The relationship of Israel to the UN has always been difficult. Over the years, the organization has both reflected worldwide anti-Jewish prejudice and provided a focus for intervention against Israel’s interests.
UN General Assembly resolution 3379 which in 1975 declared Zionism “a form of racism and racial discrimination” was finally repealed sixteen years later thanks to the efforts of US Senator Daniel P. Moynahan, Assistant Secretary of State John Bolton and President George H. W. Bush, a president not generally considered particularly pro-Israel.
According to Dr. Yohanon Manor, the Israeli government didn’t take the resolution seriously for almost a decade, thinking that the “farfetched, aberrant, and shameful” declaration would fade from significance because of its “sheer inanity.” However, it was reiterated time and again in international fora and used to justify discrimination against Israel, Jews and Jewish organizations.
It should have been obvious at the time that this was something larger than just a maneuver by the Soviets to appease their Arab clients. It tapped deeply into the same dark forces which have lately gathered strength throughout the world. Manor quotes a member of the Israeli delegation, Judge Hadassah Ben Ito, who described the mood of its proponents after passage:
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.
There is a familiar feeling that comes over one while reading this. The expression of joyous Jew-hatred described by Ben Ito is well-known to anyone who has been at an anti-Israel demonstration, and observed the exaltation of the activists as they scream their slogans. Perhaps the UN delegates felt the same dopamine rush that SJP members do today when they disrupt an event featuring an Israeli speaker.
Although the resolution was finally rescinded, little changed at the UN, where Israel is the member state everyone loves to hate. Recently, the Security Council reacted with horrified alarm to the ‘menace’ of Israel’s intention to hold on to the Golan Heights, thus keeping it out of the hands of Da’esh or the Butcher of Damascus. In a normal world, one would expect thanks rather than condemnation.
Although the US traditionally protected Israel against the worst excesses of the UN, this appears to be changing, with the Obama Administration in its last year threatening to use the UN to force Israel to make concessions to the PA.
During the Cold War, American policymakers could choose to support Israel as a way to counterbalance the Soviet influence among the Arab states, or to placate the Arabs by opposing Israel. State Department Arabists always pushed for the latter policy, while most American Jews – and Christian Zionists like Harry Truman – preferred the former and made their preference felt.
Now the world looks very different, with the US and Russia apparently competing for the favor of Iran, the rising power in the Mideast.
The US State Department is as anti-Israel as ever. But it has been joined by an even more fiercely ideological White House, which, it seems to me, not only shares the desire of State to reverse the outcome of the 1967 war, but (although the President and his advisors will not say it publicly) would not cry if the Jewish state disappeared altogether.
There is little to hold back the anti-Israel forces in the US. A vestige of the Cold War imperative to oppose the expansion of Russian influence still exists, although it is far less pressing than in the days of the USSR. The US Congress is divided, and – as shown by the Iran deal – unable or unwilling to limit the President’s actions in the foreign sphere. Israel has become a partisan issue, and US Jews are divided as well.
The ‘Zionism is racism’ declaration, as a General Assembly resolution, was not binding and didn’t directly affect Israel. Despite this, it did a lot of damage as a justification for anti-Israel and anti-Jewish actions by other organizations. In Manor’s words, it “[gave] anti-Semitism international sanction.”
But the Security Council can pass binding resolutions, impose economic sanctions or even call for military action (as happened in the Korean War). It could, for example, put its imprimatur on a Syrian peace deal that includes stripping Israel of the strategic Golan Heights, and then sanction Israel if it did not withdraw, blaming Israel for sabotaging the peace. Obama would certainly want to take credit for such a deal and would not prevent it.
Next to Iran/Hezbollah, the biggest threat facing Israel is the reduction of strategic depth and empowerment of the ‘Palestinians’ by the diplomatic ‘peace process’ imposed by the US, Europe and the UN. This will soon begin with a French-introduced resolution which will declare settlements illegal and set parameters for talks between Israel and the PA/PLO. Administration spokespersons have refused to say whether the US would veto such a resolution, and it seems likely that the United States will at least demand serious concessions to the ‘peace process’ as a quid pro quo.
Israel’s special problem in international diplomacy is that in addition to the normal computations of national interest, there are irrational religious, ideological and racial/ethnic considerations that motivate states to act against us. The elation exhibited by the UN delegates after the passage of an anti-Zionist resolution is one manifestation of this. Another is the blatant double standard applied to Israel, especially by ‘enlightened’ Europeans, on such subjects as occupation (of territory that is ours according to international law), acquisition of territory by force (in a defensive war), proportionate response (more so than any other Western military), security measures (against terrorism) and countless other things.
As time goes by, Israel will less and less be able to depend on the weakening West. Our survival will be based on political agility and our ability to make alliances wherever possible, especially with states like Russia and China, which hold veto power in the Security Council, but also temporary accommodations with declared enemies like Saudi Arabia or Erdoğan’s Turkey.
The best strategy to deal with irrational prejudice is to act from strength, and to demand respect if we can’t have friendship. Today Israel has considerable economic, technological and military clout, which it should not hesitate to use in its foreign relations.
Being the world’s only Jewish state brings with it unique problems and stresses, but independence, Jewish self-determination and, above all, the realization of the dream for which our ancestors prayed daily for thousands of years, more than justifies the cost.