Israel Still Pays a Heavy Price for the UN ‘Zionism Is Racism’ Resolution
This is a time for anniversaries of events that have caused great harm to the Jewish people: the 25th of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the 82nd of Kristallnacht, and, this week, the 45th of the infamous resolution at the United Nations equating Zionism with racism.
That resolution, 3379, was a product of the leading purveyor of antisemitism at the time — the Soviet Union — gathering together anti-Western nations in the General Assembly of the UN, in a thrust at the United States, Israel’s greatest supporter, and at the West generally. The Cold War was still raging, with no end in sight.
Whatever the motivation of the resolution, Israel paid and is still paying a heavy price for its passage on November 10, 1975. One can say this even though the General Assembly officially rescinded the resolution in 1991 following the demise of the Soviet Union. The propaganda environment in the world had changed significantly by that time, and Israel had made its participation in the international conference at Madrid conditional on revocation of “Zionism is racism.”
With the end of the Cold War, the easy anti-American majority in the General Assembly was upended. On December 16, 1991, the General Assembly saw 111 votes to revoke the resolution.
This was obviously a good thing. But in many ways, it had an element of too little, too late. Unfortunately, despite its repeal at the UN, the notion that Zionism is racist is alive and well in many anti-Zionist circles. Hardly a week passes without some conference on college campuses where speakers accuse Israel of racism, of colonialism, of being an apartheid state. That is a legacy of the 1975 resolution. When groups fighting for women’s rights or gay rights seek to exclude any manifestations of support for Zionism or those who support Israel, that is a legacy of the 1975 resolution.
And while the charge is sometimes manifested in criticism of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, a legitimate subject of criticism but absent of context of Palestinian policies over the years, in no way is it worthy of the charge of racism.
This idea that the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, Zionism, was equated with the greatest moral evil in the modern world, racism, had become deeply embedded in parts of the world since 1975. It wasn’t simply the fact that the UN, ironically a body partly formed in order to prevent the rise of another mass murder of Jews, had such a resolution on the books. It was that this falsehood continued to be spread through the various information vehicles of the UN, particularly in libraries around the world and in all UN documents.
In time, the very term Zionism became anathema to certain circles. One even saw indications that some Jews hesitated to use the word either because they were concerned about the reaction to its usage — or, even worse, that they themselves had subliminally bought into the spreading idea that, in fact, Zionism was associated with racism.
And, most significantly, the rescinding of the resolution hardly meant that its theme was to disappear. On the contrary, while its creator, the Soviet Union, has long passed away, its descendants have taken this legacy into the current world.
Most damaging is the very accusation that the idea of a country that calls itself a Jewish state is inherently racist. This is a willful distortion of everything concerning the history of the Jewish people, the nature of Israel, and the characteristics of nations around the world.
“Jewish” in Israel’s Declaration of Independence refers to the Jewish people, which subsumed religion, culture, history, language, and connection to the land of Israel, no different than other national movements’ connections to their own national territories. One cannot discuss anything about the thousands of years of Jewish history without discussing the connection of the Jews to the land of Israel. Indeed, in two thousand years of exile, while experiencing dispersion, exclusion, and rabid antisemitism, the hope of returning to the land of their founding as a people kept the Jews alive.
And, in reality, Israel is a full-fledged democracy with full rights for its minority populations, even though like other nations, those rights are not sufficiently realized. The contrast to other nations, particularly in the Middle East, is stark, and yet it is Israel that is labeled as racist.
And so, in today’s world, particularly in some progressive circles in the United States and elsewhere, the accusations that Israel is fundamentally racist — and that the Zionist idea is illegitimate — live on.
And when only Israel is delegitimized — whether by boycotts or propaganda — that is a legacy of Zionism is racism.
Fortunately, with the emergence of a growing group of Arab and Muslim countries — the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan — ready not only to reach peace agreements with Israel but to create a new reality in relations with the Jewish state, a new momentum exists to delegitimize the delegitimizers.
It is a good moment to remember the words of then-President George H. W. Bush in introducing the resolution to revoke the measure at the UN: “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 racism is to reject Israel itself.”
Kenneth Jacobson is the Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League