Photo Credit: Jérôme Blum / Wikimedia
Room of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)

The Arabs and the Russians co-sponsored the anti-Zionist resolution, and they each had their own agenda. The PLO wanted to expel Israel from the UN and replace it with a Palestinian state, but President Anwar Sadat of Egypt resisted the move because it would shield Israel from UN sanctions.

Israel and Egypt were in the process of negotiating an interim agreement for Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai with the Americans. Egypt argued that it couldn’t support Israel’s expulsion from the institution that would guarantee and supervise Israeli withdrawal. Most of the African countries backed Egypt, and the Arabs split into pro- and anti-expulsion supporters. To placate the PLO and its supporters, including Uganda, the resolution denouncing Zionism as a threat to world peace was drafted at the OAU conference in Kampala in July-August 1975. [1]


At the Lima Non-Aligned Foreign Ministers conference in Peru in August 1975, the PLO again lobbied for the expulsion of Israel, and again the Egyptians thwarted the move. This precipitated another attack against Zionism, and the Algerians, allied with the Palestinians, used harsher language against Israel that was taken from the PLO Covenant. [2]

The PLO and its supporters continued to look for a way to expel Israel. At the UN Credentials Committee meeting in September 1975, when the UN opened its annual session, the Syrian representative tried to banish “the Zionist regime” from the UN When no Arab or non-Arab member supported the Syrians, the motion was simply recorded.[3]

On October 1, 1975, Idi Amin brought his anti-Zionist message to the UN General Assembly and called upon the American people “to rid their society of the Zionists in order that the true citizens of this nation may control their own destiny….” He also called “for the expulsion of Israel from the United Nations and the extinction of Israel as a State….”

Moynihan noted that Amin spoke for 46 African nations; “but in truth” he spoke for the authoritarian majority in the General Assembly who had given him a standing ovation when he arrived in the hall, applauded him throughout his speech and gave him another ovation when he left.[4] The question of Zionism became the subject of debate in the Third Committee as it tried to implement the UN resolution dedicated to fighting against racism and racial discrimination beginning in 1973.

The Arab oil-producing nations had gained considerable economic wealth and political power as a result of their 1973-1974 oil embargo—when they quadrupled oil prices. They attempted to use their new influence, especially at the UN, to advance the Palestinian cause. [5]

Knowing that rejecting the Israeli government’s credentials would not work, the Non-Aligned countries and the Soviet Bloc planned a broad offensive against the democratic nations in the UN and targeted Israel by denying the legitimacy of Zionism, the Jewish national liberation movement. Israel would be declared illegitimate and could be censured, expelled and then subject to extinction. Somalia sponsored the resolution with Cuba and Libya as co-sponsors, and everyone knew these Third World nations were acting on behalf of the Soviet Union. [6]

The official Soviet Tass news agency ridiculed those in the West who cried that the Z=R resolution was unexpected and sensational. They noted (without mentioning their own government’s hand in the years’ long machinations behind the scenes) that in 1975 alone, Zionism had been denounced by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) at its summit in Kampala, Uganda, by the Conference of Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Non-Aligned Countries held in Lima, Peru; at the UN world conference to commemorate the International Women’s Year held in Mexico City and in other international arenas.[7]

US Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan, (later a senator) discerned a pattern in Soviet tactics: “A symbolic issue would come along: they might think it up; just as often it would emerge on its own. But they would seize on it, and either directly, or more often, through others, bring it to the General Assembly where it would command general assent as a matter more or less beyond disputing. As the matter progressed, however, more and more specific attacks on the West would be added to or associated with the general issue. In this manner the specific issue of Zionism was gradually associated with the general issue of racism. That an honorable cause was being put to the service of a dishonorable one, few seemed to understand or care.”[8]

Speaking before members of the A.F.L-.C.I.O., Moynihan noted that there were those in the United States “whose pleasure or profit” made them believe that America’s assailants are provoked by what is wrong with the country. “They were wrong,” Moynihan declared. The U.S. was assailed for what is right with the country because it is a democracy. Nothing unites America’s enemies more than the belief that “their success depends” on the failure of the United States.” [9] Free societies throughout the world were under attack “precisely and paradoxically for not being free.” They were attacked for “violating human rights” ranging from genocide to unemployment, always following the “Orwellian principle: hit the democracies in the one area where they have the strongest case to make against the dictatorships.” [10]

Resolution 3379 and those adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1973, by the OAU, the Non-Aligned countries and the UN Conference on Women, succeeded in linking Zionism to neo-colonialism, foreign occupation, racial discrimination, apartheid, repression and to the racist regimes of South Africa and Zimbabwe. All that, Tass concluded, proved that the Zionism problem had desperately needed a solution for a long time. The UN General Assembly merely provided the forum for the broad consensus to be heard. There were 72 votes in favor of the Z=R resolution, 35 against, with 32 abstentions. [11]

Chaim Herzog, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1975-1978 (and later Israel’s sixth president), remarked ironically that the vote was the biggest pro-Israel vote in a decade. Moynihan commented that Z=R might be an excusable surprise, since the West, including the United States and Israel, had been working at that time to prevent Israel from being expelled from the UN altogether. [12]

Many Third-World delegates later explained that after the drive to expel Israel from the UN failed, a number of governments—especially Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and the Palestine Liberation Organization—initiated the anti-Israel campaign in order “to save face.”[13]

But denying Israel her rights in the General Assembly would have violated international law. According to the specific provisions of the UN Charter, the Security Council must recommend the expulsion or suspension of membership, which then needs a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly for approval. [14]

Leonard Garment, Counsel to the U.S. Delegation to the UN, speaking before the Committee on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs, (The Third Committee), which passes amendments to the General Assembly, warned, “To equate Zionism with racism is to distort completely the history of the movement, born of the centuries of oppression suffered by the Jewish people in the western world and designed to liberate an oppressed people by returning them to the lands of their fathers… To ignore and to distort history in this fashion…” does a disservice to the UN Commissions, Committees, and Agencies. The conflict in the Middle East is a result of our inability to protect and accommodate the rights of the Jews and Arabs. It is … “an easy indulgence for individuals to use words which distort and divide, which inflict wounds and draw attention. It is our collective responsibility to use language enlightened by history, to use it precisely, to use it carefully, mindful of our differences but determined to overcome, not enlarge them.”[15]

The Third Committee adopted the anti-Zionist draft on October 17 by a vote of 70 to 29, with 27 abstentions and 16 absent.[16] Eban said,” Zionism is nothing more—but also nothing less—than the Jewish people’s sense of origin and destination in the land linked eternally with its name. It is also the instrument whereby the Jewish nation seeks an authentic fulfillment of itself. And the drama is enacted in the region in which the Arab nation has realized its sovereignty in 20 states comprising 100 million people in four and a half million square miles, with vast resources. The issue therefore is not whether the world will come to terms with Arab nationalism. The question is at what point Arab nationalism, with its prodigious glut of advantage, wealth and opportunity, will come to terms with the modest but equal right of another Middle Eastern nation to pursue its life in security and peace.” [17]

Eban viewed the deliberations about the resolution in the Third Committee as “not so much a debate as a doctrinal inquisition, as in the Middle Ages.” The purpose of the draft resolution was “to affirm a principle of monolithic exclusiveness for the Middle East, and to iron out all wrinkles of diversity.” Arab campaigns to stamp out Kurdish individuality and Christian particularity proved that “in a region where many nations, tongues and faiths had their birth the monopoly of independence must be for Moslem pan-Arabism alone.” Eban predicted the end result would be that Zionism would be strengthened and the United Nations weakened.[18]


[1] Thomas Mayer, “The UN Resolution Equating Zionism with Racism: Genesis and Repercussions,” London: Institute of Jewish Affairs (April 1985):4-6; Harris O. Schoenberg, A Mandate For Terror: The United Nations and the PLO (New York: Shapolsky Publishers, Inc., 1989), 312.

[2] Schoenberg, op. cit. 312-313.

[3] Mayer, op. cit. 5.

[4] Daniel Patrick Moynihan, A Dangerous Place (New York: Berkley Books, 1980), 169.

[5]  Mayer, op. cit., p. 1; Manor, op. cit. 4, 8-9; Y. Harkabi, The Palestinian Covenant and its Meaning (Totowa, N.J.: Vallentine, Mitchell and Company, LTD, 1979).

[6]  Moynihan, A Dangerous Place op. cit.172-173.

[7] Ibid. 172.

[8]  Ibid. 173.

[9] Ibid. 175.

[10] Daniel P. Moynihan, “The Politics of Human Rights,” Commentary (August 1977), p. 21.

[11] Regina S. Sharif, ed. United Nations Resolutions On Palestine And The Arab-Israeli Conflict Volume II: 1975-1981(Institute for Palestine Studies, Washington, D.C.), p. 7.

[12] Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Loyalties (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984),36.

[13] Paul Hoffman, “Why and How Anti-Zionism Move Won.” NYT (November 12, 1975): 17.

[14] Malvina Halberstam, “Excluding Israel From The General Assembly By Rejection of Its Credentials,” (Washington, D.C. The American Society of International Law: The American Journal International Law (1984): 7 note 57.

[15Moynihan, A Dangerous Place op. cit. 173-175.

[16] NYT (November 10, 1975), op. cit. 21.

[17Abba Eban, “Zionism and the U.N.,” NYT (November 3, 1975): 35.

[18] Ibid.



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Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew university of Jerusalem. He lives in Jerusalem.