Then-Ambassador Chaim Herzog speaking to the United Nations in 1975.
(photo credit: HERZOG FAMILY FOUNDATION)
There was consensus at the President’s Residence on Sunday that the late Chaim Herzog’s eloquent denunciation 40 years ago of a United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism rings as true today as when he famously tore up the pages of the nasty text at the podium.
Retired diplomats joined past and present cabinet ministers and former Israeli military personnel in applauding as a video was played during a memorial tribute to Herzog, of the tail end of his famous address uttered as Israel’s then ambassador to the UN.
Although the measure passed in 1975 was revoked in 1991, former UN envoy Ron Prosor saw it as an indelible stain, citing the continued demonization and delegitimization of Israel in world body forums.
Retired judge Hadassa Ben Itto, who served with Herzog as a member of Israel’s delegation to the UN General Assembly, said the resolution had been in pipeline for 10 years before it was passed.
Ben Itto recalled how the measure had been introduced in 1965, but that at the time the US had pledged in the aftermath of the Holocaust that any such convention would condemn anti-Semitism as well.
But the then Soviet Union objected, and saw to it, in coalition with Arab states, that anti-Semitism would be left out of the resolution, and that the measure would equate Zionism with racism, instead.
It was a gimmick which stuck, Ben Itto said.
She said Herzog also deserved credit for lobbying to ensure that fewer countries than initially anticipated would vote in favor of the resolution.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, America’s representative to the UN had crossed the floor to where Herzog stood and embraced him.
Nonetheless, the Israel delegation felt threatened after the result was announced.
“The Arabs literally danced on the tables in delight at their victory, and we felt as if we were facing a pogrom,” Ben Itto said.
When the delegation in a somewhat dejected mood returned to the Israel offices, the phones were ringing like crazy with Jews from all over America calling to express solidarity and support.
Some American Jewish individual had sat up all night preparing stickers proclaiming ‘I am a Zionist’ and wherever members of the Israeli delegation went the following day, people were wearing these stickers – “even in Macy’s,” Ben Itto said.
Israel did little to contest the resolution for about a decade, she said. There were years in which no-one at the UN pronounced the word Israel “but called us the Zionist entity,” Ben Itto said.
She said the same expression “is still disseminated on university campuses.”
Two of Herzog’s sons, retired Brig. Gen. Mike Herzog, a senior fellow a the Jewish People Policy Institute and Opposition leader Isaac Herzog each emphasized the need to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and demonization and delegitimization.
President Reuven Rivlin who served under Chaim Herzog when the latter was Governor of Jerusalem and the West Bank after the Six-Day War, began his own address by quoting from Herzog’s famous UN speech: “I do not come to this rostrum to defend the moral and historical values of the Jewish People. They do not need to be defended…” Commenting on the applause that had followed the video of Herzog’s speech, Rivlin said people were still moved by his oratory.
Continuing to quote the late Herzog, Rivlin said: “To question the Jewish People’s right to national existence and freedom is not only to deny to the Jewish people the right accorded to every other people on the globe, but it is also to deny the central precepts of the United Nations.”
Rivlin said anti-Semitism has not perished.
“It is not dead and has not even been replaced,” he said. “We call it the new anti-Semitism, but it is old, very old.”
What can be learned from Herzog’s speech “is that it is our duty and our right to say things as they are, even if it goes against the mainstream and even when it seems that the entire world is against us,” Rivlin said.