This week marks the 40th anniversary of one of the worst instances of anti-Semitism since the end of the Second World War. On Nov. 10, 1975, the United Nations—a body created out of the ashes of the Holocaust—passed General Assembly Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism, the Jewish national liberation movement, with racism and racial discrimination.
That resolution was the culmination of a lengthy campaign by the Soviet Union to turn Israel into the only state within the U.N. system to have its legitimacy questioned. Soviet Jews had been persecuted in the name of “anti-Zionism” since the days of Josef Stalin’s dictatorship, and Resolution 3379 represented the globalization of that campaign. To that end, the Soviets enlisted the support of Arab states and developing nations, all of whom, in promoting the slander that Zionism is racism, were engaging in the oldest form of racism themselves.
Only a handful of people at the General Assembly grasped this fundamental fact back in 1975. One of them was Chaim Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the world body. In his magnificent speech—commemorated at a special event hosted by Israel’s U.N. mission this week—Herzog reminded the delegates of another anniversary, also on Nov. 10: Kristallnacht, that dreadful winter’s night in 1938 when Nazi stormtroopers attacked defenseless Jewish targets across Germany. The pogrom resulted in the incarceration of 30,000 Jews, the murder of around 100, and the burning of thousands of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses.
“It is indeed befitting,” began Herzog, as he proceeded to eviscerate the assembled delegates, “that this debate, conceived in the desire to deflect the Middle East from its moves towards peace, and born of a deep pervading feeling of anti-Semitism, should take place on the anniversary of this day. It is indeed befitting, Mr. President, that the United Nations, which began its life as an anti-Nazi alliance, should thirty years later find itself on its way to becoming the world center of anti-Semitism. Hitler would have felt at home on a number of occasions during the past year, listening to the proceedings in this forum, and above all to the proceedings during the debate on Zionism.”
A similarly eloquent appeal to conscience was expressed by the American ambassador to the U.N., Daniel Patrick Moynihan. From the same rostrum as Herzog, Moynihan announced, “The United States rises to declare before the General Assembly of the United Nations, and before the world, that it does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.” The joint outrage displayed by Herzog and Moynihan was a moving testament to the values that bind the U.S. and Israel.
Predictably, the resolution passed. Less predictably, it was rescinded in 1991—appropriately on the eve of the Soviet Union’s collapse—after a U.S.-led campaign that saw President George H.W. Bush personally introduce the resolution of revocation. “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,” Bush said. “And to equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism is to twist history and forget the terrible plight of 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.”
But as we know only too well, the slander that Zionism is racism survived that revocation, in much the same way that Holocaust denial has persisted even though it’s illegal in many states. In essence, nothing has really changed: in the name of fighting racism, the same lies and deceits are advanced in order to encourage anti-Semitism.
The U.N. remains the foremost forum for the expression of these odious views. It’s not just that the U.N. Human Rights Council continues to focus on Israel’s alleged misdeeds with a disproportionality that is laughable. Arguably worse is the fact that, on the same day that Resolution 3379 was passed, a separate resolution authorized the creation of an entire Palestinian propaganda department at the U.N., an entity that eventually became the Division for Palestinian Rights. That Division, with an annual budget of several million dollars, still exists.
A few years ago, while writing a piece about Israel and the U.N., I asked a European diplomat in New York about the likelihood of abolishing the Division for Palestinian Rights, assuming that the political will could be summoned by the world’s democracies. “Once something exists at the U.N.,” he guardedly responded, “it’s quite hard to abolish it.”
This was another way of saying that without the support of the Arab and Islamic states and their allies, nothing can be created or dismantled at the U.N. And why, the reasoning would logically proceed, bother picking a fight over a body that 99 percent of the world’s population, including the vast majority of Palestinians, have never even heard of?
As a statement of pragmatism, there is a good deal of merit in this argument. But as is the case when pragmatism is the only consideration in politics, there is very little moral imagination in evidence. The continued existence of the Division of Palestinian Rights tells us that the Zionism equals Racism resolution was never properly rescinded.
Indeed, when you read the text of the resolution that created one of the committees operated by the Division—Resolution 3376 of November 10, 1975—you understand why the U.N. feels licensed to discriminate against Israel. That resolution, which never mentions Israel by name, is by the same token committed to the Jewish state’s elimination through its endorsement of the “right of return” for the descendants of Palestinian refugees. And it’s still on the books.
Forty years after the passage of Resolution 3379, I dare to hope that a diplomat with sufficient courage and vision will launch a campaign to complete the task of its rescinding, by abolishing these propaganda bodies and replacing them with competent agencies dedicated to fostering cooperation between Israel and the Arab world. That would be both a real contribution to the cause of peace and confirmation of a deeper truth—that anti-Zionism is racism.
Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).