Before Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) was elected as a Democratic Senator from New York in 1976, a seat he held 24 years, he served as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. While Moynihan was the ambassador, the UN passed Resolution 3379, which declared “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” In the new book Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, historian Gil Troy chronicles Moynihan’s fiery response to that resolution, a speech that was delivered 37 years ago today. Moynihan’s speech was very popular — Ronald Reagan was even a great admirer of it — and Troy shows how Moynihan’s “politics of patriotic indignation” has continued to influence US foreign policy, even to the present day. An excerpt from Moynihan’s Moment and the video clip of the speech is below.
On November 10, 1975, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 with 72 delegates voting “yes,” 35 opposing, 32 abstaining, and 3 absent. In the world parliament’s dry, legalistic language, the resolution singled out one form of nationalism, Jewish nationalism, for unprecedented vilification. “Recalling” UN resolutions in 1963 and 1973 condemning racial discrimination, and “taking note” of recent denunciations of Zionism from the International Women’s Year Conference, the Organization of African Unity meeting, and the Non-Aligned Conference in Peru that summer, the General Assembly concluded that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”
After the resolution passed, America’s ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, rose to speak. With his graying hair and matching gray suit, a white handkerchief in his breast pocket, from afar the forty-eight-year-old American looked like every other middle-aged Western diplomat.
Up close, the 6-foot 5-inch professor made a different impression. His hair was a little long and untamed, more Harvard Yard than Turtle Bay, the fashionable New York neighborhood where the UN is located. Strands of hair drooped over the right side of his prominent forehead, compelling him to brush back the errant hair periodically. With a no-nonsense scowl reinforced by arched eyebrows on his oblong face, Moynihan undiplomatically denounced the very forum he was addressing.
“The United States rises to declare,” Moynihan began his formal address, swaying gently, both hands clutching the podium, “before the General Assembly of the United Nations, and before the world, that it does not acknowledge” — he paused — “it will not abide by” — he paused again — “it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.” Later on, he proclaimed, “The lie is that Zionism is a form of racism. The overwhelmingly clear truth is that it is not.”
Soviet-engineered, absolutist, and impervious to changing conditions, the Zionism-is-racism charge fused long-standing anti-Semitism with anti-Americanism, making it surprisingly potent in the post-1960s world, despite being a political chimera. In the Iliad, a Chimera is a grotesque animal jumble, “lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle.” To make Israel as monstrous, Resolution 3379 grafted allegations of racism onto the national conflict between Palestinians and Israel. This ideological hodgepodge racialized the attack on Israel and stigmatized Zionism, for race had been established as the great Western sin and the most potent Third World accusation thanks to Nazism’s defeat, America’s Civil Rights’ successes, the Third World’s anti-colonial rebellions, and the world’s backlash against South African apartheid.
Criminalizing Zionism turned David into Goliath, deeming Israel the Middle East’s perpetual villain with the Palestinians the perennial victims. This great inversion culminated a process that began in 1967 with Israel’s imposing Six-Day War victory, followed by the Arab shift from conventional military tactics to guerilla and ideological warfare, especially after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Viewing Israel through a race-tinted magnifying lens exaggerated even minor flaws into seemingly major sins.
The vote shocked many, especially in the United States, the country largely responsible for founding the UN and justifiably proud of hosting the UN’s main headquarters in New York. The prospect of this non-Jewish society rising with such unity and fury against anti-Semitism provided a rare sight in Jewish history. Only in America, it seemed, would so many non-Jews take Jew hatred so personally. The reaction to Resolution 3379 further demonstrates American exceptionalism, expressed in this case by the extraordinary welcome Jews, Judaism, and Zionism have enjoyed in the United States, particularly after World War II.
Gil Troy is a leading presidential historian and one of today’s most prominent activists in the fight against the delegitimization of Israel. He is Professor of History at McGill University and a Research Fellow in the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Engaging Israel Program. Professor Troy is the author of ten books, including Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, Leading from the Center, Morning in America, and Why I am a Zionist. Troy’s writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, and other major media outlets. He writes a weekly column for The Jerusalem Post, and is Editor-at-Large of The Daily Beast’s Open Zion blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @GilTroy and read his previous post on the OUPblog.