Israel / 24-08-2004
Zionism=Racism – A Historical Perspective by Dina Porat .
Zionism=Racism – A Historical Perspective.
The notorious equation “Zionism=racism” was voted on and approved, on the 10th of November
the United Nation General Assembly (resolution no.3379). It was revoked on December 16, 1991 (Resolution no.46/48) by the same assembly. Despite the Revocation, it was about to reappear in the drafts prepared for the U.N. world conference in
Durban, South-Africa, against racism, racial discrimination, Xenophobia and related intolerance. A few days before the convening of the conference, in mid-August 2001, the Secretary General, Kofi Anan, announced that it would not.
It is the aim of this paper to examine these decisions in the general context of the attitudes of the U.N. and its institutes to the Jewish people and the State of Israel over the years from 1945 to 2001, that is from the end of World War II to the
Following World War II, the Holocaust, and the 12 years of the Third Reich, one could have expected
the international forums, including the U.N. ones, to address racism and anti-Semitism intensively, at the center of their deliberations. Over 50 million people were lost in the course of the war, and thrice that number ended up wounded or crippled, so that the need to create legal and institutional barriers against similar future occurrences seemed urgent. Indeed, on the 29th of November 1947 the U.N. General Assembly voted for the establishment of a Jewish state in the
Israel, thereby legitimizing the return of the Jewish people to its ancient homeland. Yet when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the U.N. first charters, including the one against genocide, were formulated during the years 1945-1951, anti-Semitism, or the Jewish people at large, were not even mentioned in the published texts.
One could argue that these charters, the declaration and following conventions concern all member nations of the U.N., and the countries could not be specified in texts of a general nature, no matter how long and painful their suffering had been. The following could illustrate that the problem is a deeper one, and it concerns the status of Jewish suffering a few years after the war was over: Eleanor Roosevelt was asked to write the introduction to the first English edition of Anne Frank’s diary, published in
New York. Mrs. Roosevelt, chairperson of the committee drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights just a while before that, did not mention in her introduction even the fact that Anne Frank was Jewish, or the type of persecution that forced her family and herself to go into hiding. The Holocaust, and the details of Anne’s death in
Bergen-Belsen were not referred to as well. Being a staunch supporter of Israel, who lent ear during the Holocaust to Jewish delegations, the reasons for such writing on Mrs. Roosevelt’s part were others, beyond her personal preferences: The post-war wish to treat suffering in general and not in particular, and the American interest in restoring Europe as quickly as possible, especially western and central Europe – including West Germany – since the Cold War was about to begin.
During the 50ties it seemed that the international community was satisfied with its early decisions, so that once the need to address racism arose, it was done in each country separately. Let us emphasize that debate, legislation or other forms of addressing racism, and all the more so anti-Semitism as one its major forms, were rare, and remained so until the 90ties, a decade that will be referred to later. Still ,worth mentioning are 1965 establishment of the ICERD (International Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination), amended at 1981; the 1967 UNESCO manifest ( the only one to mention anti-Semitism until the 90ties); and the 1973 U.N. declaration against the Apartheid in South-Africa.
Political opponents of Zionism claimed, especially from 1948 and onwards that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are different concepts characterized by different ideas, especially since the old Jews and the new Israeli are separate entities. Yet in fact the treatment of the Zionist movement and the Jewish people by the various political opponents, and sometimes even of the entities that were behind the conventions and declarations, was not only similar – it often disguised anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism, claiming anti-Zionism is but a form of criticism, and therefore justified. Such a development occurred in the U.N., as follows.
Until 1948 the Arab states depicted Zionism as an agent of “both Imperialism and Bolshevism” (despite the obvious contradiction between the two), and after 1948, with the tightening of ties between the Soviet Union and the Arab states – as “an imperialist conspiracy” against the unity in the Arab world. Indeed, the Soviet Union was the first to attack Zionism in its own territory as well as in the East-European countries practically subdued by her, in a series of mock-trials held in
Warsaw, mostly held in the 50ties. By blaming Zionism of international conspiracies, and using Jews as scapegoats, The Bolshevik leadership could handle inner crises, and find a useful substitute to anti-Semitism that was formally and legally forbidden.
At the end of the 50ties a wave of anti-Semitic acts, Swastika smearing and vandalism swept the world,
West Germany especially, so much so, that it was branded “the Swastika Plague”. Rumors spread pin-pointing the Soviet KGB as the behind-the-scenes initiator of this wave, aimed at defaming
West Germany. Lengthy efforts, that dragged for a number of years, started in two opposite directions: to denounce anti-Semitism on the one hand, and to enlist support against such a denunciation on the other. While the Arab states were working against the denunciation, the first version of the Palestinian covenant published in 1964 proclaimed that Zionism is “racist and segregationist in its structure and fascist in its means and aims”. The reasoning centered around the allegation that the Jewish people is particularly prone to racism due to its inborn “chosen people” self-portrayal, and thereby the allegation connected attitudes towards Jews and Israelis alike.
On March 1964 The U.N. Commission on Human Rights was drafting an international agreement intended to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. The
U.S. representative suggested, because of internal electoral reasons, the inclusion of an outright denouncement of anti-Semitism and a commitment of all signed parties to abolish residues of anti-Semitism. The
Soviet Union delegation suggested denouncing “anti-Semitism, Zionism, Nazism, Neo-Nazism and all forms of the policy and ideology of colonialism”, etc. Both suggestions were outvoted, as was a second set of suggestions and counter-suggestions two years later. Three main components of the general Assembly fought off the denouncement: The Arab states; the Soviet Union and its satellites, who had one more reason, besides supporting the Arab cause: their concern that the debate would bring about a discussion regarding the situation of Soviet and East-European Jewry; and the Afro-Asian block, the only one among these three truly interested in struggling against racism, and therefore considering the debates on anti-Semitism a waste of time and effort. The
Soviet Union failed in its efforts to connect Zionism with Nazism as a means to take the denouncement of anti-Semitism off the U.N.’s agenda, but the road to the denouncement of Zionism was already paved – a coalition of those three components would be able to break the post-war taboo on anti-Semitism once the chance is found.
A parallel and opposite process took place at the same time elsewhere – in the
Vatican. In the early 60ties Pope John the 23rd,
formerly the Apostolic Nuncio in
Turkey during the war, was leading the church to reforms in basic issues. Having watched
and taken part in the rescue efforts carried out from Istanbul, thus understanding the Jewish plight, he managed to have – though after his death - the Second Ecumenical Council of 1965 decide upon absolving the Jewish people from its alleged responsibility for Jesus’ crucification, and the Jews being God’s first chosen people. Many generations would elapse before these decisions really sink into Christian mentality, but a courageous Pope took this first crucial step, and it has been carried on further by the present one.
The 1967 stunning defeat of the Arab countries that attacked Israel with ample support of the Soviet Union enhanced their attacks on Zionism: having realized that their advocation to destroy Israel does not work in their favor, they focused their efforts on depicting the Zionist movement and Israel in the most negative terms, first and foremost as racist. The Six Days War encouraged national feelings among Soviet Jews, and the Soviet regime reacted, much as the Arabs, by increasing the attacks on Zionism, allegedly an accomplice of the Nazi regime – in other words, as racist as a national movement can get. The Soviet tactic following 1967 used
support of the P.L.O (Palestine Liberation Organization) as a means to further their influence in the
Middle East. A further vilification of Zionism was the order of the day, to justify its replacement by a Palestinian state.
Joint efforts of the Arab states and the
Soviet Union resulted in a series of anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist resolutions in the 70ties. At the end of 1973, using their oil
embargo as a weapon, they led to the first UNGA resolution connecting
Portugal’s colonialism, the South-African apartheid and
Israel’s Imperialism. The 1975 international women’s convention in
Mexico openly called for the abolishment of Zionism, the Moslem countries and the Organization of African Unity followed with denunciations (though tempered by
Egypt that started negotiations with
Israel and chased away the Soviet experts in 1972) and so did the 77 – the non-aligned countries that same year. The coalition of Arabs, Soviets and 112
Third World countries (that partly overlaps the non-aligned) could not be outnumbered in the UN institutes. Between the oil pressure, the sensitivity of the third world to racism, the guilt feelings in post-colonial
Europe, Soviet anti-American policies and the European extreme left, at its height during the 70ties, and its unconditional support of the underdog – Zionism just had no chance. About a month before the resolution on Zionism and racism became a fact, the General Assembly was addressed by
Uganda’s president and then head of the OAU, the organization for African Unity, calling to chase
Israel out of the UN and destroy it. And he – he of all people – got a lengthy standing ovation.
The November 1975 resolution, determining “that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination, was voted for by 72 countries, 35 opposed it and 32 abstained. Tough it was not a unanimous vote, and though it could have perhaps been avoided had other tactics been used in the weeks that preceded it –
Israel did not concentrate efforts against it. A revocation seemed hopeless, especially as this resolution gave way to no less than 14 direct and indirect repetitions of the Zionism=racism equation in international forums held between 1976 to 1985 and no less than
200 in the UN institutes only. To mention just three, among so many others: The 1980 Copenhagen resolution of another international women’s conference to do away with Zionism; of no less than eight British students associations to rectify the UN resolution and not to include Jewish member associations; and of the 1979 Havana non-aligned conference that outlawed Zionism as racist, and as a crime against humanity. The damage caused by the 1975 UN resolution was not only a delegitimization of the state of Israel and
the national movement of the Jewish people, and their singling out and isolation as the pariah among the nations; it also brought about a revival of anti-Semitism and as if gave it renewed justification. Last but certainly not least on the list of damages was a growing estrangement between Jews abroad and Israel, because identifying with her meant loosing grace with the surrounding society.
The 90ties witnessed a change of atmosphere: the downfall of the
Soviet Union in the late 80ties broke the former coalition with the Arab states and the third world. Moreover,
Moscow was the main user, in many vicious ways, of the Zionism=racism equation, for its own interests. Other reasons were the supremacy of the US in the international arena once the cold war was over, and especially following the first Gulf war, and its commitment to Israel; the weakening of the oil producers’ grip, lack of unity in the Arab world, and the distancing of the third world countries first from the Soviets and later from the Arab states. A short while thereafter, on December 1991, the 1975 resolution was revoked, the revocation meeting strong Arab protests.
Another decade started, in which the social and economic developments placed the issue of racism at the center stage, but this time not as a result of political maneuvers.
The process of globalization, namely the growing control that mega-companies and banks gained over the markets, the turning of the sophisticated parts of the world into a net, a “global village”, and the re-definition of nations in the former huge eastern block and in the re-united Germany – all caused waves of impoverished immigrants, flooding from the “poor south” – Far Asia, Africa and Latin America, into the “rich north” – north America, and western and central Europe. Their manual work is sorely needed, so that the educated locals could turn to the high-tec flourishing industries,
and where the population is aging. But their presence,
alien to the local cultures and social fabrics, makes for a growing problem. Indeed, the extreme right came back into the scene, violently reacting to what they regarded as an assault on the homogeneity of their homelands. The most striking example is the “Summer of Rostock”, when immigrants were burnt alive by German extreme right hooligans. New definitions and legislation were called for, to clarify and regulate relations between the newcomers and the countries that allowed their entrance.
The UN gathered a large-scale international conference in
Vienna, in the summer of 1993, to determine the rights to be allocated to refugees, foreign worker, immigrants, asylum seekers; to define their legal status; to defend them against attacks, and to limit their influence at the same time. The conference could not cope with this complexity, and the 10,000 delegates and participants had to contend themselves with a general final statement. Still, the conference had two significant results: half of the participants were members of the NGO’s, the non-governmental organizations. Following the tepid final statement they increased their efforts and intensified their dedication on behalf of the immigrants and refugees, making human rights their “civil religion” and the main issue on many agendas. The second result was a decision, taken on March 1994 by the UN commission on Human rights, to the effect that anti-Semitism is a form of racism. It was regarded as a “historic decision” – quite an ironic name for such a self-understood one, and as if to say that the denunciation of anti-Semitism demanded special deliberations and efforts. On the other hand – it enhanced the effect of the 1991 revocation of Zionism=racism, and reversed it, putting anti-Semitism=racism into the equation. Moreover, it enabled the use of the more rigorous efforts taken by the NGO’s to achieve anti-racist legislation in various countries, in order to include clauses against anti-Semitism.
Indeed, legislation against racism intensified during the 90ties, in an attempt to deter the extreme right from further violence, realizing the growing danger they constitute to democracies and to the public order. Further efforts were needed in order to limit the increase of hate-propaganda in the internet, whose importance as a vehicle of dissemination became crucial in the 90ties. Legislation against anti-Semitism increased as well, partly because Jewish organizations, encouraged by the change in atmosphere, intensified activity, and partly because east-European countries, just out of the Soviet yoke, were already anxious to join rich western organizations. In order for them to be accepted, they had to prove progress on the human rights front, that now included anti-Semitism under the inspection of UN members, the European Union and other international bodies. By 1995
specific laws against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, or mentioned them in others, mainly meant against racism. At the end of 1993 the Holy See signed a basic agreement with the state of
Israel, a historic event of utmost importance. It seemed that time, especially after the
Oslo accord, would heal the former wounds caused by the assaults on
Israel and Jews.
Since the 1993 UN Vienna conference was a failure, and other legislation or definitions of racism were slow to advance; and since the immigrants and foreign workers problems increased as their numbers swelled, 1997 was declared by the UN
the year of “struggle against racism”. This year, despite generous budgets showered on the NGO’s and on a long line of committees and commissions, ended in another failure, and in a decision to gather a world conference in
Durban, South-Africa, the symbol of freedom from a racist apartheid regime. Four preparatory conferences gathered, three of them (in Senegal, Santiago de Chile and Strasburg) producing a draft dealing with the burning problems of attitudes towards strangers, while the forth one, in Teheran, ended up dealing with the Middle East, denouncing Israel, and calling to erase from UN texts all references to anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and its denial. Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for refugees, did not gather enough strength to oppose the Teheran draft, because of personal ambitions (to replace Secretary General Kofi Anan) and because of the growing islamization of the UN institutes. At the end of the decade the Arab League states numbered 22, and these are included in the 56 states of the Moslem Union, who are traditionally backed by part of the 112 non-aligned, though in less numbers than in the 70ties.
All in all, the Moslem growing presence in
Europe (about 18 million in 2000), their oil money and its pressure on media and academia, plus the number of their states, changed the UN, and provided the Palestinians with a strong shoulder. Three more hasty preparatory conferences that took place in
Geneva, until July 2001, yielded to the Arab demands. Moreover, at that point of time it was already common knowledge that the third world countries, and the black community in the
US were about to raise demands for compensations, to be paid by post-colonial Europe and by north America, so that dealing with
Middle East instead seemed a convenient solution.
The lack of proper legislation and definitions of racism, the complicated presence of
immigrants of all colors and origins, and the human rights issue turning into a “civil religion”, all blurred the concept of racism and it was widened to include all evil under the sun. Palestinian propaganda was not late in harnessing the blurred concept for their political struggle, and branded
Israel as a racist state, thereby reawakening the spirit of the 70ties. Arab representatives in the UN institutes demanded a revival of the 1975 resolution; Arab intellectuals
signed a petition to this effect; conferences held in
Cairo in July and August urged the
Durban conference, about to begin at the end of the month, to equate Zionism with racism. Secretary General Kofi Anan declared that such an equation would not be included in the final general draft presented to the participants, but Arab blatant efforts, speeches and use of the media continued throughout. September witnessed a wholesale assault on
Israel and the Jewish people in all forms of the media worldwide, that spilled out of
Durban. “A political Holocaust”, commented Jewish participants.
When the conference ended the final draft of declarations and plans for action did not include any of the planned allegations; Israel was not banned or denounced; the Holocaust was written in the text with a capital H’, in a special clause recommending that it should never be forgotten; anti-Semitism was mentioned several times, alongside Islamophobia, as a despicable phenomenon; concern was expressed for the future of the Palestinians, and hopes for peaceful co-existence with Israel. It was an outstanding diplomatic victory, though it should be taken into consideration that the third world countries, realizing that the Middle Eastern issue was about to rob them of a long-planned conference on genuine racism and on compensations, were ready to back Israel as of the middle of the deliberations. The Arab world admitted that
Durban, into which they invested so much financing and efforts, ended with their failure. But The anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish atmosphere created in
Durban, the huge demonstrations marching with Zionism-racism signs seen on the TV screens in every home worldwide
did not need a formal resolution in order to catch up – these will not be erased for a long time.
Right now, at the
summer of 2003, following almost three years of severe increase in anti-Semitism in all its forms, another equation is on the agenda – Zionism=Nazism. It had already been used by Soviet propaganda and by extreme leftist, yet nowadays, as the atmosphere of the &0ties has made a comeback, it infiltrated into the discourse of mainstream organs of media, academia and politics, even among Jews and Israelis. And it is much more insulting, for being compared to Nazis means indeed being as racist as one can get.
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