Golda Meir Addresses U.N. Assembly; Appeals for Action on Suez Blockade
Menu JTA Search

Golda Meir Addresses U.N. Assembly; Appeals for Action on Suez Blockade

Download PDF for this date

Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir today told the UN General Assembly that the United Nations could bring peace to the Middle East by insisting upon Israel’s right to freedom of navigation through the Suez Canal.

Addressing the morning session of the Assembly, Mrs. Meir emphasized that the claims by the United Arab Republic and other Arab states to alleged “rights” of practicing illegitimate warfare against Israel impede peace and cooperation in the entire Middle East area. She cited Egypt’s blockade tactics against Israel and told the Assembly that the issue affects the United Nations directly as well as many maritime nations with whose shipping Egypt has interfered.

Referring to the UAR’s invocation of an “alleged state of war” against Israel as a pretext for Egypt’s actions in the Suez Canal, Mrs. Meir told the Assembly:

“For any member of the United Nations to affirm that it is in a state of war with another member, and entitled to exercise rights of war, is inadmissible. From this rule, no state can claim itself exempt, nor can the United Nations permit of any exception. It must never be forgotten that this so-called state of war is not simply a relationship affecting only the two states in conflict with one another. It has serious repercussions on other members of the international community. “


“Israel,” Mrs. Meir warned, “is not prepared to accept, and should not be expected to accept a situation in which she is singled out for illegal discrimination. Moreover, we believe that the United Nations itself cannot accept this situation. “

Referring to the speech made in the Assembly yesterday by the first of the Arab speakers at this year’s session–Abdul Monem Rifai of Jordan–Mrs. Meir pointed out that “Arab voices calling for war and preaching destruction” are “in harsh discord with the efforts of the family of nations at this very moment to mobilize all resources of mind and spirit in a supreme effort to preserve peace.”

“The bellicose attitude and activities towards Israel of the Arab countries of the Middle East, led in this day by the United Arab Republic, show little sign of relaxing, and have taken on new and ominous form, ” the Israeli Foreign Minister told the Assembly.

Mrs. Meir summarized Egypt’s recent actions against Israel in regard to Suez Canal shipping. She reminded the Assembly that several ships carrying Israeli goods had been stopped as they attempted transit through the Canal, and that a Danish ship, the Inge Toft, “is being held to this day at Port Said.”

This interference with the transit through the Canal of goods from Israel “is without any precedent prior to six months ago,” she asserted. The actions, she held, constitute “a new policy, one obviously aimed, for reasons best known to the ruler of the United Arab Republic, at inflaming a long-standing issue and creating fresh tensions.”


The international implications of Egypt’s Suez Canal blockade were spelled out by Mrs. Meir when she told the Assembly that 330 ships, belonging to 21 different countries; are on the Arab blacklist. The incidents of Suez shipping interference in the last six months alone, she said, have involved the interests of 10 countries. She listed these as Ceylon, Denmark, West Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Liberia, Malaya, the Philippines, Switzerland and the United States.

Mrs. Meir recalled the Constantinople Convention of 1888 which provides that the Suez Canal should always be “free and open, in time of war as in time of peace, to every vessel of commerce or of war, without distinction of flag,” She also referred to the Security Council resolution of 1951 which reaffirmed that principle.

She recalled another Security Council resolution of 1956 to the same effect, pointing out that Egypt itself pledged “uninterrupted navigation for all nations” in a declaration filed officially here in 1957. She also pointed out that President Eisenhower pledged that Egyptian prevention of Israeli shipping from using the Suez Canal “should be firmly dealt with by the society of nations.”

Egypt is also continuing its “vicious attacks on Israel,” she said, through radio attacks broadcast by Radio Cairo. Mrs. Meir quoted “the remarkable outburst” of UAR President Gamal Abdel Nasser who announced last July that “every Arab was looking forward to the next round in which the decisive battle will take place to get rid of Israel.”

“Statements of this kind,” the Israeli Foreign Minister said, “are characteristic of the incessant war propaganda carried by Cairo, poisoning the minds of old and young.” Such statements, she held violate various United Nations resolutions condemning war-inciting propaganda, including the resolution sponsored by 10 Arab states adopted unanimously in the summer of 1958 at a special emergency session of the Assembly devoted to the Middle East crisis.


The efforts of the Arab League’s boycott committee, with headquarters in Cairo, affects not only Israel, Mrs. Meir stated, but also “dozens of states and hundreds of individual firms elsewhere in the world.” These efforts, she said, are not only “a manifestation of the spurious claim to rights of war against Israel” but also “constitute a serious and unwarranted barrier to international trade.”

Mrs. Meir expressed appreciation for the efforts to solve the Suez problem, made “so far without avail,” by Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold “and certain member states.” She referred to the statements made here in the last week by various delegation leaders who “have again upheld the principle of free shipping for all nations in the Suez Canal.” She called on the United Nations to see to it that all members observe these UN principles: “1. The principle that no member state is entitled to claim or exercise rights of war, whether by interference with the freedom of shipping or by economic boycott or any other means. “2. The principle of respect for the political independence and territorial integrity of all states in the region.

“The Israel Government,” she said, “subscribes wholeheartedly to these principles and is fully ready to cooperate in measures which may relax existing tensions in the Middle East. The United Nations is entitled to look to the Arab countries of the Middle East that they too act in conformity with those principles.”


Exercising his “right of reply”–which is rarely done in general debate in the United Nations General Assembly–Farid Zeineddine, of Syria, Deputy Foreign Minister of the United Arab Republic, delivered a vitriolic 15-minute speech attacking Mrs. Meir as well as Israel and Zionism. He charged that Mrs. Meir had presented “an ambiguous and confused” picture of the Middle East problem which, he said, had been “created by Zionism” and was made possible by “British colonial bayonets.”

The UAR delegate said that the entire Zionist concept is “based upon racial and religious discrimination” and “breeds anti-Semitism. ” He accused Mrs. Meir of stating “many things which unfortunately are contrary to the fact. ” He alleged that in citing a warlike statement by President Nasser of the UAR, Mrs. Meir was telling only a “part of the truth” because Nasser was only replying to a similar statement made by Israel’s retired Gen. Moshe Dayan.

He told the Assembly that, while the UAR was at present widening and deepening the Suez Canal, “for the benefit of navigation, ” these benefits would not be provided “at the expense of the Palestine refugees or of Israeli aggression. “

After Mr. Zeineddine had voiced his reply to Mrs. Meir, a spokesman for the Israel delegation said: “The hostile, bellicose tone of the United Arab Republic intervention under scores Mrs. Meir’s contentions regarding Arab attitudes toward Israel and appear to be in sharp contrast to her call for a relaxation of tensions and the pacific settlement of issues outstanding between the nations of the Middle East.”

Outright support for Israel’s insistence on freedom of navigation through the Suez Canal was voiced here today by Halvard Lange, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he addressed the General Assembly today.

“As one of the leading maritime nations,” he said, “Norway firmly believes in and has a vital interest in upholding the principle of free navigation in international waterways. We therefore view with concern the fact that this important principle, in some instances, does not seem to be applied with regard to the passage of ships and cargoes in the Suez Canal. It is our conviction that the traffic through this international waterway, which is so important for world trade, should be free and unhindered for ships and cargoes of all nationalities.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund