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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

Kissinger also wanted to make friends with the Third World, and so he was annoyed by this “Zionism is racism” thing. He wanted to be fighting on other fronts.

Finally, Kissinger had established himself as a German-American intellectual and was uncomfortable with his Jewish identity. Like so many of us in the 1960s and ‘70s, he understood that the best way to get ahead was by not emphasizing his Jewishness. He didn’t want to be the Jewish secretary of state. He wanted to be the American secretary of state. So this whole thing stirs a hornet’s nest of discomfort.

One of the surprising stories in this book is Betty Friedan. Most people just know her as a feminist, but she actually, as you write, was something of a Zionist as well.

In July 1975, the International Women’s Year Conference came out against Zionism and, given the discourse among many feminists today about Zionism, I had assumed before writing this book that Betty Freidan had rolled over and embraced that idea.

I’m very happy to say, though, that I discovered this whole story of Betty Freidan, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Bella Abzug – joined by non-Jewish American feminists – who opposed the conference’s resolution against Zionism. And on November 11, 1975 when [Jewish groups organized] this huge rally in midtown Manhattan against Resolution 3379, Betty Friedan was the surprise guest speaker. She got up and said for the first time publicly: “I am a Zionist.”

This is something that really affected her soul and shook her up. It’s important for us to learn that story.

Going back to the United Nations: Many people today take it for granted that the UN is anti-West. In your book, though, you write that Americans were actually in love with the UN when it was first founded.

It’s like a messy divorce where people forget they were once in love. The UN in 1945 was supposed to be the mechanism that was going to bring peace and world order. There was this redemptive, almost messianic quality of the conversation about the UN in 1945. I remember people in my neighborhood would trick-or-treat for UNICEF.

So what happened?

First, by getting involved in Vietnam, the United States lost its credibility with much of the world.

But the two more important things are the growth in UN membership and the Soviet ascendancy. The UN grew from 40 or so nations in 1945 to 142 in 1975. [These new members included many] Third World countries with dictators who started using the very democratic rights and procedures that most of them didn’t give their own people to assert themselves in the UN. And the people who [took advantage of] this were the Soviets who started realizing that the UN can become a new arena in which to fight the West.

In the first 20 years of the UN’s existence, the Soviets were actually known as the veto people. Andrei Gromyko, who was the Soviet ambassador to the UN, was known as “Mr. Nyet.” But by the 1970s, you start seeing the U.S. for the first time using its veto in the Security Council and being outvoted in the General Assembly.

What did the Third World have against America? Why would it vote against it in the UN?

It’s complicated. If you look at the Kennedy administration, the Third World was in love with America. But things changed due to Soviet manipulation, America’s involvement in Vietnam, and ironically enough America’s own internal rebellion in the 1960s and 1970s. Elite Americans, especially on the far left, started trashing America.

And if America itself has voices saying that America is an evil, imperialist, racist, colonialist country, then the Third Worlders – manipulated by the Soviet propagandists – say the same thing.

Moynihan saw this turn against the United States in the UN and said, “Let’s acknowledge it. Rather than appeasing, let’s start doing something. Let’s link our foreign aid to voting records in the UN. What kind of people have we become that we continue to pump money into countries that disrespect and betray us in the UN?”

For many liberals today, bashing America is something of a fad. Moynihan, interestingly, was a liberal and yet decried this practice. You quote him as saying, “It is past time we ceased to apologize for an imperfect democracy. Find its equal.”

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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