Zionism, the United Nations, and American Foreign Policy

 On March 1, 1980 the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution “rebuking” Israel for maintaining settlements in Arab-claimed territory. The resolution went further; it proclaimed Israel guilty of “flagrant violation” of the Fourth Geneva Convention, thus associating that country with the crimes of Auschwitz. The United States voted in favor of the resolution.

In the view of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan — former U.S. Ambassador to the UN — U.S. support for the resolution, one of a series of increasingly vicious anti-Israel resolutions, epitomized a foreign policy in moral disarray. The contours and causes of this disarray — and its significance for American foreign policy — are set forth by Senator Moynihan in his new book Loyalties, from which this excerpt is taken.

There are many reasons why President Carter lost the 1980 election, for which the UN vote was only one, and scarcely the most important. What is important, however, is that the administration looked upon its United Nations record generally — the March 1980 vote aside — as a huge success. Other policies had failed, and that was understood. But UN policy was thought to have succeeded. When the fall of a President is involved, and just possibly the fall of his party, some notice should be taken. I fear that so long as the ideas underlying the Carter administration’s UN policy are dominant within the Democratic party, Democrats will be out of power — and rightly so.

In normal circumstances, UN affairs play a marginal role in United States foreign policy, for the simple reason that American foreign policy is normally preoccupied with the Soviet Union, whereas the UN, with its profusion of small countries, even ministates, is the last setting in which two powers would wish to conduct their affairs. But to the incoming Carter administration, the attraction of the UN as a setting in which to conduct foreign policy was precisely the prominent role Third World Nations play in UN affairs. It was a setting in which the cold war could at last be put aside.

In his first major foreign policy address, President Carter reported that the United States had overcome its “inordinate fear of Communism,” and proposed that the two powers now join in a cooperative effort to improve north -south relations, specifically through economic assistance to the developing nations. (“North-south” had become in United Nations usage a term denoting the affluent as against the poverty-stricken regions of the world.) The name of the UN Ambassador was elevated to second place on the directory of the State Department building, immediately below that of the Secretary.

Carter brought together two strains of Democratic thinking on foreign affairs. The first was the old tradition of liberal internationalism — the extension of domestic standards of social justice to the world at large — as exemplified by President Harry S. Truman’s Point Four program and President John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress. The second was a newer strain of thought, one much at odds with the traditions of Truman and Kennedy. This was a view that had emerged in the course of the Vietnam War to the effect that the United States, by virtue of its enormous power, and in consequence of policies and perhaps even national characteristics that were anything but virtuous had indeed become a principal source of instability and injustice in the world. We were, in short, a status-quo power — and the status quo we were trying to preserve was intolerable. By contrast, a more positive future was available to mankind if it could break out of American dominion. For my part, the most evocative and excruciating memory of the onset of this point of view was the day in 1970 that a group of former Peace Corps volunteers, protesting the war, ran down the American flag at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington and ran up the Vietcong flag.

Through the 1970s, this view grew in strength within the Democratic Party. It was most often to be encountered when issues of defense were involved. In 1980, R. James Woolsey, who served with distinction as Under Secretary of the Navy in the Carter administration, described how the agony of Vietnam had led many Democrats “to attack the existence of American military power as a way to curtail its exercise.” Caution in the use of military power, indeed great caution, is one thing. Declining to possess it, in the face of a massively armed adversary, is another.

There was a corollary to this doctrine of self-denial in defense. It flowed from the idea that the political hostility the United States encountered around the world, especially in the Third World, was, very simply, evidence of American aggression or at least of American wrong-doing. The aggression could be military, but just as often it would be diagnosed as economic (the role of the multinational corporation), as ecological (plundering the planet to sustain an absurdly gross standard of living), or as ideological (asserting ideas of the past of no relevance to the future). Often this view would be presented as nothing more specific than not being “on the side of history” or “the side of change.” No matter; the prescription was the same. If the United States denied itself the means of aggression, it would cease to be aggressive. When it ceased to be aggressive, there would be peace — in the halls of the United Nations no less than in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia.

As tanks and missiles are instruments of military aggression, so ideas are the means of diplomatic aggression, specifically, that array of attitudes, judgments, and prejudices which led Americans to suppose they represented, on balance, a successful society, one model of how developing societies, if fortunate, might turn out, and in the interval a fair standard by which to measure the merits of other societies.

Here, in the interest of what lawyers call full disclosure, let me acknowledge that, from the first, those members of the Carter administration responsible for policy at the UN — and more generally for relations with the developing nations — regarded my own brief tenure as U.S. Permanent Representative at the UN in 1975-76 as the prime example of American diplomatic aggression. This was the view of UN Ambassadors Andrew Young and Donald McHenry. In an interview published in September 1980, contrasting his performance with mine, McHenry said: “I don’t believe in confrontation politics, I don’t believe in name-calling. I do believe in communicating with them [i.e., Third World nations], in stating my views, listening to theirs, respecting their views, expecting them to respect mine.” A few weeks later, on October 1, 1980, taking issue with a New York Times Magazine article by Bernard D. Nossiter titled “How the Third World Runs the UN,” he returned to this theme: “The article was reminiscent of the speeches about the `Tyranny of the Majority’ that one of my predecessors used to deliver when he represented our country at what he later called ‘A Very Dangerous Place.’ ”

It would be hard to pack more misinformation into a single sentence. It was President Gerald R. Ford, in an address at the opening of the General Assembly in the fall of 1974, who warned the UN against “the tyranny of the majority.” At the close of that session, Ambassador John A. Scali repeated the warning. If I ever used the phrase, which I do not recall doing, it was only to cite them. As for “A Very Dangerous Place,” in 1978 I published a memoir titled A Dangerous Place. The first page related: “I had first gone to Washington with John F. Kennedy and then stayed on with Lyndon Johnson. There I learned as an adult what I had known as a child, which is that the world is a dangerous place — and learned also that not everyone knows this.” My editor chose the phrase for the title, but it did not refer to the UN. As a seaman is taught about the sea, the UN is not inherently dangerous, but it is implacably punishing of carelessness.

Arrogance is yet a greater danger. And there is a certain arrogance in the view that the behavior of other nations is primarily responsive to the behavior of our own; that others act, not as autonomous societies, but as a kind of chorus responding to our signals. This was a delusion most accessible to those who, having opposed the war in Vietnam, saw the outcome as victory rather than defeat.

Following the election of 1968, I was asked by President-elect Richard M. Nixon to be his Assistant for Urban Affairs. I was then of the view — which I see no reason to change — that the Vietnam War had been lost and that only ruin could come from persisting in the effort to disengage in a manner that would permit a “decent interval” between our departure and the collapse of the regime in South Vietnam. On January 3, 1969, I wrote a long memorandum to Nixon, which included this passage: “Vietnam has been a domestic disaster … As best I can discern the war was begun with the very highest of motives at the behest of men such as McNamara, Bundy, and Rusk in a fairly consistent pursuit of post-war American policy of opposing Communist expansion and simultaneously encouraging political democracy and economic development in the nations on the Communist perimeter, and elsewhere for that matter. At the risk of seeming cynicism, I would argue that the war in Vietnam has become a disastrous mistake because we have lost it.”

But the consequences of Vietnam, all the same, would have to be lived with, and adjusted to. Foremost among these would be a major opening for, and stimulus to, Soviet imperialism. Susan Sontag has acknowledged how little she and others in the antiwar movement had understood this equation: “It was not so clear to many of us as we talked of American imperialism how few options many of these countries had except for Soviet imperialism, which was maybe worse. When I was in Cuba and North Vietnam, it was not clear to me then that they would become Soviet satellites, but history has been very cruel and the options available to these countries were fewer than we had hoped. It’s become a lot more complicated.”

But the perception of such complexity was beyond the power of the U.S. Mission to the UN under the Carter administration. Its members could not see the signs of a new phase of Soviet policy: military support for Ethiopia in 1977; coups in both Afghanistan and South Yemen in April 1978; the invasion of Cambodia in December 1978. Unable to ex-plain all this, or to fit it to the purposes they had set themselves, American diplomats at the UN grew increasingly silent.

It also emerged that our representatives had little sense of the UN Charter as law that had to be upheld and expounded. A superb opportunity came in the fall of 1977 when the Soviets switched sides in the Horn of Africa, as war broke out in the Ogaden Desert, an ethnically Somali territory within Ethiopia. The Soviets actively entered the conflict on Ethiopia’s side.

It happens that in 1975 the principal sponsor of the resolution that declared Zionism to be a form of racism was none other than Somalia, acting in its then capacity as an especially fawning satellite of the Soviets. Now its own time had come. The Somalis had started the war. Very likely they counted on Soviet support. Moscow judged Ethiopia more important. All of a sudden the Somalis were at our doors, begging for help, pleading for us to understand the “nature of the Soviet threat,” Soviet “neocolonialism,” the “Soviet plot to encircle the Gulf,” the “Soviet contempt for human rights and the rights of small nations.”

All true. When I rose to speak after the vote that November 10th, I had addressed my remarks specifically to the Somali delegation. I said, “Today we have drained the word ‘racism’ of its meaning. Tomorrow terms like ‘national self-determination’ and ‘national honor’ will be perverted in the same way to serve the purposes of conquest and exploitation. And when these claims begin to be made … it is the small nations of the world whose integrity will suffer.”

Did Somalia suffer? To be sure. But at the hands of the Soviets. We, by contrast, were soon providing them aid. Nary a word said of its behavior in 1975. To persons whose deepest conviction was that Third World nations were hostile to the United States because of our own neocolonial behavior — whose strong disposition was to believe that the Soviet Union in almost all instances supported the true liberationist forces in the former colonial world while the United States, on the wrong side of history, backed brutal but doomed dictatorships — the events from 1977 to 1980 could make no sense. Whoever asked for our help deserved it.

During that period, President Carter achieved the Camp David Peace Accords. He was justifiably proud of having used patience and persuasion to end conflict between Israel and Egypt, the largest of the Islamic nations in the Middle East. But did not the Accords bring forth more hostility from the Third World — the “rejectionist front” — than had ever been evoked by the “confrontationist” policies of the past? To understand this, one had to entertain the possibility that the opposition we encountered there was not a matter of long-held grievances against our abuses of power. One had to entertain the possibility that there were those whose great fear was that, in seeking peace, we might succeed.

Confused, and after a point not altogether straightforward, the strategy of our diplomats in New York, backed up in the Department of State, underwent a subtle and disastrous transformation. They had begun with the pro-position that if the United States put itself on the “right” side of history, we would find the nations of the world, most of which of course were “new,” coming over to our side in turn. Unaccountably, however, they were still not on our side. To the contrary, some were actively seeking to undo the greatest diplomatic achievement the administration had to its credit, and no nation was objecting or trying to prevent them. Evidently, then, we must still be on the wrong side. Reasoning thus, our diplomats prepared themselves to vote for the Security Council resolution of March 1,1980 — and, although this was certainly not their intention, to help bring down the administration they served.

The chain of resolutions passed in condemnation of Israel by the Security Council in 1979-80 forms a complex story. Yet, to follow it, only a single point needs to be understood: As a direct result of American policy, the Security Council had been allowed to degenerate to the condition of the General Assembly. Under the UN Charter, the General Assembly reaches decision by majority vote, but its decisions are purely advisory or recommendatory (Article 10). By contrast, the Security Council has power. In situations where it determines that there is a “threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression,” the Security Council “shall make recommendations or decide what measures shall be taken … ” These included “such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary … ”

The Security Council, in a word, may make war. And for that reason the Security Council does not operate by majority vote. Any permanent member may veto any action, simply by voting No. However, in the face of the increasingly vicious Soviet-Arab assaults that followed Camp David, the United States began to “abstain.” I have represented the United States on the Security Council; I have served as President of the Security Council. I state as a matter of plain and universally understood fact that for the United States to abstain on a Security Council resolution concerning Israel is the equivalent of acquiescing.

The March 1 vote, when we voted against Israel, rather than merely abstaining, was a disaster, and it should have stimulated a reappraisal of the route by which the administration had traveled to it. Israel had been permanently damaged, and (unless their perceptions are perilously dulled) other allies of the United States had been permanently warned. Yet no more was said than that it was a mistake, and only a partial mistake at that. The Carter administration had failed in its objective at the UN; but to admit that failure was to cast in doubt the view of the world that justified the objectives. To avoid having to face this dilemma, the administration began to undermine the Camp David Accords — its one great success. They never thought their way through the matter.

An epilogue of sorts took place in the third week of December 1980, as the Carter administration and the 35th General Assembly began winding down. On Monday, December 15, the General Assembly adopted five resolutions on the Middle East more virulent and anti-Semitic than anything the UN had yet seen. The debate was obscene. Thus the Ambassador from Jordan speaking of the Ambassador from Israel: “The representative of the Zionist entity is evidently incapable of concealing his deep-seated hatred toward the Arab world for having broken loose from the notorious exploitation of its natural resources, long held in bondage and plundered by his own people’s cabal, which controls and manipulates and exploits the rest of humanity by controlling the money and wealth of the world.” The occasion for this diatribe was the receipt of the most recent Report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, a body established by a General Assembly resolution on November 10, 1975, the same day Zionism was declared to be a form of “racism and racial discrimination.” The first of the resolutions was breathtaking: “Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967 does not provide an adequate basis for a just solution for the question of Palestine.”

Resolution 242, of 1967, guaranteeing the right of nations in the Middle East to live in peace with “secure and recognized boundaries,” is the one, the single, international guarantee of Israel’s right to exist. In one form or another, that right had now been under constant assault for over five years. The nation was criminal; the nation was illegal; its capital was the occupied territory of other peoples. (By 1983, a summit conference of non-aligned nations would assert that even “West Jerusalem” was occupied Arab territory, including the Knesset, the holocaust memorial, and the President’s house.) Now the General Assembly proposed to withdraw the one unqualified international title to which Israel could lay claim, the guarantee of Resolution 242. The United States said nothing. No American delegate went to the podium to offer the least demur. The campaign continued. On November 16, 1983, seven years and six days from the moment when as Israeli Permanent Representative he stood at the podium of the UN General Assembly and tore in two the resolution proclaiming Zionism to be a form of racism, Chaim Herzog returned, this time as President of his country. He came in peace. “Let us begin to talk,” he said. “Let us forget the bitterness of the past.” Half the membership of the UN either was not present, or walked out. As he was introduced to the General Assembly the Permanent Representative from Iraq objected on the ground that, according to United Nations resolutions, Israel’s claim that Jerusalem was its capital “null and void.” The poison was working.

One of the most dishonest (and debilitating, because profoundly misleading) assertions of the U.S. Mission during the Carter years was that the 1975 Zionism resolution was somehow brought about by the United States. Having resisted, America was now judged to have provoked. That resolution, on the key procedural motion, mustered a 67 to 55 majority, with 15 abstentions. This resolution, potentially far more destructive, was adopted 98 to 16, with 32 abstentions.

There was something to note about the sponsors of the resolutions. The familiar Soviet-leaning or Soviet-dominated nations were present: Afghanistan, Cuba, Lao People’s Democratic Republic. But also present were Nicaragua and Zimbabwe, two Third World nations with which the Carter administration had presumably established relations of friendship and respect.

In an editorial titled “Joining the Jackals,” The Washington Post (which had supported the President for reelection) described this American vote against Israel in the Security Council on that Friday as representative of “the essential Carter.” Now the President himself was being held to account. American failure was total. And it was squalid. These men, in both New York and Washington, helped to destroy the President who had appointed them and they deeply injured the President’s party. They hurt the United States and they hurt nations that have stood with the United States in seeking something like, or near to, peace in the Middle East. They came to office full of themselves but empty of a steady understanding of the world. The world was a more dangerous place when at last they went away.

Later, on October 20, 1983, the General Assembly by a vote of 79 to 43 with 19 abstentions decided not to take up the issue of expelling Israel from the United Nations. The representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization thereupon criticized the Assembly for the decision. In his statement, made from the floor of the Assembly, where he has observer status, he referred to Israel as the “Judeo-Nazi regime in Tel Aviv” and told the delegates “you are perpetuating Hitlerian doctrine in this Assembly.”

At the risk of being called an alarmist, I would again argue that a sustained ideological struggle is underway in the world. The forces of liberalism are under incessant attack — an attack that the West somehow avoids knowing about. The phase during which this assault was directed almost exclusively at Zionism and at Israel as a metaphor for democracy is now about over. A more general case against democracy is being made. A British friend, wise in the ways of that world, put it thus: “They are now on Page 16 of The Plan.” What terrors impel the attack? What loyalties will resist it? The answers are needed because the questions will not go away.


  • Daniel Patrick Moynihan

    Daniel Patrick Moynihan (March 16, 1927 – March 26, 2003) was an American politician and sociologist. A member of the Democratic Party, he was first elected to the United States Senate for New York in 1976, and was re-elected three times (in 1982, 1988, and 1994).

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