UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently held a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the squashing of UN resolution 3379, equating Zionism with racism. It was passed in 1975 by a vote of 72 to 35 (with 32 abstentions). The festive event this year was attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry and head of the Israeli Labour Party and Zionist Union Isaac Herzog, son of Chaim Herzog, president of Israel from 1983 to 1993, and star of the 1975 UN session.
The 1975 vote took place approximately one year after resolution 3237 granted the PLO “observer status”, following Yasser Arafat’s “olive branch” speech to the General Assembly in November 1974. It succeeded only because the Soviet Union and its allies were there to support the Arab and Islamic majority countries.
It was revoked in December 1991 by UN resolution 46/86. At the commemoration this year, Ban Ki-moon recalled Chaim Herzog’s words in 1975, “I appeal to the community of nations to always act to uphold the principles of the United Nations Charter to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours.” Such nice platitudes coming from the Israeli ambassador—community, principles, tolerance, peace...
It is odd that this year’s festivities actually celebrate the passing of the resolution, rather than its demise, commemorating the chutzpah of Israeli UN representative Herzog, who stole the show, recounting how magnanimous Israel is with its Arab citizens, who apparently held the same rights as Jews, worked in border and police defense forces, were elected to parliament, studied at universities...
He pointed to Arabs coming from elsewhere for medical treatment, and to "the fact that it is as natural for an Arab to serve in public office in Israel as it is incongruous to think of a Jew serving in any public office in an Arab country.” The UN ambassador finished his tirade by ripping up the resolution and defiantly stating he would have UN Avenues in Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv renamed Zionism Avenues.
Herzog didn’t mention how traditionally Jews lived freely under Muslim rule and often served Muslim leaders as advisers, how Arab anger today is directly due to Israel’s murderous, illegal actions against the rightful citizens of what was once the Roman province of Syria Palaestina. He didn’t mention the millions of Palestinians denied their basic rights because Israel is apparently free of racism.
At least the 1975 gathering had some punch. There was no substance in the commemoration in 2015. Kerry waffled, despite a weeks-long wave of violence that has claimed the lives of at least 77 Palestinians along with 10 Israelis. No mention of that. He said that a two-state solution in the Middle East was “not an impossible dream” but would require courage. Yawn.
Kerry called the 1975 resolution “ominous” because it gave “a global license to hate” the state of Israel. But then “hate” covers just about any word of criticism of Israel. After all, election fever is rising in the US and the Israel lobby is alive and well.
Bush senior’s half truths
It is more instructive to deconstruct the speech by US President HW Bush, who introduced the UN motion overturning resolution 3379 in 1991, which he said “mocks this pledge and the principles upon which the United Nations was founded. 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. To equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism is to twist history.”
He was half correct. Zionism is an idea, one that turned into a policy of racial exclusion and victimization of the Palestinian natives, whose land and property the new immigrants stole, even as they conducted a state policy of terror against the natives. Bush made no explanation of why Zionism is not a policy. But the Soviet voice was gone by 1991; only the US voice was heard defending the pious hope that Israel would one day make peace with the Palestinians based on the original 1947 UN resolution 181 to partition the territory.
Bush’s claim that Zionism is not a policy of racism simply flies in the face of reality. But then the US itself was founded on an idea much like Zionism. The Puritans, Quakers and many other religious groups immigrated intending to establish an ideal (white) Christian society modeled on the Bible, an idea which also was a policy of genocide of the American natives.
The 17th philosopher Francis Bacon penned a utopian novel New Atlantis based on his enthusiastic support for establishing the British colonies in North America, depicting the creation of a utopian land where “generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendour, piety and public spirit” are the commonly held qualities of the inhabitants of the mythical Bensalem. The idea of a “new Jerusalem” is the bedrock of the US idea.
Even such a respected philosopher was able to disregard the racist policy of genocide against the American natives in the name of “generosity and enlightenment etc.” No one noticed that, from the start, that the idea of the US (Bensalem) was a racist idea, just as its policies were. Only in the 19th century did international opprobrium finally push the US to abolish its most glaring racist policy—slavery.
But by then, the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine was already being mooted by British politicians such as Lord Shaftsbury, and Israel was finally forced down the UN throat by FDR and Truman. For Shaftsbury etal, it was merely a logical development of western ‘civilization‘.
Bush lauded the crushing of the racism resolution in 1991 as “a real chance to fulfill the UN Charter’s ambition of working ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person’.” Yet he was unable to see that the emperor (himself) and his offspring were wearing no clothes, that it is Israel that is the scourge of war, the violator of human rights and human dignity.
Bush stated that the UN “cannot claim to seek peace and at the same time challenge Israel’s right to exist.” Again a half truth. No one intended to wipe Israel off the map, as long as it was a nation that followed international norms, in particular human rights of the peoples who live there or who will return there from refugee camps when a peaceful solution to the stand-off is agreed. But this is only possible if we address Bush’s other half truth that lies at the heart of Zionism, both as idea and policy.
Bush’s other mistake was to define the State of Israel as “a home for the Jewish people”. This makes Israel racist by definition, just as Hitler identified Germany as the home of the Aryan people, a similarly vague, racist definition of the state.
Bush’s lesson: don’t cross Israel
There is a bitter irony in Bush’s kowtowing to Israel in 1991. In September he had asked Congress to delay Israel’s request for $10 billion in loan guarantees to help settle Soviet Jews, trying to force Israel to stop its illegal settlement construction and negotiate a real peace. He no doubt was recalling how Eisenhower had made Israel bend to the US game plan in 1956. Ford/ Kissinger/ Carter had too, though just barely in the 1970s, curbing somewhat Israel’s colonial ambitions. Both times, ironically, US leaders relied on the Soviet ‘threat’ to give them some backbone.
But ‘in victory, defeat’. The Soviet ‘threat’, providing the US some leverage with Israel, was no more, and in the meantime, the Israel lobby in Washington had become too powerful for a president to counter. The Zionists were in no mood to swallow their pride and obey a newly holier-than-thou imperial Washington, despite having been handed a million new Israelis from the now defunct Soviet Union. Bush senior found he had no allies for his plan to bring Israel into line.
He scurried to the UN to burnish his credentials, but to no avail. The Israel lobby mobilized, found their ideal candidate in Bill Clinton, and Bush suddenly was being attacked in the media. Incessant negative publicity as election day approached did the trick. He lost his re-election bid, going from a 90% approval rate following the Iraq invasion to 37% on election day.
It is time for a new resolution 3379, something with teeth that will wake Israel up and push it to admit its sins. There is no hope to find a sponsor in Washington. However, the support for Palestinians struggling for their rights continues to grow. The EU, BDS and others boycott settlement goods are having their effect. Israel‘s neighbours continue to resist. As US power wanes, there is hope that the UN will once again find some backbone.