensured and upheld.[3]

In parallel, the Soviet Union and the PLO advanced an initiative to bring about a condemnation of Zionism. In December 1973, for the first time, Zionism was associated with racism in a General Assembly resolution on South Africa’s apartheid policy, condemning in particular “the unholy alliance between Portuguese colonialism, South African racism, Zionism and Israeli imperialism.”[4]

In July 1975, the Soviet Union and the PLO succeeded to have Zionism explicitly condemned at the UN International Women’s Year conference in Mexico City, which stressed in its final declaration that “Peace requires the elimination of colonialism, neocolonialism, foreign occupation, Zionism, apartheid and racial discrimination in all its forms.”[5] In August 1975, the Organization of African Unity in Kampala stated that “the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin…organically linked in their policy aimed at repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being”; while the Non-Aligned conference in Lima “severely condemned Zionism as a threat to world peace.”

Stern Western, above all American, opposition to Israel’s expulsion or suspension, notably an American warning that such a move would force the United States to reassess its UN membership,[6] thwarted this initiative – but also much increased the eagerness to advance a substitute for it, namely, the condemnation of Zionism as racism. This was formally achieved first within the framework of the Third Committee of the General Assembly on 16 October 1975, and then on 10 November 1975 by the GA plenary with Resolution 3379 (XXX), which “Determines that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” The Soviet-Arab coalition won by 72-35 with two abstentions.

Although this result was far from resounding and fell short of the one hundred and more votes this coalition was used to obtaining at the General Assembly, it was followed by an explosion of joy. As Judge Hadassa Ben Ito, then a member of the Israeli delegation to this session, strikingly described this:

It was not only an excitement. The hatred was crawling on the floor. People embraced as if they had won the biggest victory of their lives…. We felt like pariahs. It is not only a sentimental reflection…. We should know that it was not just another resolution of the United Nations. Somebody like myself, who has never really felt personally attacked by, or maligned by an act of anti-Semitism, really felt it physically while sitting there.[7]

Two procedural attempts to postpone the debate and the vote on the draft resolution were rejected. In the Third Committee, a motion put forth by Sierra Leone was defeated by 68-45. In the plenary, a Belgian motion was rejected by 67-55, with fifteen abstentions and five absences.

It is likely that a resolute and coordinated effort by the United States, Canada, Australia, Western Europe, and Latin American and African countries could have mustered the additional votes necessary to secure a postponement (see Table 1). But this did not occur, probably, on the one hand, out of relief that the most ominous threat, Israel’s expulsion from the United Nations, had been foiled, and on the other, out of the inner conviction that this farfetched, aberrant, and shameful resolution from “Um-shmum” – a play on words coined by David Ben-Gurion to express the UN’s impotency -would actually have no palpable weight and the UN would do its best to forget it.

Table 1: Voting Patterns on Resolution 3379 by Blocs

UN Body

Third Committee

Third Committee

Assembly Plenum

Assembly Plenum

Motions and resolutions

Sierra Leone

postponement

motion

A/C.3/L.2159

Belgium

postponement motion

UNGA

3379(XXX)

Blocs

Y

N

An

As

Y

N

An

As

Y

N

An

As

Y

N

An

As

Western    21

19

1

 

1

2

19

   

21

     

1

19

 

1

Latin America 26

10

5

7

4

5

8

6

7

17

3

6

 

5

10

11

 

Eastern Europe   10

 

10

   

9

 

1

   

9

 

1

9

   

1

Other Communist

countries 5

 

5

   

5

       

5

   

5

     

Arab

League   20

 

20

   

20

       

20

   

20

     

Muslim Countries 6

 

5

 

1

5

   

1

 

6

   

6

     

African  38

13

16

4

5

17

2

14

5

13

18

3

4

20

5

12

1

Middle Eastern    5

 

4

 

1

4

   

1

 

4

1

 

4

 

1

 

Asians   11

3

2

5

1

3

 

6

2

4

2

5

 

2

1

8

 

Total    142

45

68

16

13

70

29

27

16

55

67

15

5

72

35

32

3

Note: Y=Yes; N=No; An=Abstain; 4 As=Absent.

Source: Yohanan Manor, To Right a Wrong (New York: Shengold, 1996), 56.

The Jewish World’s Passive Posture

Except for the African American lawyer Eleanor Holmes-Norton’s statement[8] days after the resolution’s adoption that “an international committee of women had been set up to annul [it],” there was no other attempt, not even an Israeli or Jewish one, to act for its revocation. Instead, the Israeli and Jewish world viewed the resolution with disdain. For instance, soon after the adoption Rabbi Israel Miller, then chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, was told by the Israeli embassy to “ignore the whole issue, since it was nonsense.”[9] Israel expected that this nonsense would go away by itself and that disregard would achieve this result. This position, which was maintained for almost a decade, was itself sheer nonsense.

During 1976-1984 the “Zionism is racism” resolution was reiterated time and again, sometimes by even larger majorities (see Table 2). In 1980, at the United Nations’ Second World Conference on Women in Copenhagen, the notion of eliminating Zionism was for the first time included in an operative document, “The Program of Action for the Second Half of the UN Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace.” This meant that the administrative units of the UN secretary-general, notably the Office of Public Information, would have to include the defamation of Zionism in their activities.

Table 2: Resolutions on 3379 Adopted by International Bodies, 1976-1984

Year

International body

Venue

Direct/

Indirect

Yes

No

An

1976

UN Conference on Human Settlement

Vancouver

Indirect

89

15

10

 1978

UN World Conference to Combat Racism

Geneva

Indirect

67

18

18

1979

UNGA

“Inadmissibility of hegemonism”

New York

Direct

111

4

26

1979

Non-Aligned Movement

Havana

Direct

     

1980

UN World Conference on Women

Copenhagen

Direct

94

4

22

1980

International Youth and Student Movement for the UN

Geneva

Direct

34

3

 

1981

Non-Alignment Movement

New Delhi

Direct

     

1981

OAU, African Charter of Human Rights

Banjul

Direct

     

1982

UNGA on “Living conditions of the Palestinian people”

New York

Indirect

145

2

3

1982

UNESCO Conference on Cultural Policies

Mexico

Direct

45

29

75

1983

UN World Conference to Combat Racism

Geneva

Indirect

87

15

16

1983

UN-sponsored Conference on Palestine

Geneva

Indirect

     

1983

Non-Aligned Movement Summit

New Delhi

Direct

     

1984

International Parliamentary Union

Geneva

Direct

677

137

241

Source: Yohanan Manor, To Right a Wrong (New York: Shengold, 1996), 63.

After the resolution’s adoption, Zionism began to assume “mythical proportions in international discourse as a global cause of most world problems.” This trend was not confined to Arab-Muslim countries and the Third World; it also substantially penetrated Western circles, especially universities. For instance, in Britain in 1976 and 1977, eight student unions adopted “Zionism is racism” resolutions, openly flouting previously held policies not to deal with the Middle East.[10] Subsequently several student unions, such as those at the University of York and the University of Salford, decided to strike Jewish societies from their registers and to restrict their activities.

Some U.S. universities refused to invite lecturers recommended by Jewish organizations on the ground that most Jews were Zionists and, as Zionism was racism, Jews were racists. At the University of California at Riverside, Arab students prevented Jews from attending a program on racism on the ground that “Zionism is a form of racism.”[11]

The trend began to burgeon and win increasing academic sanction. In September 1983 at the Stony Brook campus of the State University of New York, Ernest Dube, a professor in the African Studies Department included Zionism in a course on “The Politics of Race” as one of the three forms of racism, the two other being apartheid and Nazism. One of the research subjects he proposed to his students was “Zionism is as much racism as Nazism,” and he defended this formulation by evoking Resolution 3379.

In Canada, a Jewish group asking to join Québec contre Racisme, an organization set up by Yvon Charbonneau, president of the teachers’ trade union of Quebec, was denied entry unless it renounced Zionism. In 1982, the general student organization of Ontario condemned Israel’s operation in Lebanonstressing that “The state of Israel is Zionism, Zionism is racism,” and decided not to admit Jewish student groups to its ranks. That same year the student federation at Ottawa University decided to prevent the Jewish students’ organization from meeting on the campus on the ground that Zionism was racism.[12]

During this period the vilification of Zionism turned into a permanent feature of international life. That Zionism was a metaphor for universal evil became part of “common knowledge,” accepted or at least not contradicted by almost the entire international body politic. This was not anticipated when Resolution 3379 was adopted, and it came not instead of but in addition to the consequences that were expected, placing Israel beyond the pale and giving anti-Semitism international sanction. During 1969-1972 there were four anti-Israeli resolutions per year at the United Nations. During 1973-1978 this number grew to sixteen per annum, and in 1982 it reached a peak of forty-four.[13]

The vilification of Zionism was not merely a second-best strategy to the one aiming to expel Israel from the United Nations altogether. In a sense it was even worse. Although Israel’s formal membership in the UN was indeed maintained, it was increasingly deprived of its basic rights as a member state. As explained by Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to the UN from 1981 to 1985, this involved “denying membership by denying participation,”[14] thereby instilling Israel’s illegitimacy by placing it in a state of growing irrelevancy.

As noted by the Israeli academic Ehud Sprinzak, this meant Israel lost “the right to speak or debate in certain forums.” For him, labeling Zionism as racism was much more than an attack on particular policies of the Israeli government; it signified that “every war Israel has ever fought, including the War of Independence and the Six Day War, has been a racist war. Every military response to Arab terror has been a racist response. And of course every domestic law …is a racist one.”[15]

Nevertheless, official Israel did not regard the huge and mounting damage inflicted by “Zionism is racism” as sufficient reason to openly fight the resolution and act to overturn it. The Israeli Foreign Ministry often used two arguments to justify this inertia: that initiating action would be counterproductive since the “automatic majority” at the disposal of the Soviet Union and the Arab-Muslim states would result in reiterations; and that it was formally impossible to overturn a General Assembly resolution as there was no such precedent.

An Urgent Need to Act

By now, however, it was clear that reiteration by other international bodies had been an inevitable consequence from the start, and that the resolution constituted the global legal and political foundation for turning the Jewish state into an illegitimate one. Thus it came to be acknowledged, even by official Israel, that the resolution needed to be fought in itself directly, and not as merely another expression of anti-Semitism.

The question, at this point, was how? A central body was needed to direct this struggle. It took the form of the Steering Committee against the Zionism Is Racism Resolution, set up jointly by the World Zionist Organization and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. It was crucial to seek to overcome the so-called automatic UN majority, namely, by at least preventing reiterations and, more essentially, by undermining the validity and legitimacy of the resolution.

A first success was scored in neutralizing a Kuwaiti initiative seeking to obtain a reiteration of the resolution by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) at its annual session in September 1984 in Geneva. This was achieved by mobilizing both Israeli parties and Jewish communities worldwide to use their links with the political parties of delegates to the IPU to defeat the Kuwaiti initiative.[16]

The real challenge, however, was to find ways to undermine the validity and legitimacy of the resolution and divest it of any moral value. This was achieved mainly through a long series of international, national, and regional conferences in Israel, the United States, Europe, and Latin America, an international petition to the United Nations signed by over a thousand worldwide personalities calling on it to “disavow the abusive Resolution 3379 and rededicate itself to its founding charter,” and by parliamentary resolutions in the same spirit.

The first of these was a “Sense of the Congress resolution” adopted by the U.S. Senate in July 1985. Senate Joint Resolution 98 “formally repudiates UNGA Resolution 3379 and calls upon the Parliaments of all countries which value freedom and democracy to do the same.”

This draft resolution also needed to be adopted by the House of Representatives, and was, several weeks later. It proved decisive in preventing the reiteration of 3379 at the Nairobi Conference closing the UN Decade for Women. Ambassador Alan Keyes, chief adviser to the U.S. delegation, included references to the Senate resolution in his statements and received clear instructions from Washington that Zionism was not to be included in any paragraph of the final document to be adopted by the conference; if this occurred the U.S. delegation was to leave.

All this demonstrated that fighting Resolution 3379 directly could prevent its reiteration and that its abrogation was not a mission impossible but, rather, an attainable goal, albeit still very difficult. Although the Israeli Foreign Ministry began to count the prospective votes in the General Assembly, there was still a very long way to go.

At the initiative of the local Zionist Federation, the Australian government was convinced to table before the Australian parliament a remarkable resolution proclaiming that 3379 was inconsistent with the United Nations’ goals and recommending that “the Government of Australia lend support to efforts to overturn Resolution 3379 (XXX) in the UN.” Moreover, the Australian government further involved itself by checking what would be the position of each of the Asian countries. The results, however, were extremely disappointing.

Only a few other parliamentary resolutions were passed. These were in Peru (1987), the European Parliament (1987), and Uruguay (1988). Their wording was far less committing then the Australian and American ones. Most of the democratic countries remained uninvolved.

How the Repeal Was Achieved

It would take another five years to overturn “Zionism is racism.” The repeal was finally achieved not only thanks to the end of the Cold War, but first and foremost because the United States took the lead in this endeavor. This active involvement resulted from unabated pressure on the administration by Congress and American Jewish organizations. The U.S. administration put this issue even higher on its agenda than it was on Israel’s.

In his address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on 14 May 1989, Secretary of State James Baker called on the Arab countries to take measures to advance the peace process, end the economic boycott of Israel, and “repudiate the odious line that ‘Zionism is racism.'”[17] He thereby put the onus on the Arab states to show that they were serious about the peace process, while linking the peace process to the repeal.

At Yeshiva University on International Human Rights Day on 11 December 1989, Vice-President Dan Quayle did not link the repeal to the peace process but rather to the renewal of the United Nations. Referring to a UN General Assembly resolution cosponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union and calling on all UN members to respect the principles set forth in the UN Charter, Quayle made a resounding statement:

I call on the Soviet Union and other nations to join us in cosponsoring a second resolution in the General Assembly. That resolution will affirm that Zionism is what Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko rightly called it back in 1948: the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. This resolution would state that Zionism is not and never has been a form of racism, and would have the Zionism-is-Racism declared null and void. And this resolution would promote, and not set back the prospects for peace by focusing on the real issues in dispute, not on Israel’s right to exist.[18]

The official Soviet reaction was extremely disappointing, as the regime still clung to its traditional anti-Zionist stance. What was more surprising was the lukewarm response from many Western democracies, which held that the repeal was impossible without a breakthrough in the Middle East peace process. For instance, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher reacted skeptically to Quayle’s appeal by arguing that the necessary majority would be secured only if the repeal offered some substantial quid pro quo to the Arab side.[19] Actually, the democracies did not even make such an attempt.

On 30 March 1990, a public hearing in the Senate chaired by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan adopted a joint resolution calling on UN member states to repeal the “Zionism is racism” resolution and requesting the U.S. president to report periodically on progress toward repeal. John Bolton, representing the State Department, gave an optimistic assessment of the prospects for an overturn.[20] Moynihan, however, was infuriated by Bolton’s apparent self-satisfaction and criticized the State Department for its lack of energy in fighting the resolution, saying he wanted to see more action.

Moynihan went on to say: “The West imposed no consequences of any kind on those nations that associated themselves with this filthy proposition of the Soviet Union. I want to see the US cut assistance to countries which supported the resolution. How many of them received and are still receiving US aid?” Bolton replied that of the seventy-two that had voted in favor of the resolution, a clear majority were at that point receiving U.S. aid, and probably still did. Moynihan then asked him: “Did we ever tell one country, just one country, that you are getting American money, and you are not getting it any more until you change your mind?” On the defensive, Bolton answered: “I don’t know that any country’s ever been told that, Senator, but if I could leave one message with the committee here today, it is that the Bush Administration is most serious about having this resolution repealed.”[21]

Joint Resolution 246 was not only adopted by the Senate and House but also officially endorsed by President George H. W. Bush. However, Bush still found it appropriate to add a paragraph on the United States’ “determination to pursue efforts toward a comprehensive, just and lasting Middle East peace. In our view this peace must be achieved on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and the principle of territories for peace. It must provide for Israel’s security and recognition and for Palestinian political rights….”[22] Several weeks after Bush’s endorsement of 246, the troika then heading the European Union made a commitment to act for the repeal of “Zionism is racism.”

In mid-August 1990, the projected General Assembly vote for a repeal stood at 60-60 with forty abstentions. In mid-September, it was decided to postpone the repeal initiative. The U.S. press claimed this was an American decision aimed at preserving Arab support for sanctions against Iraq. Yohanan Bein, then deputy director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, was in charge of the issue of repealing the resolution. He claimed the postponement was an Israeli decision based on evaluation of how much support could be obtained.[23]

During the summer of 1991, there were once again indications that some were seeking postponement. A first indication came from J. S. Wall, private secretary of UK prime minister John Major, then another from Gareth Evans, Australian minister of trade and foreign affairs; they were concerned that there was not yet a majority in favor of a repeal. But the biggest blow came from the United States, which feared that a motion to defer concocted by Egypt, arguing that the repeal should be delayed until a peace conference opened or the peace process was firmly on track, would easily pass in the General Assembly in September.

Although this inclination to postpone probably reflected genuine concern for the repeal’s success, it also manifested tensions between Israel and the United States over the desirable framework for a Middle East peace conference. In June 1991, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir expressed Israel’s reservations over UN participation in such a conference given the world body’s treatment of Israel over the years. Among many other one-sided UN positions, he mentioned Resolution 3379. Shamir never, though, cited the repeal of 3379 as a condition for accepting UN involvement in such a peace conference.

At the opening of the UN General Assembly in September 1991, Bush took an unprecedented step and raised the issue of the repeal plainly and directly, without linking it to any other issue. Pointing to the renewed role of the United Nations, which had put in place more peacekeeping missions in the previous thirty-six months than during its first forty-three years, he asserted:

We should take seriously the Charter’s pledge to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors.

UNGA resolution 3379, the so-called Zionism is racism resolution, mocks this pledge and the principles upon which the United Nations was founded. And I call now for its repeal.

Zionism is not a policy, it is the idea that led to the creation of a home for the Jewish people, to the State of Israel. And to equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism is to twist history and forget the terrible plight of the Jews in World War II, and indeed throughout history. To equate Zionism with racism, is to reject Israel itself, a member of good standing of the United Nations. This body cannot claim to seek peace and at the same time challenge Israel’s right to exist. By repealing this resolution unconditionally, the United Nations will enhance its credibility and serve the cause of peace.[24]

From then on there was a massive U.S. investment in the repeal endeavor.  Undoubtedly arm-twisting was used in the spirit of Moynihan’s exhortations. President Bush gave “unprecedented instructions to all his ambassadors [to warn] countries that failure to vote for revoking the resolution could affect their ties with the US.”[25] Finally, the draft resolution for a repeal was sponsored by eighty-six states and passed by 111-25 with thirteen abstentions.  

Unfortunately, the revocation of the “Zionism is racism” resolution was not exploited for political and diplomatic advantage by Israel and its supporters. Perhaps the sole, tardy exception was the initiating of a research on the overturn, which was to become this author’s book To Right a Wrong. It was donated to the libraries of more than 1,200 universities, mostly in the United States.

Israel’s Legitimacy Today

Since the overturn of Resolution 3379 more than eighteen years ago, two opposite trends have occurred. On the one hand, Israel’s legitimacy has been strengthened; on the other, there are ongoing attempts to undermine that legitimacy.

On the positive side, there has been an improvement of Israel’s international standing, notably at the United Nations where it has ceased to be a pariah state, regained full membership, and fully takes part in all activities at all levels and in all the specialized agencies. This represents a  complete departure from Jeane Kirkpatrick’s diagnosis of “denying membership by denying participation.”

Moreover, in 2005 the General Assembly unanimously supported the establishment of an annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the UN Holocaust Education Program was established. In January 2007, the United Nations adopted a resolution condemning any denial of the Holocaust, which it characterized as “tantamount to approval of genocide in all its forms.”

Progress regarding the condemnation of anti-Semitism was less clear-cut. Soon after the repeal of 3379, for the first time in the history of the United Nations, anti-Semitism was condemned in March 1994 by an official UN body. The fifty member states of the UN Human Rights Commission passed a resolution on “Measures to combat contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” It referred explicitly to anti-Semitism both in its introduction and its operative paragraph, and it

requests the special rapporteur to examine according to this mandate incidents of contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, any form of discrimination against blacks, Arabs and Muslims, xenophobia, negrophobia, anti-Semitism and related intolerance as well as governmental measures to overcome them, and to report on these matters to the commission at the fifty-first session.[26]

In December 2003, a General Assembly draft resolution on anti-Semitism was withdrawn under the pressure of the Arab-Muslim bloc. This effectively canceled a deal whereby Israel would drop efforts to include anti-Semitism in a draft resolution on religious intolerance in exchange for Ireland’s commitment to introduce a new resolution specifically on anti-Semitism.  In “compensation,” on 21 June 2004 a seminar on anti-Semitism was held at the United Nations in New York. But again, in August that year, Arab states vehemently opposed the introduction of a draft resolution on anti-Semitism to be adopted by the General Assembly.

In addition to this persistent reluctance to openly condemn anti-Semitism, UN bodies have adopted a series of anti-Israeli positions. Examples include the advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that “the construction by Israel of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and its associated régime are contrary to international law”; the positions expressed by the two Durban conferences in 2001 and 2009; the large number of anti-Israeli resolutions adopted since 2006 by the UN Human Rights Council, which replaced the discredited UN Human Rights Commission; and the Goldstone report.

Regarding the advisory opinion of the ICJ, Israel could probably have obtained a more objective and balanced one if it had cooperated with the court and presented the position taken by Israel’s High Court of Justice on this issue.

At Durban I, much of the hatred against Jews and Israel was manifested in the six-day NGO forum that was attended by six thousand representatives of about two thousand NGOs; the attacks on Jews were no less virulent than those on globalization. As for the official conference, its final report expressed concern about “the plight of the Palestinian people under occupation,” recognized “the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State,” and recognized “the right to security for all the States in the region, including Israel.”

Although European countries and a few others blunted the more extreme anti-Israeli language introduced by Arab countries and Iran, in the end these European and other countries agreed to single out Israel albeit in more moderate and balanced terms. In addition, all states were called upon to counter anti-Semitism and the Durban I final report declared that “the Holocaust must never be forgotten.”

At Durban II, despite a statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, that “all disputed points such as reference to Israel, Zionism and Middle East had been deleted from the [conference’s final] declaration,”[27] nine countries decided to boycott the conference and twenty-three sent only low-level representatives. When Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the floor, most of the European delegations left the hall.

As for the UN Human Right Council, the twenty-seven resolutions it has adopted since 2006 have addressed four issues: human rights in Palestine (nineteen), human rights in Lebanon (three), human rights on the Golan Heights (three), and the council’s general mandate (two). In other words, they focused predominantly on the Arab-Israeli conflict and were always sponsored by the Arab-Muslim groups, which represent over 30 percent of UN members.

Thus, not surprisingly, Israel’s enemies, notably Arab and Muslim counties, are still using the United Nations to condemn Israel and undermine its legitimacy. This is, however, becoming more and more difficult for them and is actually largely confined to the sphere of the Human Rights Council.

Countering the Delegitimators

The bulk of the efforts to undermine Israel’s legitimacy do not come presently from the United Nations, but first and foremost from a coalition of NGOs that are functioning as the spearhead of an anti-Israeli network. This development was recently noted by the Reut Institute (Tel Aviv) in its report on the “Challenge of Delegitimization.”[28] It provides a preliminary analysis of this network’s components, differentiating between those genuinely criticizing Israel’s policies and the “delegitimators” who seek exclusively to ruin Israel’s legitimacy and bring an end to the Jewish state. Although the latter are presently using the Palestinian issue to achieve their aim, they are not dependent on it and even a settlement of the conflict would not put an end to their endeavor. The report contends that “It takes a network to fight a network” and indicates ways to create and operate such a complex.

The Reut Institute has rightly drawn attention to what seems today the most active factor in attacking Israel’s legitimacy. One of the lessons of Resolution 3379 should indeed be kept in mind: not to disregard what may be perceived as a less serious or even innocuous threat compared to a more serious one that had been foiled. In this case, the defeat of the attempt to expel Israel from the United Nations enabled “the planes to fly under the radar.” It is vital not to disregard and underestimate threats to one’s existence.

It is, however, not certain that Reut’s operative conclusion, “It takes a network to fight a network” is the supreme answer to the delegitimization endeavor. There is also still much room for exploiting successes in the United Nations and using them both to bolster Israel’s legitimacy and undermine that of the delegitimators.

In this spirit, Israel and the Jewish people should use all the existing means at their disposal, such as the repeal of 3379, the 1994 instructions to the special rapporteur on racism, and the 2005 establishment of the UN Holocaust Remembrance Day and Holocaust Education Program. Amazingly, the revocation of 3379 is seemingly not mentioned in Israeli textbooks whereas it is mentioned in Palestinian textbooks![29] The directive to the special rapporteur to review anti-Semitic deeds seems to have been utilized by Israel only for the first year. After that it seems that Israel did not provide him with adequate and reliable data on anti-Semitism.

By contrast, a British MP, Louise Ellman, provided a good example of how existing instruments can be used. On 28 January 2010, in the House of Commons, she took advantage of a session dedicated to Holocaust Remembrance Day to emphasize Hamas’s explicit aim of liberating all of Palestine and eliminating its Jews, quoting excerpts from a report on Hamas’s online magazine for children, Al-Fateh.[30]

In addition to exploiting successes, it is important to strive to bring about additional UN resolutions. These should include, among other things, the formal condemnation of anti-Semitism and the adoption of UN educational instruments to recognize and combat it.

All this is achievable despite the so-called automatic majority, which for too long has been a cheap pretext for inaction. As proved clearly by the voting results for the two 1975 attempts to postpone a debate and vote on Resolution 3379, even in those days the automatic majority was not so automatic, and it is even less so nowadays. Pertinent here is the 1985 observation by James Jonah, then assistant UN secretary-general, that the majority of the UN member states were moderate but tended to adopt extreme positions for lack of alternative leadership, whereas, with proper leadership, moderation could have taken the upper hand.[31] It is still not too late to promote, or assume, such proper leadership.

*     *     *

Notes

[1] “Haseif leginui Haantishemiut Behatzaat Haamana Lebeur Kol Tsurot Haaflaia Hagizit” (The Paragraph to Condemn Anti-Semitism in the Draft Convention to Eradicate All Forms of Racial Discrimination), top-secret report by Meir Rosenne, New York, 25 October 1965, p. 1, CZA (Central Zionist Archives) S110/12. [Hebrew]

[2] Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan noted that the Soviet side had not yet been properly researched and recommended scholarly investigation “to discover and reveal the origins and the motivations of the lie.” See Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Z=R, Plus 9,” address to the study day “Refuting the Zionism Is Racism Equation,” President’s Residence, Jerusalem, 11 November 1984, p. 3, CZA/S110/40.

[3] Plenary Meetings, Official Records of the General Assembly, Thirtieth Session.

[4] Resolution 3151 (XXVIII), Section G, 14 December 1973.

[5] Final Declaration of the “Conference on the Equality of Women and Their Contribution to Development and Peace,” Mexico City, 2 July 1975.

[6] S.J. (Senate Joint) Resolution  98, adopted on 18 July 1975.

[7] Tape-recording of the study day “Refuting the Zionism Is Racism Equation,” President’s Residence, Jerusalem, 11 November 1984, CZA/S110/40.

[8] The statement was made at a press conference at the UN press club several days after the resolution was adopted. Eleanor Holmes Norton was then heading the Human Rights Committee of New York. She is presently the District of Columbia’s nonvoting representative to the U.S. Congress.

[9] Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Suzanne Weaver, A Dangerous Place (London: Secker & Warburg, 1979), p. 180.

[10] Ann Hubert and Peter Wallison, “Zionism, Racism, and Free Speech,” Commentary, October 1978, 72; “Anti-Zionism at British Universities,” Patterns of Prejudice, July-August 1977, pp. 1-3.

[11] Ruth Raeli, The Implications of Resolution 3379 on Zionism, World Zionist Organization, Information Department, Research Division, May 1986, p. 45, CZA/S110/48.

[12] Ibid., pp. 45-46.

[13] Michael Curtis, “The United Nations, Zionism and Racism,” Global Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Spring 1986), p. 20.

[14] Jeane Kirkpatrick, address to the conference on “Z-R: An Assault on Human Rights,” cosponsored by the BBI, the WJC, and the WZO, Washington, 10 December 1984, CZA/S110/26.

[15] Ehud Sprinzak, “Anti-Zionism: From Delegitimization to Dehumanization,” Forum, 53 (1985), p. 5. In this article Sprinzak pointed to three major types of damage inflicted by Resolution 3379. The first was political: the harassment, isolation, and delegitimization of Israel. The second was cultural-symbolic: the introduction and activation of anti-Semitic stereotypes; the resolution had broken a taboo and provided a new justification for Jew-hatred. Third, there was psychopersonal damage: the tendency among Jews to feel unease over Zionism and Israel, fostering a restoration of the anxiety toward Zionism that Jews had felt before Israel’s establishment.

[16] The draft resolution tabled by Kuwait stressed that the Israeli military, legislative, and administrative measures designed to prevent Palestinians from implementing the right of return constituted “a crime against humanity” (paragraph 12). A memorandum attached to this draft resolution claimed that the “Jews were never planning to establish a national homeland for themselves…since its inception the Zionist movement was characterized by ethnic and racial discrimination based on the theory of the chosen people of God which is instilled in the mind of every Zionist.”

[17] Near East Report, 9 May 1989, 87. See: www.wrmea.com/backissues/0789/8907007.htm.

[18] US Information Agency (USIS), Wireless File, 11 December 1989.

[19] JTA, 8 March 1990.

[20] US Information Service (USIS), Official Text, “Text of Senate Testimony by John Bolton,” Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, 2 April 1990.

[21] USIS, News Report, “Moynihan Links Aid Cutoff to Zionism Is Racism View,” Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, 2 April 1990. Moynihan added that he was awaiting the responses for a list of aid recipients and wondered whether these countries understood that their aid was in jeopardy: “We don’t like that resolution one damn bit…. Do they know that we don’t like it?” Bolton replied: “We are making it abundantly clear in our consultations in capitals.”

[22] The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 29 June 1990.

[23] Jerusalem Post, 18 September 1990.

[24] President Bush’s address to the UN General Assembly, New York, 23 September 1991. See: www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=20012.

[25] William Harrop, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, disclosed the existence of these unprecedented instructions.  Jerusalem Post, 29 July 1991.

[26] It was sponsored by Turkey with the support of Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Russia, Sweden, and the UK. The reference in the introduction was adopted by thirty-four votes with seventeen abstentions, while the operative paragraph was adopted by fifty-one votes with two abstentions.

[27] Deutsche Welle, 17 April 2009.

[28] This report was submitted to the Israeli cabinet on 11 February 2010. See: http://reut-institute.org/en/Publication.aspx?PublicationId=3766.

[29] Modern and Contemporary History of Palestine, Grade 11, Part 2 (2008), 71; History of the Arabs and the World in the Twentieth Century, Grade 12 (2009), 120-121. [Arabic]

[30] A report issued in 2009 by IMPACT-SE, the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education. See: http://www.impact-se.org/.

[31] Yohanan Manor, The UN and Zionism According to James Jonah, 31 March 1985, CZA/S110/16. [Hebrew]

About Dr. Yohanan Manor

Dr. Yohanan Manor is a co-founder of IMPACT-SE and was the Board Chairman from 2005 to 2011. He is a graduate of the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA) and received his Ph.D. at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques for his thesis on "Palestine in the Foreign Policy of Gamal Abd El Nasser." He was a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Political Science Department (1970-1984) and coordinator of the campaign (1984-1991) that brought about the revocation of the UN General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism.