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When Daniel Moynihan Stood Tall at the UN

An interview with historian Gil troy on his new book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism and Racism.”
Daniel Moynihan

Daniel Moynihan

On November 10, 1975, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 3379, declaring Zionism a form of racism. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the United States ambassador to the UN at the time, rose after the resolution passed and proclaimed, “The United States…does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.”

A new book by historian Gil Troy, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism and Racism” (Oxford University Press), traces Moynihan’s fight against Resolution 3379 as well as its impact on American foreign policy and Moynihan’s subsequent 24-year career as a New York senator.

The author of eight previous books, Gil Troy is a professor at McGill University, a fellow at the Hartman Institute, and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post. An interview with his brother Tevi Troy – a fellow at the Hudson Institute and an adviser to Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign – appeared in The Jewish Press on December 7.

The Jewish Press: Why did you write this book?

Troy: First of all, when I was growing up, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was my hero and I remembered Moynihan’s moment standing up [for Israel in the UN]. And as an American historian, I was surprised that this moment – which to me was a critical turning point in America’s relationship to the UN and the world – was barely mentioned in books about the 1970s.

When the General Assembly passed this infamous act, it was six months after the fall of South Vietnam. It was a moment of tremendous American demoralization. Moynihan spoke a language that inspired Americans. In fact, it inspired Ronald Reagan, who quoted Moynihan in his speeches on the campaign trail in 1976 when he ran against Gerald Ford.

Why did the UN proclaim Zionism a form of racism? Was it already so anti-Israel in 1975?

The UN had started turning anti-Israel in the 1960s. I interviewed George Will for the book, and he said Israel made a tremendous mistake in 1967: It dared to win at a time when the Left was falling in love with victims.

The interesting thing about Resolution 3379 is that it was a fallback. The original idea was to kick Israel out of the UN. That ran into the opposition, though, of Henry Kissinger and many Asian and African countries that were new members of the United Nations and didn’t want to start making membership in the United Nations something that was debatable.

You write in the book that Moynihan fought Resolution 3379, not out of love for Israel but love for America. Can you explain?

Moynihan comes in as UN ambassador in 1975 saying, “Israel is not my religion.” But he sees that the new way of humiliating the United States is Israel, and it offends his sensibilities. It plays into his fears of where the Third World and the UN is going, and so he says this is unacceptable.

You also write that at the same time the UN was debating whether Zionism was racism, a genocide was under way in Cambodia which the UN was ignoring.

Absolutely, and that’s part of the reason why I call November 10, 1975 the day the UN died.

Although Henry Kissinger, secretary of state at the time, opposed Resolution 3379, he didn’t fully support Moynihan’s campaign against it. Why not?

Kissinger was more from the realist school rather than the idealist school that Moynihan was from. He wanted a quieter, softer diplomacy, so he found Moynihan a bit of the bull in the diplomatic china shop. To my shock, I found transcripts where Kissinger literally says to one of his foreign aides, “We’re conducting foreign policy here. This isn’t a synagogue.”

In fairness to Kissinger, the Americans saw Egypt in the process of leaving the Soviet orbit after the 1973 war. Kissinger – and the Israelis – saw Resolution 3379 as a line in the sand that the Palestinians, Libyans and Syrians were drawing to force Egypt to vote with them and thus keep Egypt alienated from the West. So Kissinger and the Israelis didn’t want to overreact because they thought from a geo-strategic global perspective, it was better to have Egypt come into the American camp.

About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and author of “Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape” (Brenn Books).


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