Local Jewish officials exulted after the United Nations General Assembly yesterday rescinded its 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism.
"It's long overdue, and I'm elated," said Isaiah Kuperstein, the executive director of the Baltimore district chapter of the Zionist Organization of America.
Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people can lay claim to their biblical homeland in the Middle East. Arabs have countered that this notion is racist because it excludes non-Jews from the territory.
"But how can anyone call Israel racist when it has recently rescued some 20,000 Ethiopian Jews and welcomed them in?" Kuperstein argued.
The General Assembly rescinded the resolution by a 111-25 vote, after weeks of intense lobbying by the Bush administration. Most of the 25 nay votes came from Arab and Islamic states historically hostile to Israel, including Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan and Syria.
Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the resolution was "a moral abomination" that has done "great damage to the credibility of the U.N.'s ability to speak to matters of morality, especially in regard to the Middle East."
The repeal, according to Abramson, is "an extremely positive step."
Kenneth Lasson, president of the local chapter of the Religious Zionists of America, a mostly Orthodox Jewish organization based in New York, also called yesterday's repeal of Resolution 3379 "overdue."
"The Jewish community has seen the resolution as a sham, a farce that never should have been passed in the first place. On the positive side, the repeal reflects a welcome thawing of tensions around the world," said Lasson, a University of Baltimore law professor and chairman of the Baltimore Jewish Council's Israel-Middle East committee.
Rabbi Ira Schiffer of Beth Am Congregation said it was "about time this embarrassment of a resolution was taken off the books."
"The repeal is necessary not for the justification of Israel but for the repairing of the image of the U.N.," said Schiffer, the president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis.
The resolution was passed 16 years ago through the combined efforts of the Arab states and the Soviet bloc countries. The leaders of those nations viewed the measure as a way to shame Israel into surrendering land it gained in the Six Day War of 1967.
But now the former Soviet bloc nations have diplomatic relations with Israel, and Middle Eastern Arab leaders are holding peace talks with the heads of the Jewish state.
Jerome Segal, a University of Maryland research scholar who heads the Silver Spring-based Jewish Peace Lobby, explained that the timing of the repeal is linked to "two big changes in the world."
"One, the Soviet bloc countries, which played a big role in pushing through the resolution in 1975, are now on their own and more friendly to Israel. And two, the Arab states themselves are more open to Israel, as evidenced by the fact that the two sides are sitting together at the peace table," said Segal. "This was the opportune time to push for the repeal, and it worked."
Segal, the author of "Creating the Palestinian State: A Strategy for Peace," added that the repeal might prove to be "a good thing" for both sides in the Middle East conflict.
"My own belief," he said, "is that Jews and Arabs should have the right to their own self-determination in the Middle East. The outcome of Zionism -- the state of Israel -- will be secure only if the right to self-determination for the Palestinians is also recognized. I hope the removal of the anti-Zionism resolution from the books will erase at least one big obstacle to negotiations for Palestinian self-determination."
"Having that resolution around created the feeling among Israelis that they were isolated and couldn't trust anyone but themselves," Segal said. "A lasting peace isn't possible if the rest of the world sees you as illegitimate. The repeal should be a valuable psychological lift for Israel and for anyone else interested in a real peace in the Middle East."