A Still-stained UN

Daniel Patrick Moynihan - the United States envoy to the United Nations in November 1975, when the organization adopted the resolution equating Zionism with racism - immediately understood that the document was shockingly anti-Semitic. He thought the decision targeted not just Israel but world Jewry, and therefore at first had a difficult time understanding what appeared to him to be a non-reaction on the part of the Jewish community in the United States. The Israeli envoy to the UN, Chaim Herzog, was compelled to work hard to explain to his government and the leaders of American Jewry the gravity of what the UN General Assembly had done.

Moynihan did not hide his consternation when he wrote that as the UN was adopting the resolution, the Israeli media were focused on port strikes in Ashdod and ignoring the fact that, by means of the UN, the international community had in effect attempted to completely uproot the port.

Thirty years after the General Assembly adopted the unfortunate resolution, the UN is still having a hard time getting rid of the stain that has adhered to its image. During a few conferences held in the United States last week, it became clear that the resolution has remained engraved in the collective memory of Jews and non-Jews. The American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, spoke about the worst decision in the history of the UN and said it was difficult to believe that the organization needed 16 years to abolish it, and even then, in a proceeding that was overly technical and did not address the substance of the matter.

Bolton was personally involved in 1991, as assistant secretary of state for international organizations in the administration of President George Bush, Sr., in the American diplomatic effort to recruit enough votes to repeal the resolution. The process, which was unprecedented in the history of the UN, was made possible only in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The reference to the severe outburst of anti-Semitism in the organization that pretends to represent the universal struggle for human rights, is likely to sound rather upsetting at a time when Jews and Israelis are contentedly pointing out their achievements in the UN arena. Indeed, changes have taken place in the way the UN relates to the issue of anti-Semitism and the memory of the Holocaust: Last year the international body, for the first time in its history, adopted a special resolution to condemn anti-Semitism; last month, it declared an international Holocaust remembrance day. There is a difference in the mood toward Israel, but it has yet to be expressed in decisions relating to the Middle East.

In November 1975, then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin did not take the UN decision seriously at first. Only later did he join the sharp protest. Today, when Israel is leading the campaign to condemn anti-Semitism and preserve the memory of the Holocaust in the UN, it's still hard to assess whether improvements with respect to anti-Semitism will be "balanced out" by the loathing felt toward the country. More than once, condemnation of anti-Semitism has served as justification for increased hostility toward Israel - and in the UN, in spite of it all, there has not yet been a change in the hostile and one-sided approach toward Israel in everything relating to the conflict with the Palestinians.

On the other hand, Israel is liable to indirectly enjoy more fundamental returns from the UN regarding the definition of the struggle against terror and countries that support it, like Iran and Syria. The UN today reflects the increasing understanding in public opinion, whereby in the framework of the struggle against countries linked to terror, one cannot hide behind the ambiguous phraseology that has been accepted in the organization. Behind the anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric - both in Europe and in the UN - it is clear to many people there that they must fundamentally change the distorting legal approach that until now has characterized the UN's definitions of terror. This is the first time that a report by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, recommending that terror be unequivocally defined as any activity meant to kill civilians, has been brought before the General Assembly.

Several days after the General Assembly adopted the resolution equating Zionism with racism, Damascus Radio called on the terror organizations to use the UN resolution as dynamite to blow up Zion Square in Jerusalem. Today, as well, we cannot ignore the triple threat of anti-Semitism, terror and the call for Israel's destruction. The fact that Iran and Syria, which still serve as honorable members of the Security Council or the UN's human rights commission, are for the first time being condemned in the UN, is a sign of hope for more fundamental change.