In an act sure to help repair tattered U.S. relations with Israel and American Jewish leaders, President Bush urged the General Assembly on Monday to unconditionally repeal its controversial 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism.
“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,” the President told the General Assembly.
“To equate Zionism with racism is to reject Israel itself, a member of good standing of the United Nations,” he went on. “This body cannot claim to seek peace and at the same time challenge Israel’s right to exist. By repealing this resolution unconditionally, the United Nations will enhance its credibility and serve the cause of peace.”
In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir described Bush’s address to the United Nations as “a very beautiful and inspiring speech.”
“I hope that the relations will become as normal as they have been,” Shamir told reporters. “We will see in the next few weeks.”
Although the United States has long opposed the Zionism-racism resolution, it has never before made a formal request for repeal, fearing that any campaign would be futile. Israeli officials have also said in the past that they would never campaign for repeal unless they were sure of a comfortable majority. Both the Israelis and Americans evidently feel that this is now possible.
“I think now they (the Israelis) feel there is or is likely to be (a majority), and that’s our position as well,” said John R. Bolton, assistant secretary of state for international organizations.
Bolton said that many East European and Third World nations are now ready to reverse their 1975 votes. And he predicted that the momentum behind a repeal might cause a dramatic turnabout in the vote count. “These countries are not going to want to be on the wrong side of a losing issue,” he said.
Yet Bolton also warned that the campaign could prove difficult. “Nobody underestimates the difficulty of doing this,” he told reporters. “It’s hard enough to get a bill through Congress. It’s levels of magnitude more difficult to get a resolution through in the U.N. General Assembly.”
Relations between Israel and the United States grew troubled recently when Bush said he would delay consideration for four months of an Israeli request for $10 billion in loan guarantees to resettle Soviet Jews. This was interpreted by Israelis as an attempt by the Bush Administration to use the loan as a weapon to force concessions from them at a future Middle East peace conference.
After the Bush speech to the United Nations, the American Jewish Committee issued a statement welcoming what it called “President Bush’s ringing denunciation . . . of . . . a resolution that has sought to de-legitimize Israel and helped spread the virus of anti-Semitism.”
An Administration official told reporters that the end of the Gulf War had forged a “changed attitude” in the Middle East that makes repeal of the resolution more likely than ever before.
After years in which the United Nations was “torn apart by ideology” on Middle East issues, the official said the United States thought it important to “reconstruct” the stance taken by the United Nations to reflect “the open-mindedness among both the Arabs and the Israelis with respect to their neighbors.”
Although Bush had not consulted with Arab governments before making his announcement, the official said, Arab leaders had known through news reports that the White House was considering a call for repeal of the resolution. Yet, the official said, he did not know of any cases in which Arab nations sought to make known their opposition to the proposal.
While Bush told the General Assembly that “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,” there was no Israeli official in the chamber to hear him. The Israeli delegation had informed the United Nations earlier that it could not attend any sessions Monday and Tuesday because of the Jewish religious holiday of Sukkot.
When the General Assembly passed the resolution 16 years ago, Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.), then U.N. ambassador, denounced the passage as “this infamous act.” The Arab-sponsored resolution, which defined Zionism as “a form of racism and racial discrimination,” was passed by a 72-35 vote with 32 abstentions. The opposition included the United States. The majority was made up mostly of Arab, African and Asian nations and a good number of Latin American countries, including Mexico and Brazil.
The resolution infuriated Israelis and other Jews, who regard Zionism as the historical movement for the establishment of a Jewish homeland and look on Israel as the culmination of this movement. Angry American Jewish groups, for example, retaliated against Mexico with a boycott campaign that cost the Mexicans millions of dollars in lost tourist income.
Some strategists have warned in the past that a campaign for repeal might have some snares of its own. Arab governments, for example, might oppose outright repeal unless the General Assembly passed a resolution stating that the Palestinian people have as much right as the Jewish people to the land.
But Yoram Aridor, the Israeli U.N. ambassador, has said that this would be unacceptable to Israel. “We will not accept any rider that will diminish the effect of the proposed repeal,” Aridor said in a recent interview.