Clearing the Air

Article excerpt

Clearing the Air

On November 10, 1975, in what The Nation a few days later called "an odious expression of racism," the U.N. General Assembly voted to link Zionism with South African apartheid and condemn it as a form of racism. Now, after sixteen years, the United Nations has finally purged itself of this poison; perhaps it can begin to function in the Middle East (and elsewhere) as it should have all these years.

It is important to understand just how the "Zionism is racism" resolution was an endorsement of anti-Semitism. Some critics, and victims, of Israel have been confused, because Israel, once it had gained a territorial nation in which many Jews had dwelled since time immemorial, behaved no better (and sometimes worse) than any other nationalist state or movement. Many Zionists, like socialists and liberal democrats and monarchists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, have been white racists. The Arab minority of Israel is deprived of civil rights; members of that minority have been expelled from the land of their birth; Israel engages in acts of violence that go beyond a legitimate response to the violence committed against it. All that is true beyond any doubt.

But the Catholics of Northern Ireland (and the Protestants), the Anglophones of Quebec, the Serbs of Croatia and the Croats of Serbia, the Turks of Bulgaria and the Hungarians of Romania, the Armenians of Azerbaijan, the Tamils of Sri Lanka, not to mention the Native Americans of North America - all would be fascinated to learn that there could conceivably be any nationalism free of those aggressions and repressions for which Israel is properly but uniquely condemned. Fascinated, and quite properly skeptical. To have singled out Israeli nationalism for condemnation has been a hypocritical anachronism.

But much worse was the conflation of nation with race: a conflation to which, again, only Jews were subjected. For if those Jews who have thought and acted as though they are a nation were not to be allowed to call themselves a nation and to behave like a nation but were instead to be considered a race, of which Zionism is the philosophy, then the U. …