Moynihan’s Moment

Daniel Patrick Moynihan was many things — scholar,  ambassador to India and then the United Nations, United States Senator, and, of course, he was an alum of Tufts University where he earned his bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees.  He was author of The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, also known as the Moynihan Report, which examined the rise of single parenthood and its consequences, particularly for African-Americans.  Education Next recently devoted an entire issue to the Moynihan Report on the 50th anniversary of its release.

This week we are noting another anniversary.  It has been 40 years since Moynihan gave his passionate speech at the United Nations denouncing United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, which infamously asserted that “Zionism is a form of racism…”  The UN revoked that resolution in 1991, but its hateful legacy lives on at the United Nations and among anti-Semites everywhere.

His speech that Zionism is not racism was, as Gil Troy’s book calls it, Moynihan’s Moment.  On its 40th anniversary I thought I would reproduce key parts of that speech.  It’s remarkable not just for its content but also for its style.  Let’s hope that school children will also be taught to remember the legacy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and that current and future leaders may be inspired to uphold his ideals.

Speech to the United Nations General Assembly, by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, November 10, 1975. Source: U.S. Congressional Record.

The United States rises to declare before the General Assembly of the United Nations, and before the world, that it does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.

Not three weeks ago, the United States Representative in the Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee pleaded in measured and fully considered terms for the United Nations not to do this thing. It was, he said, “obscene.” It is something more today, for the furtiveness with which this obscenity first appeared among us has been replaced by a shameless openness.

There will be time enough to contemplate the harm this act will have done the United Nations. Historians will do that for us, and it is sufficient for the moment only to note the foreboding fact. A great evil has been loosed upon the world. The abomination of anti-semitism — as this year’s Nobel Peace Laureate Andrei Sakharov observed in Moscow just a few days ago — the Abomination of anti-semitism has been given the appearance of international sanction. The General Assembly today grants symbolic amnesty — and more — to the murderers of the six million European Jews. Evil enough in itself, but more ominous by far is the realization that now presses upon us — the realization that if there were no General Assembly, this could never have happened.

As this day will live in infamy, it behooves those who sought to avert it to declare their thoughts so that historians will know that we fought here, that we were not small in number — not this time — and that while we lost, we fought with full knowledge of what indeed would be lost.

Nor should any historian of the event, nor yet any who have participated in it, suppose, that we have fought only as governments, as chancelleries, and on an issue well removed from the concerns of our respective peoples. Others will speak for their nations: I will speak for mine….

The proposition to be sanctioned by a resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations is that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Now this is a lie. But as it is a lie which the United Nations has now declared to be a truth, the actual truth must be restated.

The very first point to be made is that the United Nations has declared Zionism to be racism — without ever having defined racism. “Sentence first — verdict afterwards,” as the Queen of Hearts said. But this is not wonderland, but a real world, where there are real consequences to folly and to venality….

What we have here is a lie — a political lie of a variety well known to the twentieth century, and scarcely exceeded in all that annal of untruth and outrage. The lie is that Zionism is a form of racism. The overwhelmingly clear truth is that is it not.

The word “racism” is a creation of the English language, and relatively new to it…. The term derives from relatively new doctrines — all of them discredited — concerning the human population of the world, to the effect that there are significant biological differences among clearly identifiable groups, and that these differences establish, in effect, different levels of humanity. Racism, as defined in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, is “The Assumption that . . . traits and capacities are determined by biological race and that races differ decisively from one another.” It further involves “a belief in the inherent superiority of a particular race and its right to dominate over others.”…

Now it was the singular nature — if, I am not mistaken, it was the unique nature — of this [Zionist] national liberation movement that in contrast with the movements that preceded it, those of that time, and those that have come since, it defined its members in terms not of birth, but of belief. That is to say, it was not a movement of the Irish to free Ireland, or of the Polish to free Poland, not a movement of the Algerians to free Algeria, nor of Indians to free India. It was not a movement of persons connected by historic membership to a genetic pool of the kind that enables us to speak loosely but not meaninglessly, say, of the Chinese people, nor yet of diverse groups occupying the same territory which enables us to speak [o]f the American people with no greater indignity to truth. To the contrary, Zionists defined themselves merely as Jews, and declared to be Jewish anyone born of a Jewish mother or — and this is the absolutely crucial fact — anyone who converted to Judaism. Which is to say, in terms of International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, adopted by the 20th General Assembly, anyone — regardless of “race, colour, descent, or nationally or ethnic origin …..”

The state of Israel, which in time was the creation of the Zionist Movement, has been extraordinary in nothing so much as the range of “racial stocks” from which [it has drawn its citizens.  There are black Jews, brown Jews, white Jews, Jews from the] Orient and Jew[s] from the West. Most such persons could be said to have been “born” Jewish, just as most Presbyterians and most Hindus are “born” to their faith, but there are many Jews who are …converts. With a consistency in the matter which surely attests to the importance of this issue to that religio[u]s and political culture, Israeli courts have held that a Jew who converts to another religion is no longer a Jew. In the meantime the population of Israel also includes large numbers of non-Jews, among them Arabs of both the Muslim and Christian religions and Christians of other national origins. Many of these persons are citizens of Israel, and those who are not can become citizens by legal procedures very much like those which obtain in a typical nation of Western Europe.

Now I should wish to be understood that I am here making one point, and one point only, which is that whatever else Zionism may be, it is not and cannot be “a form of racism.” In logic, the State of Israel could be, or could become, many things, theoretically, including many things undesirable, but it could not be and could not become racism unless it ceased to be Zionist.

Indeed, the idea that Jews are a “race” was invented not by Jews but by those who hated Jews. The idea of Jews as a race was invented by nineteenth century anti-semites such as Houston Steward Chamberlain and Edouard Drumont, who saw that in an increasingly secular age, which is to say an age made for fewer distinctions between people, the old religio[u]s grounds for anti-semitism were losing force. New justifications were needed for excluding and persecuting Jews, and so the new idea of Jews as a race — rather than as a religion — was born. It was a contemptible idea at the beginning, and no civilized person would be associated with it. To think that it is an idea now endorsed by the United Nations is to reflect on what civilization has come to.

It is precisely a concern for civilization, for civilized values that are or should be precious to all mankind, that arouses us at this moment to such special passion. What we have at stake here is not merely the honor and the legitimacy of the State of Israel — although a challenge to the legitimacy of any member nation ought always to arouse the vigilance of all members of the United Nations. For a yet more important matter is at issue, which is the integrity of the whole body of moral and legal precepts which we know as human rights.

The terrible lie that has been told here today will have terrible consequences. Not only will people begin to say, indeed they have already begun to say that the United Nations is a place where lies are told, but far more serious, grave and perhaps irreparable harm will be done to the cause of human rights itself. The harm will arise first because it will strip from racism the precise and abhorrent meaning that it still precariously holds today.

An audio of the full speech can be found here:

3 Responses to Moynihan’s Moment

  1. Greg Forster says:

    That was a great man.

  2. matthewladner says:

    DPM was a national treasure. If he was a Tufts graduate then I take everything back every snarky thing I have ever said about Tufts because of everlasting Moynihan scoreboard.

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