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No, Zionism is not racism

Time magazine cover piece on Moynihan.
Time magazine cover piece on Moynihan.

Time magazine cover piece on Moynihan.

“This is a day that will live in infamy.”

That is what President Franklin D. Roosevelt said about Pearl Harbor.

November 10, 1975 is another infamous day. Exactly forty years ago, the UN General Assembly  passed Resolution 3379, declaring that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”

That day had one hero — Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

His words:

The United States rises to declare before the General Assembly of the United Nations, and before the world, that it does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.

As Moynihan said, Resolution 3379 “reeked of the totalitarian mind, stank of the totalitarian state.” He was right; it came out of Soviet-sponsored agitation and Arab and Third World enthusiasm.

Read the phenomenal account of this event in world history — Moynihan’s Moment, by my friend Gil Troy.

This is what you will learn.

Moral heroism comes in many different forms.

Pat Moynihan was an unlikely defender of Jews, or of a Jewish state. He was born in 1927, and raised in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. He was a tough, Irish Catholic kid who never forgot his roots.

Troy’s book makes it clear: Moynihan was not a philo-semite. He would say: “Israel was not my religion. I had never even been there.”

Moynihan didn’t need to love the Jews.

He had a deeper love: truth.

Moynihan understood Zionism, as only a world-class statesman and thinker could. He understood its roots, that it arose “in the context of a general upsurge of national consciousness and aspiration that overtook most peoples of Europe and in time spread to all of Africa and Asia.”

Moynihan understood the patent absurdity of the “Zionism is racism” myth.

Moynihan scoffed at the idea that the  Jews were a race. “There are black Jews, brown Jews, white Jews, Jews from the Orient and Jews from the West…the State of Israel has been extraordinary in the ‘racial stocks’ from which it has drawn its citizenry.”

Moynihan was not alone in his outrage.

Amazing: many civil rights figures, including Vernon Jordan, Cesar Chavez, and Eldridge Cleaver, denounced the resolution. A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin founded the Black Americans To Support Israel Committee.

Cleaver said from his jail cell: To condemn the Jewish survival doctrine of Zionism as racism is a travesty upon the truth….Of all people in the world, the Jews have not only suffered particularly from racist persecution, they have done more than any other people in history to expose and condemn racism.

It is a history that both Jews and African-Americans might draw on. We have walked together — for each other’s most precious issues.

The “Zionism is Racism” resolution was rescinded in 1991.

No matter: the damage had been done, and it has been thorough, and that damage continues.

First, “Zionism is Racism” framed the United Nations’ perverse obsession with Israel and Zionism — micro-managing its imagined moral failures.

Moynihan predicted this. “Not only will people begin to say, as indeed they have already begun to say, that the United Nations is a place where lies are told…” We are grateful for the outstanding work that Hillel Neuer has done through UN Watch, challenging the body to remain true to its initial vision.

Second, “Zionism is Racism” dumbed down and diluted the meaning of racism itself.

Again, Moynihan:

How will peoples of the world feel about racism, and the need to struggle against it, when they are told that it is an idea so broad as to include the Jewish national liberation movement?

Third, Moynihan predicted that the “Zionism is racism” resolution would produce “ideological second hand smoke.” Israel, Moynihan predicted,  would be regretted.

Phyllis Chesler writes in the current issue of Commentary:

In 1980, on the front pages of the Israeli media, I declared that anti-Semitism was on the rise; that anti-Zionism would be central to the new anti-Semitism; that politically correct Westerners, employing the left’s language of liberation, would lead the unholy charge. Israeli and Diaspora Jewish organizations did not listen. By the early 21st century, Zionism was considered a “Nazi, apartheid, colonialist” conspiracy; human bombs were “victims”; and Israel, who defended rather than endangered both her own and “enemy” civilians, was the “aggressor.” Anti-Zionism allowed anti-racist racists to enjoy their Jew-hatred without guilt..

Ms. Chesler was prophetic. Knife attacks, Palestinian popular songs like Stab, Stab, all point to the growth of a Palestinian culture of nihilism.

The attacks on Israel are no longer about 1967 — about the disputed borders that emerged from the Six Day War.

Those attacks are no longer about 1948 — about Israel itself.

Those attacks are about 1800 BCE — when the Jewish people was born.

It is the Jewish people themselves that is being regretted.

Hope comes in small doses. An Israeli restaurant seeks to shatter the walls that between Israelis and Palestinians — by offering discounts to Jews and Arabs who eat together.

It is a good start.

It is time for world Jewry to remember Daniel Patrick Moynihan, with great love and affection.

He refused to be a party to a lie — the lie that still lies.



About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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  • Zionism is racism if it means telling Palestinians they have no right to have their own homeland and that God gave their land to the Jewish people in justifying their ethnic cleansing and dispossesion. Zionism is racism if Palestinians fighting back against the brutal occupation of the land earmarked for them is called “terrorism” and they continue to be dehumanized. The conflict of Israel-Palestine is not one sided, its a two sided affair. And to say it’s all their fault, shows the arrogance and myopia of political Zionism.