FIFTEEN YEARS ago the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that "Zionism is a form of racism."
It was a propaganda victory for the Arab states, won with the help of the Soviet bloc and many Third World countries.
To Israel and its friends, the resolution was an outrage -- "infamous," as Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan called it.
No people had suffered more from the murderous evil of racism. Against the odds Jews had now made a national home for themselves again. To be branded as racist for that success was bitter gall.
But the resolution has done no good for its sponsors either. Theirs was a Pyrrhic victory, and it is time they recognized it. The resolution has harmed the cause of justice and peace in the Middle East, and it will keep on doing harm until it is rescinded. As an example, consider Israel's recent refusal to cooperate with the inquiry voted by the U.N. Security Council into the killing of 21 Palestinians in Jerusalem.
I think the refusal was folly, damaging to Israel. But in criticizing the decision, one has to understand that it has some roots in Israeli distrust of the United Nations.
What country, after all, would welcome an inquiry by an international organization that had assailed the very basis of its existence?
Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar would in all likelihood have made this a fair professional investigation. But the Zionism-is-racism resolution makes it very hard for Israelis to believe in the U.N.'s impartiality. Hateful words have consequences.
The 1975 General Assembly resolution is a significant part of a barrage of hate that has had terrible consequences in Israel. It has intensified the element of fear in the Israeli psyche, the feeling that Jewish history rules out trust in any other people.
Ever since the 1967 war, there has been a struggle in Israel, even within individual Israelis.
One side saw peace and normal human relations with Arab neighbors as the great goal. The other said that peace was a mirage, because the Arabs really wanted not peace but the destruction of Israel -- and hence that territory was more important than the hope of peace.
The second view has prevailed. Israel has held on to the occupied West Bank and Gaza, ruling its Palestinian inhabitants by force.
The growth of religious nationalism has greatly encouraged that course. But so has hateful rhetoric like the 1975 U.N. resolution, essentially saying that Israel will not be accepted as legitimate no matter what it does.
When one Arab leader, President Sadat, made a dramatic gesture to show that he considered Israel a legitimate state, Israelis believed him -- and the other side of their psyche prevailed.
They withdrew from the Sinai in exchange for peace with Egypt and security arrangements that have proved immensely beneficial.
But when Yasir Arafat and the PLO finally said they accepted Israel, there was no response. Few Israelis believed the words.
The failure to respond was a great mistake, I believe, as was the Shamir government's rejection of talks with Palestinians.
The realistic forces in the Palestinian community, those who had been urging accommodation with Israel, lost their credibility. The advocates of force and religious fundamentalism gained.
But Palestinians and other Arabs have to understand that rejection hurts the cause of realism and peace when they do the rejecting too. A resolution that says Zionism is racism tells Israelis that negotiation would only be a trap.
Some people with experience in the Middle East believe that the fears and hatreds have gone too deep on both sides for Arabs and Israelis ever to settle their differences.
That is too terrible a conclusion for me to accept. At a minimum the possibility of negotiation has to be kept alive. And that requires reducing the obstacles of fear.
The 1975 resolution is one such obstacle. It encourages continued occupation rather than peace. It disables the United Nations from playing a useful part. To give up a propaganda victory cannot be easy, however hollow it has proved to be.
But those who passed the 1975 resolution should have the wisdom to change their vote now if they really want a just settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.