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  • Equating Zionism with Racism:The 1965 Precedent
  • Ofra Friesel (bio)

In 1975, the UN General Assembly adopted its notorious resolution 33792 equating Zionism with racism. The origins of that resolution can be traced back to the previous decade. Ironically, an early initiative to denounce Zionism as racial discrimination in a UN formal text was presented during the negotiations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965 (CERD). The context was none other than the debate regarding incorporating a denunciation of anti-Semitism into the Convention. The present article explores the particular meeting of interests behind the effort to incorporate a denunciation of anti-Semitism into CERD. It is designed to elaborate on how this attempt was used to promote what to all intents and purposes appeared to be the precise opposite: equating Zionism with racism—and how the seeds of resolution 3379 were sown.3

Excluding religious persecution from CERD

CERD was negotiated in the United Nations from 1962 to 1965. The initiative to add a clause denouncing anti-Semitism in the draft was presented after it was decided that the convention would not deal with religious persecution, an issue that would be dealt with in a separate UN convention.4 Both negotiators at that time, and researchers in retrospect, saw the decision as political in nature.5

The decision was the outcome of a clash of interests between two main "blocs:" the United States, Israel, and Jewish organizations on the one hand, and the Soviet Union, together with various Arab, African, and Asian countries, on the other. The realities of the Cold War loomed behind the scene and influenced events. The United States sought with great urgency to include the matter of religious persecution in the text alongside that of racial discrimination as a means of deflecting international attention from discrimination against African-Americans and toward the persecution of religious groups in the USSR.6 Israel and Jewish organizations sought to use the mention of religious persecution as a means of criticizing the Soviet Union for its ongoing religious and [End Page 284] ethnic persecution of the Jewish minority.7 At the same time, African and Asian countries wanted to avoid being sidetracked by the issue of religious persecution, since they saw greater importance in the issue of prohibiting racial discrimination.8 Arab countries did not want a religious persecution clause to be used as a way to safeguard Israeli and Jewish interests, and the Soviets wished both to shield themselves from international criticism and to keep international public opinion focused on the severity of race relations within the United States.9

One example of the price the Soviets might have paid if religious persecution were to be debated in the United Nations—and thus opening the door to a discussion of the persecution of Soviet Jews—crystallized in the debate on the codification during the Fifteenth Session of the Sub-Commission in January-February 1963. According to Meir Rosenne, the Israeli Foreign Ministry representative to the discussions, the Soviet representatives found themselves in an extremely unpropitious situation when the debate turned to the challenges facing Soviet Jewry. Rosenne wrote: "It was the first time that the question of the emigration of the Jews from the Soviet Union to Israel was brought up before the UN, and the issue was most seriously debated. This achievement was particularly important due to the Russian sensitivities especially in the framework of the United Nations—an institution where they present themselves as fighters for freedom and enemies of colonialism. It was the first time that in official documents of the UN their true attitude regarding the Jews was revealed, and it is clear that they understand the perils in the publication of that material, especially due to their activities in the African countries . . ."10

Attention to the issue of religious persecution posed a danger for the Soviet Union. The Soviets were aware of the correlation that might be established between persecution against the Jewish minority and discrimination [End Page 285] against other minorities in the Soviet Union. This, in turn, might have eroded the Soviets' carefully cultivated international image of the Soviet Union as a protector...


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