NEW YORK -- In an act likely to help repair the tattered relations with Israel and American Jewish leaders, President Bush urged the U.N. General Assembly yesterday to unconditionally repeal its controversial 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism.
"To equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism is to twist history and forget the terrible plight of Jews in World War II and, indeed, throughout history," the president told the General Assembly.
"To equate Zionism with racism is to reject Israel itself, a member of good standing of the United Nations," he went on. "This body cannot claim to seek peace and at the same time challenge Israel's right to exist. By repealing this resolution unconditionally, the United Nations will enhance its credibility and serve the cause of peace."
In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir described Mr. Bush's address as "a very beautiful and inspiring speech."
"I hope that the relations will become as normal as they have been," Mr. Shamir told reporters. "We will see in the next few weeks."
Although the United States has long opposed the Zionism-racism resolution, it has never before made a formal request for repeal, fearing that any campaign would be futile. Israeli officials have also said in the past that they would never campaign for repeal unless they were sure of a comfortable majority vote.
"I think now they [the Israelis] feel there is or is likely to be [a majority], and that's our position, as well," said John Bolton, assistant secretary of state for international organizations.
Mr. Bolton said that many East European and Third World nationswere now ready to reverse their 1975 votes. "These countries are not going to want to be on the wrong side of a losing issue," he said.
Yet Mr. Bolton also warned that the campaign could prove difficult. "Nobody underestimates the difficulty of doing this," he told reporters. "It's hard enough to get a bill through Congress. It's levels of magnitude more difficult to get a resolution through in the U.N. General Assembly."
Relations between Israel and the United States grew troubled a few weeks ago when Mr. Bush said he would delay consideration for four months of an Israeli request for $10 billion in loan guarantees to resettle Soviet Jews.
That was interpreted by Israelis as an attempt to use the loan to force concessions from them at a future Middle East peace conference.
After the Bush speech to the United Nations, the American Jewish Committee issued a statement welcoming what it called "PresidentBush's ringing denunciation . . . of . . . a resolution that has sought to de-legitimize Israel and helped spread the virus of anti-Semitism."
An administration official told reporters that the end of the Persian Gulf war had forged a "changed attitude" in the Middle East that made repeal of the resolution more likely than ever before.
After years in which the United Nations was "torn apart by ideology" on Middle East issues, the official said the United States thought it important to "reconstruct" the stance taken by the United Nations to reflect "the open-mindedness among both the Arabs and the Israelis with respect to their neighbors."
Although Mr. Bush had not consulted with Arab governments before making his announcement, the official said, Arab leaders had known through news reports that the White House was considering a call for repeal of the resolution. Yet, the official said, he did not know of any cases in which Arab nations sought to make known their opposition to the proposal.