What was behind the UN General Assembly resolution equating Zionism and racism?
Up until the mid-1950s there was a relatively benign, if not overtly friendly, period in UN-Israel relations. The UN General Assembly passed the one-sided Resolution 194, calling for repatriating or compensating Palestinian refugees (not a “right of return”) while ignoring an equal or greater number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. UN truce observers also seemed to have a blind spot for Arab violations. But all this was merely prolog to much more serious anti-Israel bias to come.
In the mid-1950s Israel was criticized for launching retaliatory strikes against Palestinian fedayeen bases in neighbouring Arab countries, while the UN was silent on the cross-border terrorist provocations. During the Sinai Campaign of 1956, a series of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions condemned Israeli “aggression” against Egypt, with no reference to Israeli complaints about Nasser’s closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, Egyptian support for and encouragement of Palestinian terrorist incursions into Israel, and the 1955 Egyptian-Soviet arms deal.
In the spring of 1967, UN Secretary-General U Thant’s hasty capitulation to Nasser’s demand for the withdrawal of United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) peacekeepers from the Sinai and Gaza fronts accelerated the precipitous slide toward the Six Day War. The subsequant failure of the UN to pressure the Arab states to negotiate with Israel based on UN Resolution 242 further eroded Israel’s faith in the world body as a viable source of stability and assistance.
Starting in the mid-1970s, an Arab-Soviet-Third World bloc joined to form what amounted to a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) lobby at the United Nations. The solidly anti-Israel Arab block was joined by the Soviet Block (opposing Israel as leverage against the US) and many smaller countries from Africa or elsewhere who were intimidated by Arab oil-power, were leaning toward the Soviets, or were anti-American as a reaction to their own colonial histories.
Since the UN Security Council was protected by the US veto power,it was in the General Assembly where these countries — nearly all dictatorships or autocracies — frequently voted together to pass resolutions attacking Israel and supporting the PLO. Sometimes this was directly related to issues with Israel itself, and sometimes Israel was a convenient proxy for a multitude of other agendas.
In 1974, when the UN General Assembly invited Yaser Arafat to address the body, and in 1975 granted the PLO “observer status”, the first time any non-nation was give such recognition or standing.
Even with this prelude, it was shocking when on November 10, 1975 the United Nations General Assembly adopted, by a vote of 72 to 35 (with 32 abstentions), its Resolution 3379, which states as its conclusion:
- Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.
The resolution also endorsed an August 1975 statement by the Conference of Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Non-Aligned Countries (Lima, Peru), that:
- …severely condemned Zionism as a threat to world peace and security and called upon all countries to oppose this racist and imperalist ideology.
The resolution was adopted despite strong opposition by Israel’s supporters, most notably the United States delegation under the leadership of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then the United States Ambassador to the UN. Immediately after the adoption of Resolution 3379, Israeli Ambassador Chaim Herzog rose to denounce the resolution, and those who voted for its adoption. He expounded at length on the origin and meaning of Zionism. He said that Israel was not bound by the resolution and would not abide by it. He further pointed out the significance of the date, November 10th:
- This night, 37 years ago, has gone down in history as the Kristallnacht, or the Night of the Crystals. This was the night of 10 November 1938 when Hitler’s nazi stormtroopers launched a co-ordinated attack on the Jewish community in Germany, burnt the synagogues in all the cities and made bonfires in the streets, of the Holy Books and the Scrolls of the Holy Laws and the Bible. It was the night when Jewish homes were attacked and heads of families were taken away, many of them never to return. It was the night when the windows of all Jewish businesses and stores were smashed, covering the streets in the cities of Germany with a film of broken glass which dissolved into millions of crystals, giving that night the name of Kristallnacht, the Night of the Crystals. It was the night which led eventually to the crematoria and the gaschambers, to Auschwitz, Birkenau, Dachau, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt, and others. It was the night which led to the most terrifying holocaust in the history of man.
In the early 1990’s as hope rose for a negotiated peace in the Middle East, the fight against Resolution 3379 intensified. Israel could not be expected to have any confidence in the United Nations until the stain of 3379 was removed. On September 23, 1991, in a speech given by President George H.W. Bush before the General Assembly of the United Nationshe stated:
- …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.
Israel made revocation of the infamous resolution a condition of Israel’s participation in the Madrid Peace Conference in progress in the last quarter of 1991. The culmination of the long struggle came on December 16, 1991 when the UN General Assembly finally revoked Resolution 3379, with a vote of 111 to 25 (with 13 abstentions).