Righting a Wrong at the U.N.

December 22, 1991

The repeal of the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 1975 condemning Zionism as racism is welcome and overdue. It removes a stain on the integrity of the world body.

Zionism, the ideology which founded Israel as a Jewish state, is racist to the extent that almost every nationalism is racism. And no more.

The resolution adopted in 1975 by a vote of 72-35 with 32 abstentions implied that Israel was illegitimate and that its Arab neighbors ought not to make peace with it. That vote was testament to the Arab hold on Third World ideology and Soviet demagogy. The governments that voted for it knew it was a lie.

The vote for repeal, only the second repeal of a political resolution in United Nations history and the first since 1950, carried by a stronger vote than the original. It was 111 in favor to 25 against, with 13 abstentions and 17 absent. This reflects healthy changes in the world, notably the Soviet Union's reversal of its previous policy of exporting subversion. The ideology equating Third World interests with communism has receded.

This is a victory for the United States. To assuage Israel while dragging it into negotiations indirectly with the PLO, Washington made repeal a test of its own standing at the United Nations. It would be foolish to believe, however, that the U.S. can carry Third World majorities for any position, as it could in the early 1950s. The U.S. did well in this, including positive votes from most of the Third World and former Communist powers, because the U.S. was right. Israel is less isolated today, with African and former Communist nations making amends for their former ostracism.

That said, the vote does not inspire total confidence in the Middle East peace process. Among the Arab states voting to retain the 1975 resolution were Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, which are negotiating with Israel. This does not suggest good faith. Saudi Arabia, which encouraged the Madrid peace talks and owes its independence to American troops, also voted against repeal. The best that the most forward-looking Arab states -- Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and Tunisia -- could do was contrive to be absent from the vote.

The nay-sayers would contend that their posture is to withhold recognition, even of this kind, until all outstanding issues with Israel are solved. But the "no" votes were in the same camp with Iraq and Libya, which condemn the peace talks.

The current outlook for those talks is not rosy. Neither side is behaving well. Israeli settler provocations in Jerusalem dilute the atmosphere of trust. So do Arab votes to continue condemning Israel's right to exist. The repeal of the infamous resolution did much to restore the U.N.'s integrity, but did not bring peace to the Middle East.

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