Zionism as Racism: Still Poignant Today

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As followers of this blog know, we are admirers of Gil Troy, not only for his inspirational teaching but also for his moving take on modern Zionism. His latest work, Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism, published last fall, is an impressive work offering critical context to the ongoing conversation surrounding the attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state. The book traces the evolution of the infamous Zionism is Racism proclamation passed by the UN General Assembly in 1975, at a time when America's international influence seemed to be in decline in the wake of the Vietnam War, and the power of the Soviet-backed third-world bloc appeared on the rise. While there are many interesting facets to this story, two themes stood out to me throughout this well-crafted work.

First, attempts to delegitimize Israel are not a new phenomenon. Sadly, as Troy points out, the recriminations against the Jewish state date back decades with the Soviets first labeling Zionism as an imperialist movement following the Suez Crisis in 1956. The anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist tropes continued throughout the 1960s, intensifying after Israel's victory in the Six Day War with many third-world countries and Arab states following Moscow's lead in describing the Jewish state with the most repugnant terms. (Troy does an admirable job tracing the timeline of ant-Israel propaganda at this time, where historical context is essential to understanding the scope of these efforts.) The Resolution, when it passed on November 10, 1975, was the culmination of repeated indictments against Israel, leveled by some of the most dictatorial and repressive states. Plus ça change...

Second, after reading the book, it's difficult not to gain a deeper appreciation and admiration for Daniel Patrick Moynihan, given that principled politicians often seem few and far between. Moynihan, a talented academic and orator, had already served as an adviser to presidents and as ambassador to India before heading to Turtle Bay. He led the fight against the resolution, not out of a deep, abiding love for Israel, but because he saw it as an attack against liberal, democratic values. As Troy explains, Moynihan, who often found himself at the center of controversy, strongly believed that words mattered and simply accepting the outcome of such an anti-Western resolution was not an option.  His statement following the passage of the resolution not only epitomized his resolute nature, but may have also served as a turning point for American foreign policy, moving from acceptance (détente) to a stronger, more principled posture. "The United States rises to declare before the General Assembly and before the world, that it does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act."

This book is not an in-depth biography of Moynihan, who later served as a Senator from New York, nor was it meant to be. Troy, however, offers enough insight into his life, based on interviews with his widow and colleagues, as well as other research, that readers will gain a strong understanding of what drove his passion and contributed to him being liked and respected by liberals and conservatives alike. After reading the book, it's difficult not to wish for more elected leaders capable of blending intellect, charisma and passion the way Moynihan did.

Overall, Troy should be commended for weaving together the many personalities and stories that led up to this infamous resolution, and for clearly describing the impact it had on American foreign policy and American Jewish consciousness. His descriptions of Israeli Ambassador Chaim Herzog and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose machinations often frustrated Moynihan, cannot be ignored, either, as they help complete a very comprehensive look at a pivotal time.

For another take on Moynihan's Moment, check out Marty Peretz's excellent review, which includes additional insight on the prevailing moods of the time as well as a great critique of the often feckless UN.