It passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism.
Most of Resolution 3379 was actually an innocuous, in parts vaguely honorable document condemning "all forms of racial discrimination," noting the importance of the equality of women and "their contribution to peace," condemning colonialism, imperialism and all sorts of other earnest condemnations typical of what, in the 1970s, passed for attempts at relevance by non-aligned countries alternately shoved about by the West or the Soviet Bloc.
But there was that line at the end: "Determines that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination."
A lot can be said about Zionism as an ideology, a religious movement, a nationalist underpinning of the idea, then the reality, of Israel. But calling it racist, as Arab countries did after 1948 and some Arabs still do today, wasn't an attempt to give “a legal and concrete form” to a “long held view of the Zionist state,” as A.M. el-Messiri, an Arab League adviser at the United Nations and the author of The Encyclopedia of Zionist Concepts and Terminology: A Critical View wrote in The New York Times that week. It was an attempt to incite and inflame a pretty large segment of the world against Israel and the United States, its chief sponsor. It was anti-Semitism on an official, global scale.
How had it come to that? Through a combination of cold war opportunism by the Soviet Union, heavy-handed bullying by oil-producing states, a particularly strident period of anti-Americanism in the developing world, deft triangulating by the Palestine Liberation Organization, and also, it should be said, a little help from Israel, whose heavy-handed occupation and repression of large Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza was not (and still isn’t) the sort of thing shining cities on Holy Land hills are made of.
PLO, and hard-line Arab regimes including Iraq, Kuwait and Syria, attempted to throw Israel out of the United Nations. They first sought support from the Organization of African Unity that July. The organization’s 50-some member nations dismissed the attempt. The PLO and its allies then attempted to win the support of the 82-member movement of non-aligned nations at its meeting in Lima, Peru in August.
They failed again.
Even the PLO’s and its closest allies’ sponsor, the six-year-old Islamic Conference led by Saudi Arabia, balked. The conference, a group of 40 Muslim nations, had met in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in July and agreed to seek Israel’s expulsion from the UN. But by September the conference had changed its mind.
The resolution equating Zionism with racism was one way to save face--and embarrass Israel. For that scheme, the hard-liners got support of mostly Muslim oil-producing regimes such as Libya and Saudi Arabia. Sensing a fresh wedge issue to use against the United States in the great game involving the Middle East, the Soviet Union joined the anti-Zionism wave. The oil powers used their clout to convince wavering nations to join the vote. The United States used its power to ward off an even larger landslide for the vote.
The resolution finally passed 72 to 35, with 32 abstentions.
Writing in The Times, El Messiri argued that “a condemnation of Zionism as a form of racism is a condemnation of certain political ideals the Arabs consider exclusionary, and of a certain political practice we consider racist.”
Writing in the same newspaper, columnist Anthony Lewis would have none of it: “Plain old anti-Semitism in the world is one reason for passage of the resolution, and it is necessary to face up to that grizzly fact,” Lewis wrote. “Averting one’s eyes from the incitement of hatred against Jews—pretending that it is a passing phenomenon in some other place—was tried in the 1930s.”
But Lewis measured his words, too, as he noted that the United States was in no position to take the moral high ground: “A superpower that drops 500,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia is in rather a doubtful position to lecture others on morality. So is a secretary of state who asserts the right upset the constitutional government of a friendly country by covert means.” (Lewis was referring to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the “torturers” whom he “and the CIA helped to power in Chile.”)
More legitimate protest took the form of a mass demonstration.
A Protest Draws Some 100,000
On Nov. 11, tens of thousands of New Yorkers and others who’d bused in on 300 chartered buses or flown in from as far away as Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maine, according to a New York Times report of the event, gathered in Manhattan’s garment district (on Seventh Avenue, from 39th to 41st Streets) for a 90-minute protest. They condemned the resolution as an “outrage” and an “abomination,” and held up signs that read “Zionism Forever,” “Those Who Condemn Zionism Condone Hitler,” and “R.I.P. United Nations 1945-75.”
Leah Rabin, wife of Yitzhak Rabin, said, “Out history will not go backwards; there will be Jewish extermination no more. There is an independent state of Israel.” A message from President Ford was read as well. The United Nations, Ford said, “is weakened and its credibility suffers when it takes actions, under whatever guise, which serve only to debase the principles upon which the UN was founded and to which its charter is dedicated.”
Repeal of the Resolution in 1991
The anti-Zionism resolution was repealed by a an overwhelming vote of the General Assembly on December 16, 1991. The repeal was advanced by President George H.W. Bush following the Persian Gulf War. The vote was 111 nations for repeal, 25 nations against (mostly Islamic nations) and 13 abstentions.