Moynihan vs Resolution 3379

Drawing on Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s papers, transcripts of secretary of state Henry Kissinger’s conversations and president Gerald Ford’s Oval Office briefings, Gil Troy shows how the US ambassador to the UN took on ‘Zionism is Racism.’

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (photo credit: Reuters)
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
(photo credit: Reuters)
O n November 10, 1975, after the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 3379, which announced that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the US ambassador to the UN, rose to declare that his country “does not acknowledge, it will not abide, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act… The lie is that Zionism is a form of racism. The overwhelmingly clear truth is that it is not.”
A year later, when he was no longer ambassador, Moynihan bristled at allegations that he had unnecessarily antagonized the very nations whose support Israel needed: “Did I make a crisis out of this obscene resolution? Damn right I did!” In Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University and a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Engaging Israel Program (and a Jerusalem Post columnist), provides a detailed examination of the run-up to the resolution and its impact on Moynihan’s career, American politics and Israel’s status in international relations. Words matter, Troy demonstrates. Resolution 3379, he argues, was an early warning of antiAmerican and anti-Israeli contempt and of Western self-hatred. Channeling “moralistic anger to boost morale,” Moynihan’s response belongs to a sequence of events, including the 1980 US Olympic hockey team “Miracle on Ice,” which “propelled Americans out of their post-Vietnam despair” well before Ronald Reagan was elected president.
The book is a valentine to Moynihan, who is portrayed as a missionary for and a model of moral clarity. Drawing on Moynihan’s papers, transcripts of secretary of state Henry Kissinger’s conversations and president Gerald Ford’s Oval Office briefings, Troy shows that the ambassador often went beyond his instructions. He acted like a basketball superstar, Troy suggests, counting on his success to compel his coach to back his unorthodox moves.
Kissinger, however, often betrayed his annoyance with the ambassador, especially when he thought he had been upstaged. Mentioning “this Israeli thing,” he cautioned Moynihan “not to turn it into a monumental event before it has happened” or make the resolution “a test of manhood.” On November 10, Kissinger told an aide to tell Moynihan “that I will not stand for that anymore.
Tell him these are direct instructions from me.” Although he cut “some offensive sections” from his speech, the ambassador insisted that the US should exact “consequences” for bad behavior.
Troy tends to exaggerate the impact of Moynihan’s speech on American politics.
His “stand against Soviet and third world bullying” didn’t really inspire Reagan’s more aggressive approach to the UN. And the claim that he “was more interested in shaping the national conversation than building his power base” sets up a false dichotomy – and ignores Moynihan’s career as a savvy US senator from New York, home to Jewish voters and donors.
Troy’s characterizations of Moynihan’s contemporaries also tend to be polemical and, at times, simplistic. Kissinger was not an appeaser. Jimmy Carter is not best understood as a Georgian George McGovern.
Barack Obama did not “eschew Moynihan’s moral clarity” in favor of “an accommodating apologetic streak toward some American adversaries.”
More importantly, no doubt, Troy does not adequately explain the rise of antiIsrael sentiment around the world. He asserts that Resolution 3379 was “of Soviet manufacture” but does not analyze how the Russians sold it to other governments.
He does not investigate the causes of growing opposition to Israel in Western Europe. Without elaborating, he makes the controversial claim that attitudes toward Israel “had more to do with ideological trends than particular Israeli actions regarding the Palestinians, be they positive or negative,” and that the “apartness” between Israelis and Palestinians was “dictated by security needs in the West Bank, Israeli settler ideology, and Palestinians’ own desires.” Although he acknowledges that “not all criticism of Israel or even Zionism is anti-Semitic” and that “valid criticism” of both sides in the Israeli-Palestine conflict is “required,” examples of such criticism are not to be found in Moynihan’s Moment.
Resolution 3379 was repealed in 1991. Deputy secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger suggested that the vote strengthened Israel’s standing in the world. Troy deems it “a strong link in a chain of good news” that included a handshake between prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Fatah leader Yasser Arafat that launched the Oslo peace process and “paved the way for a clear rejection of terrorism by the international community.”
Troy acknowledges, however, that “the libel lived.” Along with French journalist and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, he attributes the malignant interpretations of Israeli policy to the adoption of antiZionism by the New Left as “an organizing principle,” replacing Marxism, and to post-colonialist romanticizing of the Palestinian cause.
Ideology does matter, along with words.
And Moynihan’s moment was, as Troy reminds us, “resonant, resplendent and remarkably relevant today.” But actions matter as well and they can help us understand the genesis of and aftershocks from Resolution 3379. The writer is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University.